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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Women of Paste

There are all these women in Melbourne’s streets doing amazing paste-ups.  I’m only commenting on their gender because for years males have dominated Melbourne’s street art scene. What few women street artists there were in Melbourne were often notable not for their art but for being female. Now there are so many note worthy women doing street art in Melbourne and their talent is obvious to anyone, although their sex might not so obvious. (I had no idea that Kaffine was a woman – not that it is an issue anyway – I was wondering why broos, goat headed people, a common RuneQuest monster were appearing on the streets of Melbourne albeit with a stag’s skull head – even more frightening). Most of these women concentrate on paste-ups (wheat pasting).

Baby Guerilla – has been pasting up her drawings of women, men and birds floating for years. How she gets her paste-up up so high must be how she has got her name, climbing like a baby gorilla. (See Invurt’s interview with Baby Guerilla.)

Baby Guerilla

Klara – I thought Klara was a one-image artist just doing faces until I saw her self-referential paste-up at Dean Sunshine’s warehouse.

Klara

Urban Cake Lady – the woman stripped tights, the red cloak and the animal familiars are the legend of the Urban Cake Lady.

Urban Cake Lady

Suki – clearly inspired by Miso, Melbourne’s first woman of paste, not that that’s a bad thing, although people, including myself, have misattributed Suki’s work to Miso. (Miso hasn’t been doing any paste-ups on the streets for over a year now.) Suki’s women are beautiful water bearers with long hair. (See Invurt’s interview with Suki.)

Suki

Bubbles Unknown – text based and hand written pages with small illustrations.

Bubbles Unknown

“I & The Others” – also inspired by Miso, “I & The Others” produce some fine paper cutting.

“I & The Others”

Kaff-eine – paste-ups figures of children and a stag skull headed figure, along with working in aerosol paint, marker pen, up-cycling and other street art activities.

Kaff-iene

Precious Little – first came to notice for her poetry on laneway walls printed with an old fashion Dymo label maker but has since moved into using aerosol paint. (For more on Kaff-eine and Precious Little see my blog post about their exhibition, Urban Scrawl, at the City Library earlier this year.)

From Jenny Holtzer to Miso and Swoon and this current generation of paste-up artists: why are paste-ups attractive to female street artists?

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Top Arts Top Artists 2012

Every artist is influenced by proceeding generations of artists – who are the artists that influence local young artists?

I’m at the annual Top Arts exhibition of final year high school student art on the 3rd floor of the National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre (Federation Square). I’m trying to think of what I will write in this blog – I’ve written about the exhibition in previous years, it is worth paying attention to young artists but it is always so hard to write about group exhibitions. Praising the exhibition for its youth and talent is obvious, mentioning a couple of artists that catch my attention would not improve it and vague statements like “the drawing and photography were strong” wouldn’t help either. So, I looked at who are influences on these young artists.

I looked at the artists named in their artist’s statements. Not all the young artists named artists in their artist’s statements but at least a third did. Some artists mentioned two artists. (This may not be a complete list of all the artists named.)

Ansel Adams was the only artist named twice. The following photographers are also named as influences: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Larry Clark, Bill Henson, Annie Leibovitz, Duane Michals, and Edward Weston.

The local artists named as influences are: Abdul Abdullah, Howard Arkley, Del Kathryn Barton, Bill Henson, Carlo Golin, Jeffery Smart, Stelarc, Justin Lee Williams (fashion designer), Brett Whitley and Ah Xian.

Young video makers in the exhibition named film directors, Tim Burton and James Cameron as influences.

The other artist’s named as influences are: Audrey Kawasaki, Käthe Kollwitz, Rene Magritte, Nam June Paik, Paula Rego, Genndy Tartakovsky, and Gaun Wei.

As would be expected, this generation of young artists are not influenced by any old masters; many of the artists are still alive, all are 20th or 21st century artists but still not that many women artists make the list. It is good to see so many local artists named as influences. Americans photographers dominate photographic influences but the rest of the international artists named come from around the world.


A Day and a Ball

Diagonally opposite Melbourne’s Trades Hall is the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” completed in 1903. In 1856 stonemasons at Melbourne University were among the first in Australia to achieve an eight-hour working day. The stonemasons had the industrial muscle to achieve these working conditions as Melbourne was in the middle of a building boom and before modern steel construction techniques stonemasons were required for major buildings. There is some doubt if the English sculptor and monument builder, Percival Ball was commissioned to design the “Eight Hour Day Memorial”. There is no doubt the bulk of the work on the monument was done by stonemasons working an 8-hour day.

Percival Ball appears to be a hardworking 19th Century sculptor on the search for commissions. He had a studio in Collins Street East; it is the artists studios on this street, rather than the later addition of the trees, that is the reason that Melbournians traditionally referring to the east end of Collins Street as the “Paris end”. The unfortunate man probably spent a lot of his time in meetings with committees for one monument or the other. If Ball did have a hand in the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” he had retuned to London and died before it was completed in 1903. Ball died of heart failure due to asthma and bronchitis on 4 April 1900.

