Monthly Archives: March 2008

A few good exhibitions

The Ian Potter Museum of Art has a survey exhibition of Dale Hickey and The Vizard Foundation Art Collection of 1990s. The State Library of Victoria has an exhibition that they call “the Medieval Imagination” even though most of the manuscripts on display were from the Renaissance. I saw all of these exhibitions but I’m sure that they will be reviewed elsewhere in the arts media. All of these exhibitions were looking back, but this review will look to the future. And at exhibition that are unlikely to be reviewed elsewhere, not because of a lack of quality but a lack of marketing budget.

Brunswick Arts is exhibiting Launch, by recent fine arts graduates, an impressive contemporary group exhibition. The exhibition is dominated by Will MacDonald’s sound installation, Close to the Edit. It is an awesome but subtle sound, a complex drone or a didgeridoo like a LaMonte Young composition, hard to tell with all the distortion. And it has been installed in an intriguing way; I wanted to look into the steel garbage bin, just to see. By placing containers of water on the speakers the sound waves are translated into ripples on the surface of the water. These ripples are extraordinarily beautiful, transient, chaotic forms. And the vibrations of the containers add too and distort the sound.

The other work ranges from the mystical beauty of Monika Andrew Poray’s meditations, in a number of different media, on a pot plant. To the disgusting, but intriguing, work of Amanda Jean Filleul who has made a dinner set of “regurgitated bread” along with a video of her chewing the bread. There is the curious miniature world of Julie Skeggs’s installation and photographs. Masha Makarova was exhibiting spiky bronze and steel sculptures and quirky cast sugar sculptures elegantly placed on a mirror.

And at the LaTrobe Street Gallery, the shopfront part of the LaTrobe College of Art & Design, Jim Hart is showing “No User-Serviceable Parts Inside – exhibits from the Museum of Electrical Philosophy”. This is a gallery exhibition of quirky kinetic sculptures that Jim Hart has been showing in his Museum of Electrical Philosophy, a small window in the door to Room 603 in the Nicholas Building.

Face Crumpets Inward, a toaster with a knife and fork going in and out of it, has the instant humour of danger. Some of the sculptures, the whirling dervishes especially, reminded me of kinetic sculptures by Len Lye and Pol Bury, the masters of kinetic art. But Jim Hart’s sense of humour and knowledge of science gives his kinetic sculpture additional qualities.


Women’s Salon 2008

Now in its sixth year the annual women’s salon has become an institution at the Counihan gallery. It is generally the largest opening of the year because it has the most participating artists. This year the official opening, with a performance by the Brunswick Women’s Choir, attracted hundreds of people, filling the gallery, foyer and spilling out into the street.

With so many artists exhibiting it is impossible to comment on all the work, or even on the many styles, media and trends in the work. Instead I will mention a few favourites.

Sharon West’s digital print ‘A Monument Erected to The Great White Mother of The Empire’, 2008. I have seen and enjoyed West’s art for many years; this work continues her theme of retrospective recreation of Australian history but without all the paint and the mess of dioramas that she previously used. The digital print includes images of a diorama by West, but putting it all together in a digital print makes both the idea and image clearer.

Kate Hodgett’s video Dancer has many classic features of video art without being stale. There is the performance art element of the legs of a dancer trying to stand on the arms of a broken chair. There is an element of humour in the content; the impossible task and impending failure engage the audience. The static framing that makes the video a picture that moves; also makes the impossible dance possible.

Mateja Simenko’s beautiful still life paintings of balloons, stockings, and light bulbs tenderly, coyly and humorously refer to male and female bodies. The objects are elegantly and accurately depicted against the raw wood supports (part of a current trend in art that I have written about in my entry: Recent Art Trends). Painting still lifes that refer to the body rather than figures remove pathos or sentimentality without becoming cold.

I enjoyed Meyet Falduto small drypoint, We Bleed, because of its elegant minimalism. And also, Melissa Main’s illustration style painting with text; Main makes a point with an attractive style and humour. Of all the jewellery, knitting, shoes and works in other craft techniques that was in the exhibition I especially enjoyed the gypsy style apron of recycled material by Mish Cahill. Cahill was wearing a similar garment to the opening and why not when it looks so exotic and impressive.

What detracted from the exhibition was all of the artist’s statements on the didactic panels. These artist’s statements generally confuse rather than enlighten, patronize the viewer and distract from the actual art. Frequently the statements appear to be a desperate attempt to explain the art in terms of the ‘theme’ of the exhibition. Both the artists’ statements and the theme are attempting to add more meaning to the exhibition, as if this would improve its quality.

Street Art Locations

First a quote from Moreland Mayor Joe Caputo: “We must do something about this (graffiti along the Upfield Line). Find these people and get them to finish it as they are our great artists of the future.”

