Monthly Archives: February 2009


“Figuration Now” is a group exhibition of four notable contemporary figurative artists at the Karen Woodbury Gallery.

There seems to be some confusion in the title of this exhibition between the words ‘figuration’ and ‘figurative’. Figuration is the giving an allegorical form by representing it using human or animal forms. Figurative is the depiction of human or animal figures in art, with or without an allegoric or emblematic meaning. Figurative art is common now and this exhibition is able to presents a broad range of styles and techniques from traditional to idiosyncratic. However, to describe all of the work on exhibition as figuration is to erroneously conflate all figurative art with figuration.

Del Kathryn Barton, the winner of the 2008 Archibald Prize, is influenced by the elongated figures of Egon Schiele and the work of famous, American, outsider artist, Henry Darger. Although her multi-media paintings and drawings are figurative her one sculpture in the exhibition is clearly figuration. The tower of baby doll arms growing out of the pumpkin is a surreal allegory of fecundity.

McLean Edwards makes fun allusions to the history of European portraiture and in turn Australian painter, William Dobell’s controversial 1944 Archibald prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith. The figures in Edwards’s paintings represent the idea of European portraits; the dark background giving form to his figure is an attribute of portraiture not just a ground for the figure. Edwards’s figures are dressed in what are clearly costumes and costumes are tools of figuration, a means of creating an allegorical or emblematic figure.

Nusra Latif Qureshi uses the Pakistani tradition of musaviri (miniature painting) to paint ideas about the post-colonial world. In this exhibition Nusra Latif Qureshi uses figures of iconic Australian beach culture as ironic symbols for boat people. Her delicate paintings of outlines are like diagrams that have become so full of lacunas that it is hard to see what they depict, a further allegory on the post-colonial world. Diagrams are another kind of figure, where ideas are represented. In her paintings the diagrams of dhows or the line of dashes to indicate distance travelled or borders crossed amplifies the figuration.

The paintings of Jonathan Nichols are clearly figurative. An argument that his paintings of women are emblematic of limited knowledge and therefore figuration could be made but it would be torturous.

February Exhibitions @ Nicholas Building

Starting on the 8th floor Stephen McLaughlan Gallery is showing “Abstraction 2009”, a group show of abstractions. Once upon a time people believed that abstraction was the future of art and would lead to the salvation of humanity. Now abstraction is just another type of image often with symbolic mystical qualities. Most of the artists in this exhibition are from the last generation who could believe in the beneficent qualities of abstraction and their titles reflect thee mystical qualities. The exception is the work of the slightly younger artist, Shiau-Peng Chen. Made of wooden blocks Chen’s geometric abstractions exist in two states: assembled and with the coloured wooded blocks free of the frame and scattered on the table. This is contemporary re-examination of the structure of abstract art.

A floor down at Blindside there is “Debut V”, a group show curated by Natalya Mailer of nine fine art 2008 graduates. The sculptors are the stars of the show. Aly Aitken’s sculptures look like 3D versions of figures from a Francis Bacon nightmare. Aitken has used found materials and fabric to create coherent Surreal figures. Carl Scrase “Structure for the Accumulation of All Knowable Knowledge” follows the geometry of office folders linked with bulldog clips to its circular conclusion. It is yet another beautiful and colourful work by Scrase as he explores the logic and sculptural qualities of ordinary objects.

Natalya Mailer has written an extensive essay on the work in the exhibition and even proposed a theme for the exhibition however she provides no curatorial explanation for the inclusion of any of the artists. Or why her selection of recent graduates from Melbourne’s art school is different from “New Releases”, the selection of recent graduates on at Pigment Gallery, five floors lower down the building.

The difference between the two exhibitions is clear, although unstated; the graduates at Blindside are creating art for institutions, whereas the graduates at Pigment are, on the whole, creating for domestic environments. The differences between art for art institutions and art for domestic environments include the type of materials used, their maintenance and the physical requirements to exhibit them.

It is easy to imagine most of the art in “New Releasess” in someone’s home or office. “New Releases” has: oil paintings of hi-tech scenes by Michael Staniak, elegant etchings by Kristina Sundstrom, contemporary pop-cartoon-animal sculptures by Sarah Deed and the whimsical illustrations by Carmel Seymour, who creates images of a world full of domestic magic.

Both Blindside and Pigment Gallery have been enlarged. Pigment Gallery has two new spaces, a white room and a smaller black walled room. And Blindside now has a second room.

Mailbox 141, further along Flinders Lane, also has an exhibition of the work of jewellery graduates from Box Hill TAFE. Everyone’s exhibiting the recent graduates.

