Monthly Archives: April 2008

April Graffiti Notes

Parts of my questions about the preservation of graffiti for future generations have been answered at the Permissible Art Forum. Some of it is already being preserved. However, at the forum, Ghostpatrol pointed out that the high cost of the multiple coats of anti-graffiti sealant applied after the Union Lane street art project to preserve the work cost more than the production. In Ghostpatrol’s opinion it would be better not to preserve the old pieces but to create more new works; it is a question of who is funding it and for what reasons.

There are a few pieces of graffiti north of Coburg on the Upfield line, like the rude Batman opposite Batman station (that was an obvious joke just waiting to happen), but mostly it is tags and throw ups. This is partially because the area beside the railway tracks is mostly unsuitable for large pieces, as the area is suburban on one side and, on the other, the factories are surrounded by mesh fence and are not abutting the railway line like they are in Brunswick.

As I was riding my bicycle I passed a guy removing tags from a building. I could smell the chemicals of the graffiti remover solvent from across the road. The man working was not wearing any protective mask or gloves. The smell of the chemicals made me consider if the removal of graffiti is more harmful than its application.

Moreland Leader, Monday 31st March, Brigid O’Connell reporting on homeless mentions that a “graffiti guardian angel gave Kurt a sense of security and peace” as he slept rough in an abandoned factory in Brunswick. The community that street artists feel a responsibility to is the community who are on the street, the homeless not the property owners, the young lumpen proletariat not the working families. Rather it is the community that is generally regarded as being outside the community.

The Guardian Weekly (4/4/08 p.42) reports that London’s Swiss embassy has an estimated (US)$2 million art collection in their underground carpark. They acquired the collection in 2001 when they invited graffiti artists to paint the carpark. One of the artists was Banksy The Swiss are laughing all the way to the bank.

Fashion Show

Leeana Edward’s designs could be the fashion of the near future. Imagine streets, offices and homes full of people wearing dark structured modern clothes with clean lines emphasising their vertical forms. There are flashes of red and white with street art prints amidst the dark industrial clothing, for this is not distopia that bans colours, pleats and bows. It is a stylish future where people wear fashionable but practical clothes.

“Don’t even think of printed shirts…”

The media release for Leeana Edward’s “Urban Textiles” exhibition is so well written I just have to quote it and steal from it. The media release even makes sense; it is not bullshit, the “clean edge design and structured architectural tailoring” in her clothes do show Edward’s “fascination for the Bauhaus School of Design and for Japanese Art and Anime”. The modern elegance of Bauhaus design can be seen in Edward’s reinvention of the necktie into a collar and panel with clean edges. And the panel is enhanced with stencil or screen-prints like a panel from a kimono. In this case a high contrast one colour screen print of Johnny Depp’s face by Pav Art.

An exhibition of fashion, “a collection of one-off skirts, dresses and tops”, in an art gallery is a bold move. Displaying the collection on hanging or on tailor’s dummies allows the viewer more time to appreciate the structure of the garments and detailing than a few seconds of catwalk time. Another reason for the exhibition is to show the work at 696 where she meet her collaborators, Satta van Daal and Pav Art.

Her collaborators, the creators of the stencil and screen-prints for her garments, provided visual support to the exhibition. Impressively Pav Art had wallpapered the two exhibition rooms with giant black and white prints of streetscapes. And along with several of Satta van Daal’s canvases that combine stencil art with painterly fields, it made for stunning exhibition.

Moreland Sculpture Show


The solution to the recurrent vandalism of the Moreland Sculpture Show in previous years has been found with a change of the location from Coburg Lake Reserve to Bridges Reserve. This along, with the threat of video cameras watching the sculpture reported in the Moreland Leader, has allowed even some fragile sculptures to survive, so far unscathed.

The sidewalks of the park are covered with stencil painted signs announcing the show; showing the extensive influence of stencil art on Melbourne.

The theme of the show is “the future is now.” Given the threat of global warning this was interpreted by most of the artist as an environmental concern. Recycling is a dominant theme of the show; 9 of the 19 artists used recycled material in their sculptures. The use of recycled steel by Mark Cowie in “The Kneeling Square” or Kelly-Ann Lees “Totem After Kippel” demonstrate that good non-figurative public sculpture can be made from recycled materials. Tanja George’s “Tur Door: Please Open”, uses recycled steel in the tradition of Ernst and Picasso’s sculptures transforming these found materials into a figure.

