Daily Archives: March 5, 2009

Wannabe art

What is the difference between graffiti and street art? The later is art but that is just a deductive point and the actual difference may be very subtle, like the difference between a carton of Campbell’s soup cans and Warhol’s cartons of Campbell’s soup cans in an art gallery. Part of the difference is that one is in an art gallery and the other is not but that is neither a necessary nor a sufficient difference, a point that seems to have been lost on some wannabe street artists. The white walls around Sutton Gallery in Fitzroy have become covered with graffiti as if this brings the writers closer to art. And now the stairwells of Westspace and Bus artist-run-spaces are becoming covered with tags. Outside Westspace I saw two pairs of shoes hanging from a wire. There are tags on their soles: Drew & Putz. If you sign it does it make it art?

Outside West Space

Outside West Space

But there are still more desperate acts of wannabe art on exhibition in Melbourne. When I visited No Vacancy the smell of aerosol was in the air as Swifty prepared a Susuki hatchback to do a ‘live’ piece at the opening. The Urban Dictionary  defines “Like a Swifty” as a incredibly bad or embarrassing performance at something which the person/s tried hard at. This sums up “The Swifty Show” at No Vacancy Gallery. I have never seen such a derivative exhibition, there is less original content in it than a photocopier. Swifty  is a British street-style designer who wants to be Pop artist and thinks that by re-branding Andy Warhol’s and Jasper Johns’ old images he will be one. Simply re-branding Vegemite jars or Campbell’s soup cans with his own “Swifty” logo is the work of a designer rather than be an artist. I don’t know what fool thinks that this is wit or the sophisticated work of “an unrepentant acolyte of the post hip hop sampling generation”. Swifty’s work might have pseudo-intellectual appeal if you have read a child’s guide to Pop Art.

I don’t know why so many street artists are desperate to get into art galleries when really they could earn a better living as designers than wannabe artists.


Current Hippy Art

Last year in July Matthew Watts exhibited in Off the Kerb’s back room now he is exhibiting more hippy inspired images at Shifted. “What Time is Love” is a strange scene that looks like it could be from the late 1960s when Matthew Watts was a child. Actually the mix of figurative ink paintings and op art along with an installation and neo-dada plaques would not have occurred in the late 1960s but it looks like it could have.

Op art circles create empty spaces where the faces of the hippies would have been. Watts combines romantically painted in ink or drawn in graphite with hard edge abstraction. The subtle faces drawn in the rock of dolman in “Om Station #1” is approaching kitsch but the geometric image above it goes off in a different direction. And Watts’ work keeps on going off in different directions with the work in the exhibition. Framed plaques with “Eternity Ltd.”, “Utopia Inc.”, and “Freedom Corporation” are amusing ideas. And “Ampwood”, the installation of white mattress, white shoes, white stereo speakers and white wooden blocks amongst reddish brown leaves took the exhibition in another direction. The exhibition gives no clues about if Matthew Watts is doing. Is it a re-examination or a continuation of the hippy subculture?

Penelope Aitken’s exhibition at West Space’s Gallery 3, “You seem so settle for one that doesn’t belong” is in a similar aesthetic to Matthew Watts. The exhibition is lit exclusively with an ultraviolet light and reminded me of the day-glo sixties. The ultraviolet light makes the white lace dollies glow. The white circular dollies are like sixties spirograph images in their geometric intricacy. The white dollies reminded me of the growth of lichen on rocks, reinforced by the installation of a large glowing boulder in the gallery. Along with the installation Aitken is showing paintings of the boulder with dollies.

I feel ambivalent about both of these exhibitions even although both of them are fun to look at. There is something uncertain about both of these exhibitions or maybe that is just my attitude to hippy art. In 1980s ‘hippy’ became an insult, a word that meant a naïve optimists who will soon betray their ideals. 

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