Preview of Pet Machine

I had a chance to preview Celso Gitahy’s exhibition Pet Machine at J Studios, Library Artspace before it opens next Wednesday. Celso, his manager, and James Waller from J Studios were installing the exhibition when I arrived. I helped out a little bit with moving work for the installation and got my hands dirty helping move the old washing machine. The washing machine was cumbersome and James was concerned about it denting the white gallery wall. It was one of many recycled and repainted objects that Celso was using for his exhibition.


Celso Gitahy installing Pet Machine

Celso Gitahy installing Pet Machine


Celso Gitahy,  a street artist from São Paulo, Brazil, first came to Melbourne for the 2007 Stencil Festival. I met him at his exhibition late last year at Famous When Dead (see my blog entry São Paulo Artists in Melbourne). 

In the centre of the gallery space Celso piled up old computer monitors with repainted screens into a small pyramid. Other pieces are painted on an electric heater, an old fridge door with old stickers on it, vinyl, veneer and plastic car sale signs. These durable readymade surfaces are often already decorated and Celso Gitahy aerosol stencil art adds another layer of meaning.

The ironing board with vinyl tiger skin and green foam rat on it is a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s idea of a ‘reverse’ or ‘reciprocal readymade’, a Rembrandt used as an ironing board. (The Essential Writing of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Michel Samouillet & Elmer Peterson, London, 1975, p.32)

Not that all of Celso Gitahy’s art is on recycled supports, there are plenty of stencil paintings on canvas, paper and card, and the supports are not central to his art. They are just the supports to the images – Celso Gitahy’s pet machines.

The pet machines are cybernetic combination of animals and machines. There are animals with cameras, drills, irons and other machines instead of heads. It sums up the psychology of humans who have placed themselves between duality of the natural and machine world. Gitahy’s has included a few Australian animals in his menagerie

We are already living in Gitahy’s world where animals and machines are fused. We use animal and machine metaphors interchangeably. Machines, like the VW Beatle, are inspired by animals; and we, human animals are inspired by machines like cars and trains. It is humans, who keep both dogs and cars as both pets and tools.

Although I did not see the exhibition hung I did see most of the images in it and they make me sure that this will be a beautiful, fun and thought provoking exhibition. The Brazilian Ministry of Culture sponsored Pet Machine; has the Australia Council assisted any Australian street artists to exhibit internationally?

Art Squats

For some reason Melbourne’s main daily paper the Age published an article on the Tacheles art squat. I suppose it is cheaper to buy a syndicated article than actually report on Melbourne’s art scene. I visited Tacheles when I was in Berlin in 2001, there were several floors of a former department store turned into studio/exhibition space and, of course, like in all Nth European art galleries, eating and drinking space. There was a big beer-garden out the back, a cinema and venue for bands.

I emailed my friend and artist, Simone Haack who lives in Berlin to ask her views of Tascheles and other art squats. Simone replied: “to be honest, I don’t know so much of them here (except Tacheles), cause I am in a less alternative art scene here (if I could claim that I am in an art scene) but some months ago I saw a good exhibition in Tacheles, it was about being stranger, artists from several countries participated (I forgot the title!).”

I told Simone that I had been thinking about writing an article comparing the art squats in Europe with Artist-Run-Initiatives (ARI) in Melbourne. There are no art squats that I know of in Australia even though residential squatting is still relatively common in Melbourne (a squat in a house owned by Melb Uni has recently been brought to an end but the squat around the corner from my house has continued for years).

Both art squats and ARIs are run by artists but there the similarities end. Art squats are not galleries but mix studios with exhibition and performance space, they are chaotic, dynamic and political. It might appear that this is the genuine avant-garde art. However, as Simone pointed out: “I wonder why art squats are often so similar to each other: you’ll always find this particular type of person: politically engaged (left), punks, autonomies, vegans, special dress codes… so I don’t think they are really free.”

The ARI, in contrast are structured like art galleries, the exhibition space is organized, structured and static throughout the exhibition period. Politically they are basically bolshevik; controlled by a small committee of artist/insiders who determine what and who will exhibit. This does mean that there is some filtering, unlike in the art squat where everything is on exhibition. This lack of filtering means that art squat art tends towards craft or popularist or popularist provocations against official art. Whereas the ARIs tend towards the official non-commercial side of gallery art aimed at the insider arts circle of other fine arts graduates.

I was disappointed to find that the art squat Chez Roberts had closed last time that I was in Paris but according to its webpage it is once again open.

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