Bonnie Lane took the use of recycled materials to an interesting extreme with her work “All You Need”. Lane found all she needed on the streets of Moreland, obviously making good use of the recent hard rubbish collection. She found enough for a home, well, a letter box, front door, chairs, coffee table etc. And she arranged this as a home behind the wire fence at the back of the pool to surreal effect.

Not all of the sculptures with an environmental theme were made of recycled materials. One of the best sculptures in the show is Jim Howson’s “In need of reversal”, showed a historical view of the local environment in a series of four elegant eucalyptus leaf forms in steal and wood. Candy Stevens went further on the environmental theme creating a living sculpture of grass, titled prosaically “Keep Off the Grass”.

With all of the sculptures on environmental themes or using recycled material it is important to note that there were other good sculptures. Paul Allen’s impressive “Mandala #3” a rather two-dimensional sculpture of milled steel painted red, yellow and black that transforms the view of the park when you look through it. And, David Marshall’s “Quinta Essentia” of stone and steel makes a hero of the humble paperclip without looking like a Claus Oldenburg.

Some of the sculptures would be better suited to private or smaller gardens, like Liz Walker’s “Shop Till You Drop” (I last saw it in a gallery but it looks even better out in a garden with a small tree growing in it). Yoshi T. Machida’s “Where to?” would look great in a smaller intimate garden; it looks like a large bird with elegant curving metal legs and body of wood and stone.

Melbourne needs more public sculptures especially in the suburbs and it is good to see so many strong works in this year’s Moreland Sculpture Show. I hope that other city councils follow Moreland’s example.

Graffiti Forum

On Sunday 6th April, at Famous When Dead Gallery there was a panel talk about graffiti in the CBD. JD Mittman introduced the diverse panel and the discussion in the context the Union Lane Street Art project part of the City of Melbourne mentorship program.

The first panelist to speak was Alison Young, a criminologist at Melbourne University researching graffiti. Young pointed out that there was diversity in groups doing graffiti, that you cannot have ‘nice’ street art without the ‘ugly’ tagging, and how harsh laws can make the problem worse. She was especially critical of Victoria’s “increadibly harsh” anti-graffiti laws and its erosions of the legal standards. She also noted the entrepreneural aspects of street art in San Francisco.

Ghostpatrol spoke next about the perspective of a street artist who has now become a professional artist with a studio. From his adolescent boredom motivating stickers and stencil runs to his discovery of the Stencil Revolution and Melbourne’s street art scene. Ghostpatrol talked about the “reclaiming of space” and the group spirit that motivates much of street art. He is doing his art “not for money or fame” but to be part of a community.

Fiona McLeod from the Hardware Precinct Residents Association who gave the views of CBD residents. McLeod is the voice of the moderate anti-graffiti faction, certainly not opposed to all graffiti or street art and aware of the history of graffiti. Tagging, consent and cost of graffiti removal were her main concerns. McLeod raised the issue of increased inner city violence and drunkenness.

Cr David Wilson, from the City of Melbourne spoke about the cities broad arts policy and specifically the graffiti management plan. This management plan includes eradication, law enforcement, education of the planning process for street art and engagement with the street artists. The council is clearly capable of issuing street art permit, having issued 21 so far, but its education campaign is nascent. And subsequent speakers questioned the success of its engagement mentorship program. The problem with the mentorship program is that although it produces great street art projects like Union Lane that please the city, residents and tourists, it fails to address the problem or to engage with the taggers.

Andy MacDonald, director of Citylights Projects and Hoiser Lane resident gave the view of an inner city resident that lives and works with street art. He contrasted the organic community management of graffiti with the council’s bureaucratic permits. MacDonald maintains that the permits have lead to hundreds of teenagers tagging the locations along with increased inner city violence. And that this is discouraging the serious artists from working in the locations because their work will be quickly wreaked. He contrasted this with the organic local management of the graffiti by residents and artists. MacDonald also spoke about the exploitation of street artists work by advertising using the Hoiser Lane location.

This was followed by questions and comments from the large audience that was packed into the gallery, including the mother of a teenage tagger, youth workers and street artists. This discussion mostly focused on the problems with increased alienation of teenage boys due to consumer based recreation, the city’s increasing population and the poor transportation infrastructure. And alternatives to the current City of Melbourne bureaucratic permit system.

I hope that JD Mittman organizes more forums about street art. There is plenty of interest and plenty more to aspects of street art to discuss. 