Mayor Caputo has a vision where the energy and creativity of street artists are promoted and protected. And there is a lot of great street art in Moreland worth promoting and protecting. The best street art locations in Moreland are along the Upfield train line, between Jewell and Moreland. The carpark around Jewell Station and the small streets around Brunswick Station have some excellent work, especially the work of Henry St. Some of these are commissioned work by the house owners and factories.

My favourite street art locations in Melbourne’s CBD are:

1. Hosier Lane, along with Rutledge Lane, its side alley. It is the famous street art location and still the best street art location in the city. Still keeping it real, even council approval and professional photographers using it for a location. There is a lot of work filling this laneway, mostly aerosol and stencils. It also has the advantage of City Lights project and Until Never gallery in Rutledge Lane.

2. Centre Place, in a central location with a lot of variety but often looks a mess. There is a very high turn over of art in this location.

3. Union Lane, a large colourful legal collaboration of professional piecer in a central location, perfect to show tourists, children or your grandmother.

4. Caledonian Lane, a variety of scattered pieces; including high up, some faces by MIC.

5. Little LaTrobe Street, stencils and other aerosol pieces

6. Pesgrave Place (off Howey Place) frames, stickers and tags. This is also the location of 20×30, a hole in the wall gallery, outside of Pushka’s.

7. Lush Lane, stickers and a few stencils and other pieces

8. Corporation Lane, a few scattered pieces

9. Higson Lane, paste-ups and few scattered pieces

10. I can’t decide; there are other locations like Donaldson Lane, the unnamed alley off McKillop St., the unused elevator door in the Degraves St. subway with its stickers and the carpark off Anthony St.

I decided to write this entry because of all the tourists or high school art teachers trying to plan an excursion around the CBD’s street art. If any high school teachers do use this entry could you send me your lesson plan? To help me further understand the wider picture of street art and art education. Maybe, you could share it with everyone (I’ve always wanted to say that to a teacher) and post it in the comments.

Is the Art Alright?

Saturday, 22nd March, ABC news reports that the Degraves Street underpass has been damaged by road works overhead on Flinders St. The road works set off fire extinguishers flooding the shops in the underpass. I hope that this has not damaged the art or exhibition space of Platform as it is an artist run space that can really interact with the commuters using the underpass to get to Flinders St. Station. Please post comments if you have any more news about the underpass and Platform. I was just writing about Jen Addison’s exhibition at Platform.

Jen Addison exhibition Curio is fun, sometimes kitsch, or sentimental, or from a different perspective but that is what a curio is. There is a lot to look at in the scatter-style installation but it does add up. Addison has used many different materials and techniques, from sewing to sculpture. The Sample cabinet, where Addison is exhibiting is by the western stairwell in the Degraves St. underpass with Platform. I understand that this cabinet of Platform is for young artists, aged 15-25, but I don’t want to discriminate on the basis of age, when I say I enjoyed Curio.

Sleepless by Bonnie Lane is a video installation within an environment; the back room of Seventh Gallery has been turned into a bedroom. There are glowing stars on the ceiling and a bed, with pillow and sheets in one corner. It is dark and someone is singing a lullaby. A face projected on the white pillow is staring up, eyes open, sleepless. The conflict between a sleepy environment and the sleepless is not explored or explained. The viewers, like the video projector, are left to project their own sleepless thoughts on the room.

I want to try defining the technical art terms that I’ve used: ‘installation’, ‘environment’ and ‘scatter-style’. An ‘installation’ works with three-dimensional space of the gallery, or other exhibition space, such as the cabinets at Platform. The term ‘video installation’ is used to describe videos that are incorporated into the exhibition space. An ‘environment’, also works with the three-dimensional space, but alters the gallery or exhibition space to creates a new environment, like Lane’s bedroom environment. ‘Environments’ started with the Dadaists and Surrealists and returned with force in the 1960s. Installations started in the 1960s with Minimal art and Conceptual art. You won’t find ‘scatter-style’ in any art dictionary; it is my term for installations where there is an informal scattering of elements around the space, on the walls, floor and ceiling. It is an exhibition trend that started with Art Povera and informal exhibition styles in the 1960s. It became a real trend in contemporary installations.

Career Advice

My career advisor in high school was useless, but this entry isn’t about that. It is about careers from street art and professional street artists, the economic bottom line and the art world.

In Street Art Uncut by Matthew Lunn (p.15) there is a map of the career of street artists with images by Ghostpatrol. The professional career ends listed are: professional piecer, cartoonist, street art professional, graphic designer and conventional artist. Being a professional piecer of other street art professional may be the dream for some, for others it is exhibiting in galleries and others just want to make a living. The map doesn’t show that most professional artists will end up with two, three or more ways of earning. Or, that most will have work a dull, ordinary job to make ends meet.

