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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Not Overlooked

On Wednesday night “Looking at the Overlooked” opened at the George Paton Gallery in the Union House at the University of Melbourne. Curator, Joleen Loh has balanced the art of three Melbourne artists: Brooke Williams, Leah Williams and Mia Kenway in an exhibition of calm visions of the constructed world. Joleen Loh is an art history student at Melbourne University who also works at Fehily Contemporary in Collingwood.

Brooke Williams is in her final year at the Victorian College of the Arts. Her impressive installation, “Circle” is a series of dry mounted lithographs on metal brackets mounted floor to ceiling.

Leah Williams is showing two graphite drawings of paint splatter concrete floors, three videos of the play of sunlight and three photographs of views through partially curtained windows. Leah Williams’s art has the serene objectivity of relaxed observations of the ordinary world.

Mia Kenway has a scatter of objects in the gallery, fleshy blocks of pink colored plaster, the sheet of aluminum and tiles on the floor, a piece of glass leans against one wall, a screen hangs on the wall. Although this untitled work does fit with the rest of the exhibition I’ve seen too much of this kind of work in the last year.

The exhibition focuses on the subtly of material, the overlooked in a meditative mood. Of course, at the opening, with about a hundred people drinking wine and talking in the gallery it is hard to even remember such a mood.

The little ‘L’ shaped George Paton Gallery has regular exhibitions every two weeks. There is an old  poster by Peter Tyndall advertising the gallery at the entrance. The gallery has been around since the mid-70s and was one of Melbourne’s first contemporary art spaces but it has been overlooked as more and more spaces have opened.

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Brunswick – Home of the Arts?

A Domino’s pizza has opened in Brunswick at the new development next to the Lebanese bakery where you can buy a herb and vegetarian pizza for $2.50. Alister Karl of Brunswick Arts recommended the bakery too me and I have enjoyed their traditional pizzas for many years now. The opening of franchise next to a Lebanese bakery is an ugly sign of the redevelopment of Brunswick. What was once a working class suburb filled with brickworks and other factories has been slowly gentrified. The gentrification of the Sarah Sands, a venue where my band once had a residency, in between its existence as a strip club and before it’s current transformation in 1993 into an Irish pub, part of the Bridie O’Reilly’s group.

Artists are finding the rent in Brunswick too expensive and the old warehouses that house many of their studios are being redeveloped into apartments. In mid 2009 Moreland Leader reported that the area was both too expensive and that there were more professional musicians living in Brunswick than anywhere else in Melbourne.

“In time, artists and the creative industries that surrounded them would be credited with having been directly responsible for the redevelopment of Shoreditch. In many ways artists were the storm-troopers of gentrification, the first wave of individuals who could be counted on to take over the most basic industrial units and bring them to life.” (Gregor Muir Lucky Kunst, 2009 p.176)

Property redevelopment is a typical symptom of contemporary art; artists in New York, London or Melbourne discover a long neglected suburb (Shoreditch in London or Brunswick in Melbourne) with affordable spaces to turn into studios and galleries, this brings the suburb to the attention of more people and eventually the property developers. And the pattern is repeated in a different location. In Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979) – Thompson describes the chaos mathematics of the forces operating that depopulated inner city suburbs and make them attractive places to redevelop.

Contemporary artists are the property developer’s friends for discovering locations worthy of redevelopment. There are other similarities between contemporary artists and property developers, besides their interest in spaces and locations; both are in the business of selling an expensive and limited product.

Although Brunswick has long been the residence of many artists and the location of many artists studios attracted by cheap rent and proximity to the city. But, unlike the boho Brunswick St. in Fitzroy, Brunswick it did not had many cultural institutions of its own until the last decade. There have not been many pubs with a notable reputation as band venues, alternative cinemas or theatre. Now there is the Cornish Arms and the Retreat Hotel along with the move of community radio station, 3RRR to a building in Brunswick.

Cities are never static systems and a suburb that remains the same dies.


Metro Art Award 2011

On Tuesday, 26 July Jeff Kennett will announce the winner of the Metro Art Award. 25 artists aged 35 and younger are in the running for the award for painting. I went ahead of the announcement to see the exhibition of the selected paintings.

