Stuck on Stickers II

Kids love stickers. Bumper stickers and other self-adhesive messages have been around since 1935 when Stan ‘the Sticker Man’ Avery invented a machine to manufacture them. With street art stickers underwent a change in identity and context from promotional to person and from the bumper to the street.

Walk along any street, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seoul or Singapore, you will see stickers. They may be on the backs of signs, on utility boxes, or elsewhere as local custom demands, but you will find them somewhere. And often in clusters.

There is a mystery to stickers because there is no way to determine what they mean until you look closely at them. Is it a kind of tag, street art or political, or is it advertising? Is it advertising or the logo manipulations, politics and puns of culture jamming? Maybe several, thinking about the politics around the “Sticker Lady” (aka Sam Lo) in Singapore. For these sets are not exclusive, and there is considerable overlap.

“Hello, my name is” one of the common kinds of stickers. An extension of tagging, slapping down an old conference name-tag sticker with the tag written on it, rather than risking writing the tag on the street. The linear progress along a route mapped by the placement of the same sticker.

Once identity became the stickers’ objective, like tags, a place with one sticker leads to more. The accretion of stickers in a location is like a dog pissing on a post to show other dogs that it was there. Sticker collects at way-posts. The collective greeting that stickers represent, gathering places around the city slowed down to the speed of sticker accretion. The Cherry Bar’s disused windows in AC/DC lane, the old elevator doors in the Degraves Street underpass, the backs of so many street signs, the supports for power poles…

I recognise many of the stickers in Melbourne, it is broader than just street artists and graffiti writers. There are stickers from people who are not street artists but are on the edge of street art: street art collectors, street art photographers and dog walkers. Contemporary artists join in condensing their philosophy down to an aphoristic slogan: “The truth is a copy” from Joel Gailer.

For more on stickers, there is my post from 2009 Stuck on Stickers.


After another lockdown

After yet another lockdown, after the other two lockdowns, not going out for what felt like half a year, after a heatwave, I am standing in the light rain on the steps of Parliament. Police and some protest march are approaching.

What am I doing?

Kerrie Poliness Parliament Steps Walking Drawing

I am photographing and looking at the public art project by Kerrie Poliness. Parliament Steps Walking Drawing is part of ACCA’s current exhibition. A large-scale participatory, geometric chalk drawing by Poliness and volunteers done at the start of the month is now being washed away in the rain.

I’m putting in the leg work. So much has changed; what was once familiar streets are strange. I’m trying to find something to write a blog post. But now, with the demonstration approaching Parliament, it is time to take some photographs.

Is this an anti-lockdown protest? There aren’t many people and they are all wearing white. It turns out to be Zero Suicide Victoria, people who want the government to pay more attention to the issue. I listen to them for a bit. The first speaker wants a Minister for Men because suicide is mostly a mens’ problem in Australia.

I think that if we want to bring the suicide rate down we need to make deeper changes to the way we live and think. We are in many ways a suicidal culture destroying the planet, poisoning ourselves, and driving our speices to extinction in a new four wheel drive.

An exhibition of John Kelly’s paintings at Smith & Singer on Collins Street is unlikely to help. More pictures of fake cows for the very wealthy who like their art based around a single anecdote. Maybe writing a review of Madrid-based Colectivo Ayllu’s lithographs on exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop would be better. Their collage aesthetic has an anti-colonial discourse about the savagery of the Spanish exploitation of the Americas.

Maybe I should write about how we now visit galleries. Everyone is wearing masks inside and most people are wearing them outside. The maximum capacity notices at the door. We are checking in with a QR code on our phones or with pre-booked free tickets. QR codes everywhere, some galleries are even using them instead of room sheets to give the titles.

Or maybe I should write more about public art and outdoor exhibitions, like the International Festival of Photography Photo 2021 that I encounter in various locations around the city. Sarah Oscar’s Most Wanted series pasted-up like posters in Hosier Lane juxtaposed with a street artist’s paste-up of standover man, Chopper Read. Other works in the exhibition are five storeys tall, on the side of a building, and more on a billboard in Collingwood. Although sometimes it is hard to work out what is part of the exhibition because there is so much photography in the city.

What will happen to all of this? Washed away like chalk drawings in the rain.


Street Art Sculpture 11

This has been a big year for unauthorised public sculptural artwork; both for little and larger works, veterans and novices.

The Little Librarian up-cycles old books into new art using books for the support for the tiny installations. Unlike Tinky, The Little Librarian doesn’t use puns. The old books used would have been thrown out but have been made into something before being placed on walls. They don’t last long outside, due to the weather and, I assume, being ripped off by a passer-by. Tinky has continued to install miniature scenes on the street. Still, she is not the only street artist in Melbourne using HO scale figures.