Percival Ball received a number of commissions for sculpture in Melbourne. In 1886-87 Ball completed James Gilbert’s statue of Sir Redmond Barry, in front of State Library. The statue had been partially made in England but Ball had to complete it and supervising its mounting it on the plinth and other finishing details. Ball created the statue for the memorial to businessman and philanthropist, Francis Ormond. This memorial took five years to complete 1892-1897 before it was erect at the Working Men’s College (now RMIT). So the completion of the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” after Ball’s death would not have excluded him from being the sculptor. From a conservative judge to a memorial to progressive working conditions Ball does appear not interested in the politics of the memorial he wanted commissions, as a result Ball mostly sculpted portrait busts.

The“Eight Hour Day Memorial” is a triumphal obelisk composed of stone pedestal, granite column surmounted with 888 and bronze globe with gold leaf  . The 888 stands for 8 hours of labor, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of relaxation for a balanced 24 hour day. In case this symbolism was lost on the public around globe there is the inscription that reads: ‘Labour, Recreation, Peace’. The globe symbolizes the global aspirations for the labour movement. It is a monument, not to a person but to the ideal work-life balance.

Originally the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” was located near Parliament House in Gordon Reserve, Spring Street and the route 8-hour march passed by it. After two decade the march and the monument were too much for conservative members of the parliament who urged its relocation. And in 1923 it was moved to its present location, on the corner of Russell St. and Victoria Parade, appropriately near Trades Hall.


There’s More @ Cocoa Jackson Studios

How do you describe the scene at Cocoa Jackson Studios? “… There’s More!”

“There’s More!” was four huge days and nights of open house street art, music, indie films, live painting, paste-ups, stickers and there’s more. I got along to see it on Saturday afternoon. On Friday night I had tried the watching the live streamed video but I couldn’t see more than a DJ and a few people and the stream kept stopping so it wasn’t worth listening to.

There were plenty of legal walls to paint in the lanes around Cocoa Jackson Studio and a few grey areas. And it wasn’t just around Cocoa Jackson Studios for a few blocks up Lygon St. there were more artists painting with more walls in lanes around Ann Street thanks to Dean Sunshine. There were plenty of artists, to many to count. There were artists from around the world, travelling artists from as far away as Barcelona painting walls.

Even though Melbourne’s weather was threatening rain there were lots of people watching and photographing the event. Watching people paint can be both fascinating and as dull as watching paint dry. But I did get distracted watching Slicer and Deams paint (I made a short movie of Slicer painting). I was reminding myself that it could be like watching Jackson Pollock painting. And I ended up missing Bandos Earthling’s first gig at Cocoa Jackson but there was so much happening.

Fletch painting

So many people to catch up with – Civil, Junky Projects, Fletch, Phoenix, Bandos Earthling, art collector Andrew King was wandering around offering people beers and I’m forgetting some others – I’m sorry to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention.

So much aerosol paint that the weeds are covered in paint. Down the laneway Civil was spraying the belladonna leaves autumnal colours.

The main space of Cocoa Jackson Studios was filled with a large group exhibition along with panels of stickers for sale by silent auction. There was plenty of new work by Junky Projects along with many other artists that I recognize for Melbourne’s streets.

It was great to have an event like this close to home rather than in distant suburbs. On my way home I passed more artists painting another wall on the other side of Brunswick, so every graff artist in Melbourne wasn’t painting in the lanes around Cocoa Jackson Studios and the Land of Sunshine.

For readers wondering about the unusual laneway name: Cocoa Jackson Lane is named after Australian feather weight boxer Peter Jackson. The exact reason why there is a lane in Melbourne named after him remains a mystery although Peter Jackson did have several fights in Melbourne in 1930 – 1931.


The End, this art style is over

When ever hear someone say something like: “street art is over” I think about the end of Surrealism, if Surrealism really is over. I am sceptical of claims that a particular art movement is over, especially when artists make the claim as they have a clear financial motivation for an end limiting the supply of authentic x art. I’ve heard that graffiti art was over before, back in the 1990s after the death of Keith Haring and Michael Basquiat.

In Cold War both sides took critical shots at the Surrealists. Surrealism was dismissed as a spent force or even a curious sideline to the mainstream of art history. The historic end of Surrealism is important to a number of concerned parties, including the Surrealists, the Soviets, the Americans and a few European countries. Both the Soviets and the Americans wanted Surrealism out of the way at the end of World War II in order to further their own art histories. Maurice Nadeau claimed in his 1945 Histoire du surrealisme that Surrealism ended with WWII. And Surrealism was the obvious hole in Clement Greenberg’s attempt to rewrite a progressive modern art history for Cold War propaganda purposes.