Ben Smith, The Influence, oil on board

There are plenty of paintings with over blown hyperbole, dramatic images showing-off the painter’s technical skills. There are paintings that are too ordinary or too sentimental. It felt so conservative, all these young artists painting studiously but often without any purpose other than attracting attention. Ben Smith’s “The Influence (Leonard Cohen Consoles Nick Cave)” has odd proportions and in the future, when Cohen and Cave are no longer well known, the painting will just look odd.

Vincent Fantauzzo, The Creek, oil on canvas

Vincent Fantauzzo “The Creek” looking like a Caravaggio, with a baroque drama created from working with film director, Baz Luhrmann. Vincent Fantauzzo would be the favorite having previously won the 2011 Archibald Packing Room Prize winner and Metro Art Award’s People’s Choice Prize Winner in 2009 and 2008. The wild card entry would be Matto Lucas “Daruma” who has painted on a photograph of a painted face.

I think that winner might be Michael Brennan “Right Place, Wrong Time” with the intense surface of wrinkled dried paint. Or one of the artists who emerged from Melbourne’s stencil art scene: Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K.) “Untitled, Self Portrait” a multiple layered stencil his legs climbing a ladder, a familiar exercise for artists. In the past I’ve dismissed E.L.K.’s work as technically proficient let down by the content but “Untitled, Self Portrait” combines technique with powerful but restrained image. Or Ben Howe, who was a highly commended emerging artist at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009.  Howe’s “Time and the Elastic” is an intense, dynamic and unusual image of multiple people in multiple layers. Metro Gallery represents several local and international street artists; a framed Banksy currently hangs in the window by the gallery entrance.

“The Metro Art Award previously consisted of a Judges’ Choice Prize of $40,000 and a People’s Choice Prize of $10,000.  In 2011, the People’s Choice Prize has been eliminated and the $10,000 has been added to the Judges’ Choice Prize, which is now $50,000.” (Metro’s media release) Dropping the People’s Choice Award is a good move; there are too many of these polls and the results are too easily manipulated. Popular opinion is well represented by the selection panel itself that comprises “the Hon Jeff Kennett AC former Victorian Premier and Arts Minister (Chair); with Fenella Kernebone, Presenter of the ABC TV’s Art Nation Program; the Rev Dr Arthur Bridge AM, founder of Ars Musica Australis, a charitable foundation supporting the creative arts; and human rights advocate Julian Burnside AO QC”. 

See my review of Metro Art Award 2009.

P.S. The Metro Art Award 2011 was won by Vincent Fantauzzo with “The Creek” – I told you he was the favorite to win.


Prison Art @ Pentridge

Pentridge Prison operated in Coburg between 1850 and 1997 and as in all prisons some prisoners were also artists (not just escape artists and bareknuckle bash artists). In 1886 professional photographer, Joseph H. Soden was convicted of forging pound notes and served time in Pentridge in the same year his photographs were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition.

In 1960 (or 1962 or1964) aboriginal artist Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) painted the mural in “F” Division. Painted with ordinary house paint the mural depicts an aboriginal camp scene. Part of the stolen generation Elliot Ronald Bull had already studied painting with Melbourne painter, Ernest Buckmaster. After his release Elliot Ronald Bull participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions. Some of his mural at Pentridge has been preserved.

Having lived in Coburg for decades I can remember the prison in operation, closed the location being slowly rehabilitated. I can still remember hearing the howls that came from Pentridge at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1991 when I was living a block from the prison walls. I also saw and photographed parts of the prison shortly after it closed.

Carving from officers club rooms Pentridge Prison.

There was some prisoner art on the site in the maximum security Jika Jika Unit and in the officers’ club rooms. On a wall in the officers’ club rooms were a series of folk art style carved and painted round base reliefs. I’m don’t know what has happened to them.

The escape proof Jika Jika Unit has been demolished along with the art on its walls. Prisoners had painted some of the yard walls of the Jika Jika unit. On the ceiling and walls of one cell an unknown, probably aboriginal artist had painted goanna with tracks leading up the wall and onto the ceiling. The simple elegance of this design helped humanized a dehumanising cell.

Towards the end of its long life Pentridge Prison did have various art programs for prisoners run by art educator, Dr Max Darby and painter, Margaret Miles. (See Dr Max Darby’s “My Days In Prison”.)There was also at least one prisoner art exhibition in a CBD bank – so if anyone knows anymore details about prisoner art in Pentridge Prison please comment before the details are lost to history and redevelopment.