There is a golden young woman’s head on a slender concrete plinth on the island inhabited by ibis in Coburg’s Lake Reserve. Last year a similar golden head of a man appeared atop a similar concrete plinth in Northcote’s All Nations Park (The Age reports).

The new sculpture’s placement on the island must have been strategically tricky as there is no bridge. This location avoids the Northcote bust’s problems whose plinth was knocked over shortly after it was installed. The Darebin Council restored it, deciding that it would remain in place for a year and then be auctioned with the proceeds donated to homelessness services. 

Elsewhere in a city mainly under quarantine lockdown for much of year children created spoonvilles. These settlements of decorated wooden spoons are open contribution sculptural works that invite others to participate. 

Some graffiti writers, like Cheros, expand their techniques, creating three-dimensional tags.

And ceramic works continues to feature as one of the more surprising mediums for street art be it from Discarded or other, unknown artists.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures see my earlier posts:


Of Colour and Light

Of Colour and Light – Women Abstract Artists Biennial” is an exhibition of fifty women abstract artists from the state of Victoria; not just any women but a curated selection of notable local artists, including established artists, Irene Barberis, Victoria Cattoni, and Wilma Tabacco.

Irene Barberis, Variations, St Mathew’s Passion 2

This is the third women abstract artist biennial Anna Prifti had curated and she has brought together a wide variety of abstract art. From the serious to fantastically frivolous. From painting to ceramics. From art as formal as pure mathematics or as informal as nature growing. From angelic purity to getting down to the nitty-gritty and celebrating the media.

Irene Barberis’s colourful Variations, St Mathew’s Passion 2 is a synaesthetic expression of J. S. Bach’s oratorio’s second movement. Although the viewer can’t read the overlapping lines of colours, painted on semi-transparent engineering film, the blocks of colours, show the music. For abstract art can be as accessible and easy to understand as music.

Abstract art doesn’t have to be pure spiritual thoughts; it can be strutting your funky stuff. And Pauline Hollyoak struts her funky stuff with Fanta Top. The day-glow orange oval rococo frame around a hard edge stripy abstract brings together two contrary forces with style.

Mandy Gunn takes the Concise Oxford Dictionary, rearranged it, making an ironic rectified readymade. She weaves pages into a single grey strip unfurling from the covers, after all, all words are abstract symbols. Like Barberis’s work, you can’t read it, but unlike Barberis Variations Gunn’s The Unconcise Oxford Dictionary is a dispassionate sculpture.

You could view this exhibition as a sample of the latest iterations of abstract art, a tradition or a genre of art. A genre that has existed for almost a century and a half, if you count those women, like Georgiana Houghton and Hilma af Klint, who did abstract paintings in the nineteenth century. For women have always been involved in abstract art, the most modern of visual genres.

Representational images exist in the Goldilocks zone that is just the right distance to see a picture. Somewhere between being too close and too far away. For both atomic distances shorter than the wavelength of visible light and the universe’s structure, images of the micro and the macro are abstract.

West End Art Space’s new permanent space in West Melbourne is a larger foyer space in a new multi-storey building. Plenty of room for the fifty works in this exhibition to be hung in keeping with the elegant minimalist look.

Stephania Leigh Partial Figure (RYB)

Pygmalion’s Nightmare

What would happen if, like in the story of Pygmalion, Melbourne’s public sculptures were to come to life? It is a story from Yell Olé, a Melbourne underground comic from the mid-90s, by Bernard Caleo and Brendan Tolley.

J.E. Boehm, St George and the dragon, 1876

The statues are resentful for their spirits having been “locked in city buildings for reasons generations old.” The figure from the art deco Manchester Unity Building is the first to rampage through the city. Later he is chased down by the two warriors on horseback from outside of the State Library, the unlikely combination of St George and Joan of Arc.

I won’t tell you about the story’s outcome but point out that Will Self conjures a similar scene for London’s in his novel, The Book of Dave (2006). This is not an accusation of plagiarism but an example of convergent evolution out of similar urban environments. Probably there are more stories set in different cities have been told by other people. For this is a psychogeographical exercise of imagination animating statues by their totemic spirits through comic-book metaphysics.

My current version of this scenario in Melbourne is no picnic in the park. There are more sculptures. The atmosphere is more partisan and far more brutal spurred on by the animosity of the culture wars. Callum Morton’s Hotel would be booked out by dolls, miniatures, and teddy bears in town to watch the fight. Yellow angular shards would grow at various angles around the city, like alien mineral deposits from the planet DCM.

On one side a strange assortment of creatures; amongst them the Cowardly Lion of Fitzroy (Eicholtz’s Courage) and the big black rabbit (Floyd’s Signature Work) from the Docklands. Their best defence is the dogs of this war, FIDO and Larry LaTrobe; FIDO is huge. Although Larry is far smaller, as his studded collar would suggest, he is far more vicious.

