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Daily Archives: June 7, 2011

Brian McKinnon Kicks Ass

Does anyone else like Brian McKinnon’s art?

I hated Brian McKinnon’s current works on canvas when I first saw them from across the Counihan Gallery at the “Reclaim and Sustain” exhibition. His text based mixed media art looked like awful adolescent arts and craft project with those kids foam letters and ink jet prints stuck to the canvas. I had to force myself to take a closer look and then I realized that they were visually rich, complex and enjoyable.

Brian McKinnon's paintings at the Counihan Gallery

There are slices of cheap ink jet prints of European cemeteries forming columns alternating with strips of industrial enamel paint. This creates a pattern of hypnotic repetition across the canvas to support the text. The process of creating these canvases appears to reflect the history of European colonization of Australian – a cheap, exploitative process to produce some temporary results is mirrored in McKinnon’s bricolage.

“No thought was given to longevity…” McKinnon writes in his artist’s “statement and warning”. Many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. There was and is little thought given to longevity of Australia, it is like the process that McKinnon uses to create these paintings.

And as I write this I realize in the words more understanding of Brian McKinnon’s current work. That the “awful adolescent arts and craft project” inspires and haunts the work of all artists – I had been looking for art that reflected the obsession, invention and the amateur in these art and craft projects. Something kick-ass going beyond being stupid and ugly. Maybe, I like his art because it fits into my agenda, or maybe it is just easy to write about it. I have been looking for art that expresses the horrible racist political situation in Australia.

Brian McKinnon"A Matter of Haste"2011

“Its all about the money the mining our sacred burial sites mean nothing.” In cheap foam letters on McKinnon’s “A Matter of Haste” 2011. That says it.

Brian McKinnon has paintings on exhibition at “Reclaim and Sustain” at the Counihan Gallery and “Girt by Sea” at RMIT School of Art Gallery. I’d seen McKinnon’s earlier paintings before at previous exhibitions at Counihan Gallery – there was one of these paintings in the “Girt by Sea” exhibition at RMIT School of Art Gallery. McKinnon’s earlier paintings are graphically strong but were a bit too much like a protest posters for my taste. “What if…” at “Girt by Sea” rounded out my appreciation of his art, in this work the combination of pattern woodcarving and collage elements of the lid of “Flying Dutchman” tobacco. It invites the speculation what if the Dutch had colonized Australia instead of the British… write an essay about that.

McKinnon’s current paintings provoke so many thoughts ranging from Australian politics to McKinnon’s references to the art of William Blake and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. But it is their kick-ass attitude and intensity that hits.

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The Spectacle of Street Art

Walking on Swanston Walk there was sidewalk stall selling aerosol stencil art on old LPs; along with the people doing pencil portraits or folding palm leaves into little animals. And then further on Burke St. up there was someone else doing some live spraying in front of a large crowd. I’ve seen people doing aerosol art as a form of busking before; I can remember seeing people doing this back in 2000 on the streets of Europe. The combination of suburban rock icons, the tourist craft stall and street art was depressing but not surprising.

The spectacle of street artists have been packaged and the public watching the spectacle. The books on street art have been coffee table picture books. These have made money for the publishers but have little other than pretty pictures to recommend them. Street art in Melbourne is a tourist attraction complete with guided walking tours, a subject for multiple books and documentaries, gallery and boutique shop designer merchandise and more… just wait until “Secret Wars” is broadcast on commercial TV complete with commentators and ad breaks, no need to wait, they are already doing that online.

There almost is no need to discuss the art that was on exhibition at Rtist or Art Boy we know what a Rone, a Dirt Fish or an Urban Cake Lady’s piece looks like (if you don’t look them up online and you will find plenty of examples). Brand recognition is an important aspect of street art, becoming a form of tagging with images. The viral nature of street art can quickly become a commercial infection empty of anything but a repeated image.

The Urban Art Agenda #1 exhibition of international street and stencil art was “an official Pop-Up of the Melbourne Design Festival 07”. Street art is a significant contemporary style. And street artists are often both designers and artists; a mix that can result in a good income and endless signature work, like Ken Done. This kind of art gives me a vision of the artist alienated by his/her own production line of creation, like a virus producing more and more versions of their signature work. And the repetition changes the meaning of work from an odd charm to a repetitious drone.

Designers and decorators have used stencils, paste-ups/wallpaper for centuries; using them on the street was surprising and amusing but rarely has increased their artistic quality. Is street art just guerilla decorators painting feature walls for the urban living room? The basic design core of street art is filled with ego, audacity and enterprise. Apart from the occasional joke or political statement there is little to most of the pieces except for design sensibilities and the endless repetition of the signature style/images large. There are always the odd street artists who can rise above this; there is the hope that better site-specific art will emerge.

I was going to write something histrionic like “the end of street art” or “these are signs of the end of street art”. Instead I’ll try to discuss this without too many disparaging remarks or starting a flame war but I’ll wait to see your comments. (For more on problems with street art see my post on Street Art and Plagiarism and Advertising and Graffiti.)


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