WTF Corner

On the corner Punt Road and Bridge Road in Richmond there is a small park area officially called “Urban Art Area”. Nobody was using it when I was there. I’m not sure who would use it in the area – it might be all right to sit on the bench and eat lunch if you worked in the area but I doubt it. “Everywhere, there and here” comments on this park “(the angry looking sculptures aside) yet I have only seen one person ever actually sitting in the site.” Beside the busy Punt Road the little park is multi-level area and contains three sculptures.

It is the site of the former Richmond Cable Tramway Engine House that was demolished in 1991; Melbourne had several independently operating cable tramway companies prior to the current electric tramway system in the early 20th Century. The site is heritage listed for what that is worth.

Of the 3 sculptures: one sculptor appears to have disappeared, another works in a completely different direction and one has gone on to produce more significant works of public sculpture in a very different style. These are the results of this shotgun approach to public art collecting.

Anton Hasell, “Yarra Thylacine”, 1995, bronze

There was no information on site of name of one the sculptures – a dog, a bridge and a boat with the words “Yarra” and “Acheron” on its bow and prow. It is Anton Hasell’s “Running Red Tiger”, 1995, bronze; what appears to be a dog is meant to be an extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial and the tiger also references the Richmond football team. Anton Hasell (Dr Anton Hasell of the Australian Bell Pty Ltd) has gone on to produce many commemorative bells notably the Australian Bell for the Australian Centenary in 2001 and HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime commissioned by Darwin City Council. Stlg48 wrote a blog post about Anton Hasell’s exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2010.

Mary Perrott Stimson, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, bronze

Mary Perrott Stimson’s large figurative bronze sculpture, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, stands out against one wall. Although intended as a friendly statement the sculpture does not help the corner. Mary Perrott Stimson has created another public statue, “Reading the News”, 2001, located in Wagga Wagga but I have not been able to find out anything else about this artist.

Adrian Mauriks “Opus 15”, 1995, steel

The most successful sculpture on the corner is Adrian Mauriks’ “Opus 15”, 1995, of cut steel. This surreal sculpture contains a view onto the back lane and is the only sculpture to refer to the local environment. Adrian Mauriks now mainly works on in white painted epoxy resin and stainless steel and there are examples of his work at Chadstone Shopping Centre, Docklands New Quay Precinct, Bundoora Park, and Deakin University’s Burwood Campus. There is also an earlier work of his in marble in the lawn section of Sprinvale Cemetery. Amongst his early works is a “Homage to Jean Arp” 1972, plaster, showing the Dada/Surreal influence in his work.

This little corner in Richmond demonstrates that landscaping and erecting sculptures is not sufficient to revitalize an urban space.


Artists who blog

A lot of artists write blogs. I even found a blog about artist’s blogs with interviews of artists about their blogging by an artist, Stephanie Levy. Artists Who Blog. Most of the artists are just photographing of their current art and posting that in a blog. I wish that more artist bloggers, especially the painters, would show something of their process and inspiration rather than simply spruiking their completed paintings for sale or advertising their next exhibition.

The Internet has exposed many crypto-artists, the secret artists, the part-time artists, and the artists who are outside of the art world circle. There are many blogs about the arts and crafts (see my post Contemporary Craft Politics & Blogs) and many more blogs about Melbourne’s street art (see my post Melbourne Street Art Blogs).

I’m surprised that zines have survived given the number of artists who are turning to blogs as their preferred media of publication but there will always be an appeal for the hand-made. Sticky Projects, in the Degreaves St. underpass at Flinders St. Station, is full of zines. I’m surprised at any print media surviving economically; the age of art magazines, like Art + Text, as a significant force in art is over.

Well this is a slack blog entry – I could be writing about who would win a death match cage fight (Jeff Koons vs Jackson Pollock) but instead I’m going to present a list of artist’s blogs. A decade ago I used to do these lists of websites for LookSmart, an international internet directory that no longer exists; so writing this entry feels a bit like my old job. I’m going to have a sandwich.

Blogos/HA HA by artist Peter Tyndall part of his meta-art work “A person Looks At A Work Of Art/ someone looks at something. Articles about recent issues and events in the arts along with notes and observations.