On the other side is a cavalry unit of equestrian statues, metal men with suitcases staggering down Burke Street Mall like zombies. World War One servicemen, the many golems in the service of the imaginal throne of the eternal empire rampage through Melbourne as if it were Cairo. Bronze explorers unable to navigate the cities streets get lost in the suburbs randomly claiming properties on behalf of the King. Intoxicated statues of former State Premiers punching it out in Treasury Gardens after drinking with Robbie Burns and General Gordon’s statues.

And just when you thought the fight was over Bunjil, along with the Genie from Queen Victoria Gardens, fly in to save the day.

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

The Anna Schwartz Gallery book

Present Tense is a big beige book thick as a house brick but not as heavy. The subtitle, Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art describe the contents, text and photographs, accurately. Anna Schwartz Gallery is amongst Melbourne’s most influential commercial art galleries. Since 1986 it has represented some of Melbourne’s best contemporary artists, including Mike Parr, Emily Floyd, Callum Morton and Shaun Gladwell, and visiting international artists. The author, Doug Hall, is the former director of Queensland Art Gallery and now a Melbourne resident.

The beige cover suggests the excitement level of the long, rambling story that the author has bleached of colour. Even some theory and art-speak would be a welcome relief from the narrative, but Hall avoids both. It seems like Hall had almost a deliberate strategy to hide anything that might attract your interest in the middle of chapters. I could not get into it; the writing was that dull. All it got from me was skim reading, dipping into it, reading for research and not pleasure.

At first, I was hoping to find details that I could use in blog posts about some of the artists that Anna Schwartz Gallery represents. Unfortunately, I found nothing in it worth citing. Even the chapter on public sculpture was remarkably unedifying. Apart from a single photograph of Emily Floyd’s Public Art Strategy, the reader is told nothing about the artists that Anna Schwartz represents doing public art. Instead of information, the reader is treated to Hall’s opinions on why it is better not to be involved in public art commissions.

This is not the first time that I’ve read a rambling book about an Australian art dealer. Adrian Newstead’s The Dealer is the Devil – an insider’s history of the Aboriginal Art trade, (Brandl and Schlesinger, 2014) is almost as long and nearly as dull. Still, at least, Newstead can tell stories.

As I persevered through its pages, I wondered if this book was ever intended to be read and I considered the other reason to have a book. Books have a symbolic value both as objects on shelves and as unread ideas, documented in various lists. Many books are not intended to be read all the way through coffee table books, books as art objects, along with phone books and other reference books.

There is an art to being influential. The symbolic value of this big book, almost regardless of its contents, cannot be under-estimated. For its existence is a kind of proof of the influential reputation of Anna Schwartz Gallery. A book about Anna Schwartz Gallery deserves to be written. It is just the writer and editor that were unfortunate choices.

Doug Hall Present Tense – Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art (Black Inc.,2019) 


Making Hosier Lane Safe For Tourists

The new outdoor seating for the Hosier Lane restaurants has taken over Rutledge Lane for COVID safe dinning. (At the moment there is mostly intra-city tourism and the crowds of international tourists are absent.) This included repainting the walls with a rather bland, family-friendly theme of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

How delightfully boho is it?

Over a decade ago, these much-misinterpreted words were stencilled on 167 Flinders Lane’s rear wall in Rutledge Lane. I will not explain the legally correct interpretation of those words, but the effect of their misinterpretation. Their misinterpretation created a street art zone in Melbourne’s centre and one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

The words spelt out an application for “a retrospective Street Art Permit”. “The City of Melbourne acknowledges that public spaces provide a gallery and stage for artistic expression and approve permits for street art with the building owners permission. Legal street art contributes to a vibrant urban environment and can change continually on a day to day to basis.” The text finally noted, “The artwork may evolve over time.”

Overtime many layers of both authorised and unauthorised paint have been sprayed over those words and whole laneway. It has been painted Empty Nursery Blue and buffed black, in preparation for Melbourne Now. In places, the enamel paint is half a centimetre thick.

Art performs many functions, even paradoxically one function as to be functionless and excessive. Another is to overturn rules and conventions, the lords of misrule with a child’s eyes. That is where the notorious fire extinguisher filled with paint protest performance of February 2020 has to be looked at again.

“Melbourne’s Hosier Lane street art, graffiti, painted over in weekend ‘vandalism’ attack”, ABC News

Making the lane safe for tourism and families includes increased shopping, eating and photo opportunities for tourists. And these presents risks to others using the lane: the artists, the homeless, the homeless artists…

Is Hosier Lane a libertarian paint zone free to exploit for profit? Or is Hosier Lane an anarchic paint zone where freely given play/work contributions of graffiti and street art are welcome? These questions are at the centre of the debate about Hosier Lane’s function. They leave me contemplating two alternatives futures for the lane’s walls. Will it be bland, apolitical murals, celebrating celebrities and seasonal festivities, or the artistic unknown?

Some recent stencil art in Hosier Lane

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