Monthly Archives: May 2011

Random Observations of Street Art

Photos of chalk graffiti – self-referential street art  – twilling on the streets –painted houses – more photos

I’ve noticed an increase in chalk graffiti in Melbourne, a very old school approach to graffiti. Is this a response to the anti-graffiti laws or just one prolific writer who has chosen to use chalk? Well some of the chalk is by Miso writing “Les Lumieres” in her best copperplate script, a homage of sorts to Arthur Stace’s “Eternity”.

Self-referential street art that comments on street art itself (see my original blog post about self-referential street art). And as street art is itself a political action the self-referential street art comments on the politics of street art. I am particularly taken by discussions about the desire to be famous in street art. To be famous, to be a ‘somebody’ is in conflict with the legal need for street artists to remain anonymous.

Paper quilling as street art – someone is always trying something new in Hosier Lane.

This house in Fitzroy has a great concept that engages in a dialogue with the street.

This large legal work on the side of a house in Henry St., Brunswick, is a tribute to Dr. Seuss’s illustrated children’s books. It is the work of the Per Square Metre crew: Duate, Dabs, Askem, Sear, Xygm and Race. Dr. Seuss’s own quirky drawing style developed because of his own perceived inability to draw in a conventional manner. The Per Square Metre crew have done their own thing mixing Dr. Suess’s style and characters with their own calligraphy. They have densely packed the space with interconnecting images that flow across the architecture. If you love good aerosol art or your children love Dr. Seuss you must see this work. It has been there for four or five years and remains undamaged except for the removal of one painted shutter featuring the cat in the hat that I presume was removed by the owner for some reason.

Stolen & Restored Statues

In 2010 thieves stole Loretta Quinn’s sculpture “Within Three Worlds” from Princess Park stolen using an angle grinder to cut the bronze statue off at its feet. Now, in 2011, new edition of the statue has been cast and it has now been installed in its original location.

Loretta Quinn “Within Three Worlds” 1995 original

Loretta Quinn “Within Three Worlds” 1995 restored

The new version of “Within Three Worlds” is different from the original, almost completely different but the three boats in the pond are still original. The new statue is better than the original, it is less clunky, the shoes, hands and dress are more detailed and the hair curves more elegantly. Most obvious difference is that the new statue has a green finish on the dress and shoes. It has also been moved a metre closer to the pond.

It is good to see the statue back and the restoration of the stolen has been completed with refilling of the ornamental pond that it is located beside (the pond was dry due to a prolonged drought in Melbourne). The statue is dedicated to the memory of Angela Jane Esdaile (1969 – 1993) and commemorates the contribution to the community of childcare workers like Angela. (See my blog post about the Missing Statue.)

Stolen public sculpture in Melbourne receives little attention, as Melbourne’s public is more interested in an art scandal than an art theft. The bronze dog, “Larry LaTrobe” was stolen from the city square in 1995. The current “Larry LaTrobe” is another edition courtesy of Peter Kolliner, the owner of the foundry where the original was cast. The regular theft of the hammer from “The Pathfinder” by John Robinson, 1974 in the Queen Victoria Gardens required that the replacement be unscrewed every night. The recurring theft of the hammer from the statue became such a problem that the hammer is now rarely installed (or has the replacement been stolen?).

None of these stolen statues have been recovered; it is unfortunate but these bronze sculptures were probably stolen for the scrap metal. This was probably the fate of the 1m metal statue of Christ stolen from a Templestowe Church in August 2010 reported in Manningham Leader. The only stolen public sculpture that has been recovered is “the boy with the turtle” (artist unknown c.1850) that was stolen in 1977 from Fitzroy Gardens and recovered two and a half years later abandoned in a Richmond carpark. It was saved because it is only made of cement and cement has little intrinsic value.

An English fantasy illustrator told me that he’d returned home to find that his flat was being burgled. The two burglars bailed him up and asked if he’d done the art; he told them it was his and they complimented him on his art and left taking nothing. The Marius-Jacob gang went even further on discovering that they had broken into the house of a French poet they left money to replace the pane of glass that they had broken. Robbing artists or stealing public sculpture for scrap metal lacks any dignity as a crime, like stealing from charity bins.

Pop Surrealism in Melbourne

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are filled with a passionate intensity.”

W.B. Yeats – The Second Coming

Fantastic, visionary and surreal elements have always been present in art; these strange attractors will always have artists and collectors. It exists in a cluster of other strange attractors: the exotic, the primitive, the macabre, and the comic…

What ever it is a fantastic publishing opportunity for books and magazines, prints and posters – and the galleries that sell them. Several Melbourne people have published fantastic art: in the past, Art Visionary magazine and currently, BeinArt Publishing. Melbourne has two galleries that specialize in this art: the established city gallery, Outré Gallery and, the Brunswick gallery, 696 Ink.