Instead of Ghostpatrol’s images I will try to illustrate this with real examples from Melbourne’s street artists (thanks to Pav Art, Toby and Meli for helping me find/confirm these examples). Here is a list of street art careers:

Professional piecers, who continue with street art in a legal and professional way – Debs, Phibs, Sirum One, Meggs

Cartoonists/Illustrators/Graphic Designers, stepping off the street and getting paid to use their skills and style on paper or computer – Que, Scarlett, I Like Things, Pierre Lloga, Mend, My Charlie Girl

Street Fashion Designer, moving from the street to the catwalk and making clothing for sale and fashion shows – Pav Art and Leeane Edwards

Conventional Artist, regularly exhibiting in galleries – HaHa, Ghostpatrol, Mask and many, many others.

Art Teachers, earning a regular income teaching others their skills – Pierre Lloga, Chris Tamm in NSW

These careers in street art make it possible for others to have careers: photographers, gallery directors, dealers, tour group leaders, critics (like myself) and other writers. And probably a few more that I haven’t though of. The point that I am trying to make with these examples is that the street art world has a larger population than just artists. Although earning a living is a feature of all of these directions, they are also creating an environment, an art world. An artistic environment that is, hopefully, a sustainable creative socio-system.

There are many ways of participating and many directions to go in street art. I don’t want to give any career advice; I want to show a bigger picture.

March – Street Art Notes

Construction work in the city at Centre place since early February has reduced the space in the alley considerably. The construction on the building at the end of the alley has a temporary fence blocking off half the alley. And with the usual bins there is almost now space left for the art. Despite the construction school groups are still going to see the graffiti there.

There has been another change on the wall near Brunswick Station formerly painted with a scene from Alice in Wonderland. It is the third time that this wall has been painted this year, the work is getting better dynamic pink and purple letters on a brown background, but the turn over is more amazing. Although it is often claimed that street art is transitory many good pieces remain for years, like the Mr Hyde figure a few metres away.

Good works of street art, that I have seen recently, is a simple but effective paste-up of a single colour stencil of Jesus carrying a paint roller instead of a cross.  Another one, just off McKillop St., in an alley before Bourke St, Happy has colourful paste up of Pinocchio dead, hung by his own long nose. Happy is also responsible for the paste-up yellow Mr Happy figure who is about to explode. Evidently Happy is cynical about happiness. Happiness is not questioned, or perceived to be of importance in contemporary culture but I am happy that Happy is doing something about it.

There is large wall aerosol collaboration in the opposite alley in Mc Killop St. – I am not picking out this one in particular, there are so many of these beautiful walls in the small alleys and lanes of Melbourne, Brunswick, Fitzroy and Collingwood. It makes urban exploration more entertaining. I enjoyed finding Ghostpatrol’s painting on the side of a house in Hertford St., Fitzroy: a group of people in animal skins at night plan a trip from Here to There on a map.

When will one of these walls be preserved (in more than just jpeg format) for future generations and moved to a public art gallery? When will a public art gallery commission a street art wall? Perhaps, removing street art from the street would be the wrong way to approach it as it removes the art from the architectural and psychological context of the street. In this case a tour of the street art, like the rgular groups of high school students and teachers, would be more appropriate, even if the street art is not preserved. Andrew McDonald, founder of Citylights, has been running tours of Melbourne’s CBD street art for NGV members and the public.

Recent Art Trends

Fashions change in the art world, not always in dramatic ways, often in small trends. Two unrelated recent art trends are exposing raw canvas and whimsical illustrations in books.

Raw Canvas

At Seventh Gallery Julia Theobalt is showing paintings in the current fashion of hardedge, minimalist, abstracts with exposed raw brown linen support. It is the third exhibition that I have seen in this style in the last month. There is more of the same style just across the road in Dianne Tanzer Gallery, ‘Sweet Delirum’ by Louise Blyton. Blyton has been working in this style for several years now, she was exhibiting raw linen at Red Gallery in 2005, but now the trend has caught up with her. I first saw this raw canvas style last month at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery with the paintings of Jason Haufe.

This new style or trend is attractive and decorative in a minimalist way. The paint is very flat and the geometry more playful than rigorous. The sight of so much raw brown linen is new and appealing. It has been done before except for so much raw linen, that is the trend can be explained within art history. This trend may not be confined to minimalist abstract painters; Yvette Coppersmith uses raw unbleached linen very eloquently in her “Forever in Blue Jeans’ 2007.

Whimsical Illustrations

Artists have stopped destroying books and making art out them, a trend that I was observing two years ago. They have returned to more traditional approach of making and illustrating books.

“The fashion world’s obsession with whimsical art in a book” Elle (US) (March 2008, p.282) If this is the case then Pierre Lloga’s children’s book “The Amazing Fleabomb” should do well. It is the story of cat that plays drums in a band. The colorful, endearing, whimsical illustrations are the main feature of the book. I was at 696 to enjoy the launch of the book. Pierre Lloga was also exhibiting the illustrations from the book in the small gallery. There was a small crowd of people at the opening but only one child.

Another artist that I have seen working in this whimsical style is Leith Walton. Walton’s watercolor and ink drawing at Brunswick Arts Entry 08 sold before the opening night. Walton is, not surprisingly, working on a children’s book.

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