Skaffs & RMIT


Following street art, or rather the new graphic style, and I was interested in seeing the work of Luke Feldman, aka Skaffs. I was also interested in the location, as I hadn’t heard of Paper Shadow Gallery before; Paper Shadow Gallery turned out to be a very attractive white cube room upstairs at Mac’s on Franklin Street. Which reminds me that I must write another entry about all the art bars, exhibitions in pubs and other connections between alcohol and art.

Luke Feldman’s illustrations of sexy girls are well done but typical of the current Asian influenced cartoon like graphic style. Feldman hits so many contemporary trends: images on bare wood (like the raw canvas style that I wrote about in Recent Trends in Art), street art with his images on skate decks, and whimsical illustrations (that I also mentioned in Recent Trends). The most interesting work at the show was Feldman’s giant removable vinyl stickers that live on the wall outside of the picture frame.

Feldman’s illustrations are commonly of sexy young women with almond eyes often in attractive lingerie. If it is appropriate to look up a woman’s dress then you know it must be art. Boucher painted pretty views up women’s skirts in the 1750s; a century later Courbet was more direct. Now the fashion has returned to pretty and whimsical images. But it is not just a fashion statement it is also an indicator of the culture’s attitude to sex.


I saw a few exhibitions around RMIT. At First Site there was Marian Janahi “The unlovely”; that title sums it all up really, it is ugly. Boe-lin Bastian’s “Still Life”, also at First Site, is attractive even if she is just painting bits of paper, wood and masking tape rather than the usual flowers, fruit and ceramics. It is confident painting, so confident that Bastian exhibits the objects along with the painting. Bastian is also exhibiting a wall drawing (a drawing on the wall of the gallery, a recent trend in art) of boxes, again with the model attached to the same wall. The third exhibition at First Site was Joanna Mortreux.”Self Made Naturalist”. Mortreux with her photographs and peepholes creates a mysterious world where we are made the naturalist trying to identify the animals that we think we see. This mystery made me want to look again, to work it out, a kind of attraction and certainly an interest.

In another RMIT building there was a very small exhibition at the RMIT Union Artspace of electron microscopy photographs by 3rd year scientific photography students. Displaying scientific photographs with the bare minimum of didactic information makes the scientific photograph art and these are beautiful images.

Off the Critical Map

This entry is about artists exhibiting in furniture showrooms, craft galleries, tourist and other exhibition spaces off the critical map. Some of the art in these places is not worth reviewing or buying but that isn’t a reason to ignore a whole section of Melbourne’s art world.

Ralf Kempken, stencil art paintings are on exhibit at a furniture shop in Smith St. The paintings are stencil pop images of urban scenes from Fitzroy with a tone of sentimentality. They are slightly different to the paintings of his that I have seen in gallery exhibitions; the design more decorative and they are full of nostalgia for the charm of Fitzroy and St. Kilda.

Kempken is not the only artist to be exhibiting in Fitzroy furniture showrooms. The Contemporary Art Society of Victoria members regularly exhibit at MoorWood Furniture. Many Australian artists have exhibited in furniture showrooms; it was in the early part of 20th century the common exhibition venue for paintings in Australia. It still seems logical if the art is intended for a domestic setting.

There are many small craft and art galleries in scattered around Melbourne. These galleries have different business models; in.cub8r, in Smith St. is a rental space dividing up the shop space to lease it to the makers/artists. Others take work to sell on a commission, like Self Preservation. Self Preservation also doubles as a coffee shop along with a good selection of local design jewellery and some look-like art. Self Preservation is on Bourke St opposite the old Aboriginal Dreaming Gallery.

Aboriginal Dreaming Gallery used to have paintings in stacks like rugs and big names of big name aboriginal artists in the window, names like: Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Minnie Pearle. It had been there for decades, selling to the tourists I thought, but I had never entered. Now it is closed, the space empty and good riddance to the philistines.

Another gallery to close is Circus Gallery, a shop front galley in Coburg. Circus Gallery is moving from Coburg, Victoria to Austin, Texas following the move by gallery director and artist, Andrew May. Painter, sculptor and photographer, May regularly exhibited his work in galleries and local exhibitions, like the Shopfronts/Artfronts project and the Moreland Sculpture Show. His energy and enthusiasm for organizing exhibitions will be missed in Coburg, a suburb now without any kind of art gallery.

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