Outré Gallery is a commercial boutique gallery on Elizabeth St. in the Melbourne that exhibits artists like Shag, Mark Ryden and “other pop, lowbrow, street and alternative art”, according to their entry in Art Almanac. They also have a branch in Sydney. Outré Gallery is focused on American lowbrow and street art along with more than books, prints and vinyl toys. The last time that I was in Outré Gallery I saw a painted porcelain hand-grenade and other porcelain products from Laibach.

696 Ink (see my review of their opening) is a smaller gallery and although it also exhibits internationally known pop-surreal artists. There was a Robert Wilson painting on the wall when I was last in there and a young artist from the eastern suburbs was in to see a single painting by an artist that he admired. 696 Ink specializes in local artists and more affordable art. It also distributes the books of Jon Beinart, who also has a hand in the management of the gallery. BeinArt Publishing started with glossy full colour book of fantastic art, Metamorphosis, since then it has published Metamorphosis 2 and two other monographs on the work of individual fantastic artists.

Art Visionary, “Australian & International Journal of Fantastic & Visionary Art”, was an irregular publication from Melbourne, starting in 1997 and continued for 3 issues. Damian Michaels, an American artist and art collector who migrated to the suburbs of Melbourne in 1995, edited it. Art Visionary focused too much on the Viennese School of Fantastic Art, like H.R.Giger, and Wolfgang Grasse. Issue 1 started with a colour cover and black and white inside but the number of colour pages grew in later issues. There was a modest amount of advertising in the magazine from galleries from around the world including Outré Gallery.

Both Damian Michaels and Jon Beinart operate as publishers, collectors and dealers. They organize exhibitions of the artists that they represent; Jon Beinart has had exhibitions at Brunswick Arts and the old, 696. In 2001 Damian Michaels curated Fantastic Art, an exhibition mostly from his own collection of fantastic art from around the world, at Orange Regional Gallery. Later this exhibition toured Ballarat Gallery and other regional galleries. On the 23rd of July 2004 I was at the opening of the Fantastic Art exhibition at Ballarat Gallery. About a hundred other people braved the heavy rain and icy Ballarat winter weather to see because of the variety of contemporary fantastic art. There were works by Tom McKee (US), Erik Heyninck (Belgium), Alex Grey (US), H.R. Giger (Switzerland), Ernst Fuchs (Austria), Paul Freeman (Australia) and many other artists from around the world.

There are problems with pop surrealism and its relatives; they are not innocent in its appropriation by advertising and the mass media as Hakim Bey argues (Hakim Bey TAZ Automedia 1991 p.79). It has become the most commercial of all types of art with mass edition prints and other products marketed at a variety of price levels. What else is the purpose of this art? Is it just to look strange and impressive in reproduction in books and magazines?

Variety in Photography

To see the diversity of photography in the digital age the 2011 Kodak Salon at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) is a good place to start as this open-entry exhibition has hundreds.

And contemporary photography, or rather photo-media, is a varied practice for the photo is no longer confined to a format or support, it can be printed on t-shirts, canvas, metal and paper or shown on a video screen. We could get very technical and discuss the variety of printing techniques currently available for photographs. The subjects of the photographs range from the subjects from the sublime to the profane, from the documentary to digitally manipulated, nature, glamour, landscape… This is not simply an example of the sheer variety of things that people take photographs but it is influenced by the many prizes on offer, including prizes for documentary, landscape, environmental theme, portrait, animal image, conceptual photography and many others. With so many photographs the exhibition is hung salon style – from almost the floor to ceiling where the photograph would fit, filling the main gallery at the CCP. This hanging did not impede the exhibition people are used to focusing and isolating images in their mind, but rather gave it a feeling of vitality and variety.

Just around the corner from the CCP at the Colour Factory Gallery more photography was on exhibition. The gallery is located at the Colour Factory, a business producing various types of prints, and the gallery, unsurprisingly, specializes in photo-based art. I thought that I might be wasting my time because it looked so much like a factory and all the advertising for “colour reproductions” made me wonder what I was going to look at. Inside it there was a small white walled gallery adjacent to the factories office space with an exhibition by Christopher Tovo “Italia Mia”. Tovo’s atmospheric photographs of Italy are not surprising in their subjects but they do capture classic Italian images.

Automotive Graffiti

Once I saw a VW bug with a badly dented bonnet and painted across it were the words: “Skippy wuz here”. The one thing that you can modify on your car, truck or van that will not have any effect on the insurance is the paint.

This is not about automotive aerosol art but rather street art aerosol work used on cars, trucks and vans rather than walls and railway carriages. I know that this is a narrow distinction because some street aerosol techniques started off in car customized paint jobs – and I would welcome some comments about the crossover influence.

A lot of street artists love to paint trains but when it comes to painting their own car that is another matter. I think that I’ve seen more tattoos of street art than decent paint jobs on cars. People are willing to have permanent ink on their skin but they don’t want to do anything to their car’s paintwork. I am continually surprised, given how personally attached many people are to their cars, that they don’t personalize them more but then I don’t own a car – I use a bicycle or public transport. It appears that most people concerned about the resale value of his or her car rather than personal identity and enjoyment. Here are some photos of automotive graffiti that I’ve seen around Melbourne in the last few years.