Self vs Selfby Sydney artist Hazel Dooney. Hazel writes regularly about her art, the process of making her art and her life.

Psalm, by the veteren Melbourne street artist of the same name. Psalm writes about street art and urban exploration and his blog features lots of photographs of derelict buildings.

Paul J. Kalemba describes himself as “an urban edible®evolutionary” and has regularly exhibited in Platform’s “Underground Garden”.

Hidden Archive by Melbourne artist Dylan Martorell, documentes his exhibitions and sound/music performances.

Earth Died Screaming by Ryan an illustrator living in Collingwood. Ryan writes about his art (showing working in progress), his inspiration and other things happening in Melbourne’s illustration scene.

Supermarketmonkey by a part-time street artist and illustrator. He has mentioned me several times in his blog and consistently sends me traffic, so I should return the favour. Supermarketmonkey writes about life and other art and the process of making art.

This Painting Life by South Australian artist Dianne Gall, writes about her art, thoughts and inspirations.

Six Hundred Degrees – Sophie Milne, ceramic artist who writes about her art practice and other ceramic and art related events. Sophie Milne used to run Pan Gallery in Brunswick.

Erin Crouch, a young Melbourne artist showing her video work and paintings on her blog. (Now by invitation only.)


Fear & Loathing & Melbourne’s Public Sculpture

Melbourne’s public sculpture collection has been assembled without much thought and without much expense. Although I write blog posts about Melbourne’s sculpture it is not because I am particularly impressed with Melbourne public sculpture collection. Melbourne sculptures strike me as a cheap collection by a city that was desperate to install some public art.

As a collection of art the city’s public sculptures are not world class. Melbourne does not have many famous sculptors; the William de Kooning bronze out the front of the Arts Centre is an anomaly both for Melbourne and for de Kooning, who is better known as a painter. In contrast, Adelaide has sculptures by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth and Donald Judd all of which are well known for their sculpture.

Although Australian Aboriginal art is popular with Melbourne’s international visitors there are no major public work of Aboriginal art. The City of Melbourne has also chosen to ignore the local street art movement in public street art – rather they choose to attempt to preserve a piece by Banksy. (Although both Aboriginal art and street art are primarily based painting a sculptural work would not be inappropriate or impossible.)

Edward Ginger “The Echo” 1997

Melbourne City Council’s choice of emerging sculptors rather than established sculptors has saved the city money and given new sculptures a break but very few have become established sculptors. Near the corner of Lt. Bourke St. and Swanston St. is Edward Ginger’s “The Echo” 1997. “The Echo” is a big red funky geometric sculpture that attempts to be an urban totem. “The Echo” is representative of Ginger’s other, usually smaller mixed media works; the intense colours, especially red, and funky geometric forms. Edward Ginger. Unfortunately Ginger has not exhibited since 1998

There is an element of what the late great Hunter S. Thompson would call “fear and loathing” in Melbourne’s sculpture collection. Melbourne’s population has a tradition of opposition to public sculptures, expressed in opposition to Ron Robertson Swan’s “Vault” and Paul Juraszek “The Sun & the Moon”. Melbourne’s conservative past is the reason most often cited for this rejection but there might other factors in the mix. One might be an imported tradition of opposition to public sculpture from Melbourne’s significant Irish immigrant population. Paula Murphy in her article “Rejecting public sculpture: monuments in Dublin” (Apollo v. 154 no.475 Sept. 2001 p. 38-43) discusses the rejection of public sculpture in Dublin in the 19th and 20th centuries. “The extent of the opposition to the public sculpture in place and the numbers of works that are now lost to the city suggest that this attitude apparently verged on a national pastime at the time.” Murphy suggest several reasons for this attitude, including the style of the work or the subject portrayed in it, but it is political reasons that account for the rejection of many imperial statues.

In Melbourne sculpture has been installed in the city as a token gesture. “Sculpture plays a vital part in public investment with regard to urban regeneration. Art is seen as a crucial component in improving safety, restricting crime, and encouraging a prosperous local economy.” (John Finlay,  “Christchurch: Sculpture as Urban Design Strategy” Sculpture 27 no9 N 2008) And Melbourne is squandering its investment in public sculpture.


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