The Surrealists themselves, along with a few countries, like Belgium and Czechoslovakia, want a continuing history of Surrealism to establish the pedigree of contemporary Surrealist artists. “Surrealism in Belgium” was at an exhibition tracing Belgium Surrealism from 1924-2000.  Also advancing the history of Surrealism is Alyce Mahon, Surrealism and the Politics of Eros 1938-1968, (Thames & Hudson, 2005). Mahon argues that the Surrealists, especially in post-WWII, used the unconscious to focus on an exploration of Eros. As a history of the little discussed post-war French surrealist movement Mahon’s book is a fascinating read and clarifies the confused time line of French Surrealism. Mahon points out that as a result of the post-colonialism advocated by Surrealism meant that many of the following generation of Surrealist artists were not from Europe and their activities have been largely ignored in US/European art history.

Further confusing the history of Surrealism are the schism and scissions of the Surrealist movement itself. These are movements as diverse as the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism and CoBrA. And the Paris Surrealists under Andre Breton expelled many of its own members, most notably Salvador Dali. The internal politics of such art movements are often of little concern to many editors and curators although the participating artists vigorously defend the differences. For example, Wolfgang Hutter and Rudolf Hausner from the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism are both included in Alfred Schmeller Surrealism (Methuen, 1956) although neither considered themselves surrealists.

It would be better to say that a particular phase of an art movement is over, “the heroic phase of x is over”. Even better to use more specific terms like “old school x is over.” And it is worth waiting for a couple of generations and getting a complete autopsy report before believing a claim that a style is over. Until then I’ll remain sceptical.


Spirit, Slackers and Contemporary Art

Various art galleries around Fitzroy – March 2012

At Sutton Gallery Brett Colquhoun’s “Spirit” is two separate bodies of work. There are landscapes where the condensation of the breath of the viewer is visibly obscuring the scene. And, in the main gallery, there is a larger series of drawings and paintings, “The Invisible”. In these painting geometric radiating rays of white, like hallucinatory radar grids, filling in the black surfaces. Breath + The Invisible = Spirit.

“Origins” by Damian Vincenzi at Kick Gallery is an exhibition of photographs of nature with a mirror image of one half. It is an old trick but Vincenzi has found some more beauty and magic in it creating visions of animals from mineral structures.

Seventh Gallery packs in three exhibitions into its small space. “Constructing Comfort” by recent Monash Fine Arts graduates, Rowan Moyle and Nickk Hertzog is in Gallery One. Slacker art like this installation is deliberately ugly, unappealing, shoddily crafted and dumb in such a way that it argues, with cynicism, that it must be great art because you and I can’t appreciate it. “Constructing Comfort” is anything but comfortable, although there are tarpaulin-covered shelters.

Leela Schauble’s “Dyeing Waters” installation in Gallery Two at Seventh Gallery is engaging with new visions of the body. In Seventh Gallery small Project Space “New Frontier” by Thomas Breakwell looked like so many other pieces of video art.

Brook Andrew “Maybe it’s meant to happen” 2010 at Gertrude Contemporary

Gertrude Contemporary has “No Name Station – China/Australia Cultural Exchange” The exhibition presents indigenous art from a remote Australian aboriginal community alongside work by contemporary urban artists from Australia and China. The journey into and out of the gallery is the strongest uniting element of this exhibition. From Brook Andrew’s neon installation (“Maybe it’s meant to happen” 2010) the front window to the back office there is a path, sometimes clearly delineated with a fence of branches by Liang Shuo (“Visiting a Show” 2012). There is art along the way there are paintings, videos, weavings and installations. I particularly enjoyed the photograph of the intervention by Zhao Zhao (“Cobblestone” 2007), a stone glued out of place in Tiananmen Square, and the woven Pandanus gift mats with witty slogans by Newell Harry.  Is this cultural exchange the colonization of Aboriginal art by the contemporary art empire?


10 Things about Yarn Bombing

+ The public loves yarn bombing.

+ Community festivals love yarn bombing.

+ Craft stores love yarn bombing and support it – Spotlight was promoting yarn bombing groups via Facebook in December 2011.

+ The media love yarn bombing. (Are you starting to worry now?) After years of hating the male dominated graffiti the media view of yarn bombing is completely different. Is it just a gender issue?

+ Yarn bombing reaches the parts that other street art can’t touch. An aerosol artist wants a big wall, a stencil artist or wheat-paster wants a bit of wall but yarn bombers aren’t competing for wall space.

+ Yarn bombing can be seen as a sculptural textile work, using readymade and already installed poles in the street as the support for fabric sculptures, like a street version of the knitted sculptures of Dorathea Tanning or Eva Hesse Hang Up, 1966. Or it can be seen as craft.

+ Anarchic women knitting anywhere they like – it is the end of the civilization as we know it?!? (This instantly brings to mind scenes from the French Revolution of women knitting at the guillotine.) Now that women my age are yarn bombing civilization as we know it is coming to an end.

+ What is connection between yarn bombing and bicycles? Bicycle racks are yarn bombers favourite targets. If you don’t believe me see the post by Art Hunter of SA and Vetti Lives in Northcote’s Yarn Bomb Bicycle. Or is it like Twilight Taggers wrote on Facebook: “Just another thing to cover.”

+ Land of Sunshine, Yarn Bombing Brunswick and Part Two.

+ There is no commercial potential in yarn bombing. When it is off the street it is just more craft knitting.


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