For more images of automotive graffiti along with some other decorated cars, see “Top 20 most bizarre graffiti cars”.

And check out JaneK’s article on Scott Wade’s reverse graffiti on dirty cars: “Masterpieces of Reverse Graffiti on Cars” (some of his work is also featured in the Top 20 most bizarre graffiti cars) – it is a good idea but Wade’s work is kitsch and it looks like the dust has been specially added.

Akio Makigawa

“Time and Tide” 1994 by Akio Makigawa seems to rise organically from the small plaza on the corner of Swanston Walk and Little Collins Streets. The bluestone, white marble, bronze and stainless steel seems to match with the materials of the city.

Akio Makigawa, Time and Tide, 1994

Part of the sculpture is fitted with fiber optics that emits light creating a different mood at night from daylight. “The individual elements of Time and Tide loosely represent a tree – signifying growth, knowledge and the land – a flame – signifying rebirth and transcendence – and a shell – signifying the ocean.”  (City of Melbourne Outdoor Artworks October 2009 PDF) The sculpture appears to grow out of the broad Swanston Walk footpath and the steps leading up to the café.

Akio Makigawa was born in Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, Japan 1948 and died in Perth, Western Australia, Australia 1999. During his life he was a gymnast, yachtsman, sail-maker, print maker and sculptor. He arrived in Perth in 1974 and worked as a sail maker before turning to sculpture. His first major public work was for the Perth Cultural Centre “Gate II Coalesce”, 1987 around the approach line to the State Library. His sculptures are now in most Australian capital cities: “Equilibrium” at the entrance to the Commonwealth Law Courts in Brisbane and “Elements and Being” in the upper forecourt of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Adelaide.

“Time and Tide” is not the only statue by Akio Makigawa in Melbourne but it is the most visible. There is the simple elegance of his pillar-like sculptures in the forecourt of the Victorian Museum, Carlton Gardens. These sculptures are similar to his “Sculpture IV”, 1998, located in the northern courtyard of Parliament House in Canberra. There are two more in the departure lounge at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport shiny and colorful steel, bronze, aluminum and fiberglass sculptures “Journey West” and “Journey East”, 1996.

“Reinventing the vocabulary of Brancusi and Arp, with a gesture of acknowledgment to his compatriot Hokusai, Akio used and reused formations that echo clouds and seed pods, as well as forms that metaphorically convey the notion of vessels and sails carried by the wind. He drew upon these forms throughout his working life as an artist, returning to them constantly, as if referring to the elements that connect, nourish and inform the movements of all living creatures.” Dr Gene Sherman (Art & Australia, v.38 no.1, 2000 p.71)

The sculptures of Arp and Brancusi are good comparisons except that Makigawa’s sculpture are on a slightly larger scale in proportion to the architecture around it. Arp in respect to his lyrical reinvention of simple natural forms, in the case of “Time and Tide”, the tree, flame and shell. Brancusi for his sculptural interest in the column and his combination of materials, for example, bronze and stone or stone and wood. In “Time and Tide”, Makigawa use of contrasting materials, the contrasts between curves and straight lines form a counterpoint, between dark and light materials, and metal and stone.

One for the records

Camera strapped to my waist, like a gun in holster, ready to shoot and record what I encounter. A blogger has to be a photojournalist, as well as, copy-editor, researcher, editor and publicist – so I have to blow my own trumpet.

This week this blog has received some outside recognition. I don’t know if a link to my post 3 Portraits of Julian Assange from the Huffington Post is that significant as it has only lead to 3 views. What is more significant is that State Library of Victoria (in partnership with the National Library of Australia) is going to archive Black Mark – Melbourne Art & Culture Critic on PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive. PANDORA’s index of Australian websites provides a link to the published site and an annual archive of the site. The library will keep the contents accessible as hardware and software changes over time; long after my energies for it have been exhausted or if WordPress folds. It will also be in the library catalogue and in the National Bibliographic Database (a database of catalogue records shared by over 1,100 Australian libraries).

Looking at the Pandora index in the ‘Fine Arts’ section along with many gallery webpages, like Westspace, 69 Smith and Platform Artist Group, I’m pleased to see Peter Tyndall’s Blogos/Ha Ha included in the archive.  Blogos/HA HA is part of Tyndall’s meta-art work “A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/ someone looks at something…”, the title of all his art. His blog has articles about recent issues and events along with a great selection of images that all build on his meta-thesis about the act of looking. Peter Tyndall’s art made a great impression when I was an undergraduate student at Monash Uni in the early 80s and spurred my interest in looking beyond the image and the frame.

Now this is recognition that I am making a significant contribution to recording Melbourne’s fine arts. It feels like a vindication for all the work that I have put into this blog. And all of this gives me more motivation to write, to research and to explore Melbourne’s visual arts.

And while I have your attention: “Like” my Facebook page for Black Mark – Melbourne Art & Culture Critic; it is a lite version of the blog with more photographs, links to stories and chat about what I’m doing as an art critic.

self-portrait in a tram mirror

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