Monthly Archives: August 2013

Retro Style

Checking my mailbox there was an email from a publicist about five permanent larger-than-life original artworks by a Melbourne artist Steve Rosendale on the façade of the “YOU AND I” apartment precinct, a Collingwood residential development on the northern end of Smith Street. The name of the artist, Steve Rosendale, wasn’t initially familiar but on further research I found that I had reviewed an early exhibition, “Silhouettes” by Rosendale at Brunswick Arts in 2006 in my old blog. I had some vague memories of the exhibition and I was impressed at the targeting of the publicists email.

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It is always interesting to see how artists have developed over the years and Steve Rosendale’s painting technique has greatly improved. What I remember of his 2006 exhibition was the 60s pop style and cinematic style. Now Rosendale has developed this theme into a figurative retro style depicting scenes of 1950s Americana.

Orbit Architecture, the architect of the new development plan to incorporate Rosendale’s images in both perforated metal screens and an unusual technique of curing graphic concrete that will recreate one of Rosendale’s pieces in bas-relief.

Looking at Rosendale’s recent painting made me aware that there are a lot of retro artists around deliberately painting figurative images from the 1950s. Along with Steve Rosendale’s painting, there are Dianne Gall’s atmospheric 1950s interiors and Kathrin Longhurst’s sexed-up Soviet Realism. (Both Gall and Longhurst are represented by Catherine Asquith Gallery and Rosendale is represented by Libby Edwards Galleries.)

Retro styles have been a big feature of art, design, fashion, music and popular culture since the 1980s. The post-modern mix of kitsch, camp and conservative elements in these retro styles make me think that the baby boomers love the recreation and repetition of their history but also – what happened to the future?


Empty Nursery Blue

Adrian Doyle’s ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ project in Rutledge Lane combined the monochrome palette of Yves Klein with his powdery pigment laden monochrome blue and Christo’s sense of scale and landscape. Painting the whole lane blue from the tarmac to the buildings; this is going large on a scale never before seen in Melbourne.

“By doing this, I am claiming that a colour in its pure form can be street art or graffiti. This is a great conceptual link from fine art to street art, a link that is often lacking in the Melbourne Street Art scene. By bridging this gap, I hope to expose more people not only to Street Art, but also to the importance of art in general.” Doyle (“Empty Nursery Blue Lane Way…
” see Invurt for full text and photos.)

Hosier Lane Inc. made a statement on their website:

“Hosier inc is a supporter of initiatives which endeavour to ‘raise the bar’ particularly in regards to street amenity – not just street art. Adrian Doyle’s ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ project is one which has the potential to challenge the status quo of street amenity in Rutledge Lane.”

“The ball has lobbed squarely into the court of the street art and tagging fraternity – we’re interested to see what ‘vision’ that segment of laneway contributors has for this exciting laneway community. We’d hope that the overall outcomes encourage a healthy discourse on friendship, responsibility and creative endeavour.”

I agree with Hosier Lane Inc.; I haven’t seen much progress in street art this year until now. I applaud Doyle’s work as a challenge to the status quo and as a conceptual link between fine art and street art.

This challenge to the status quo did not last long (only 45 minutes according to Doyle) after all Rutledge Lane is a free area for anyone to paint. The status quo responded by painting over ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ before the end of the day. I only “saw” ‘Empty Nursery Blue’ in a few photos on Facebook and it lasted only a few hours. So much for the street art ethos of don’t paint over it unless you can paint something better; in Invurt’s next post “Snapshots – Empty-Nursery Blue Burners @ Rutledge Lane” I didn’t see anything that even came close.

Part of the audacity of Doyle’s project is being aware of all of this and what the reaction would be. “Today’s piece was not a buff, it was a burner!” Doyle commented on Facebook.


Person of Interest – William Burroughs

The confessions of an unredeemed William Burroughs junkie: I first became addicted to Burroughs when I read an interview with him in Rolling Stone back in the mid 1980s. I had a taste of him before that through David Bowie, Gary Numan, Laurie Anderson and other artists that he had influenced. Since then I have read most of his books, listened to a lot of recording and watched a few documentaries.

My favourite book by William Burroughs is The Western Lands (1987). This is his final novel, although Burroughs lived longer than even he expected and managed to write a few more novellas, this is clearly intended as his final novel. I love how The Western Lands critiques his most famous early work, Naked Lunch and the pathos of writing his own death as a lonely cat obsessed old man.

My favourite spoken word CD by William Burroughs is Spare Ass Annie and other tales (1992) with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. But my favourite musical collaboration with William Burroughs is on Laurie Anderson Home of the Brave. It was my first encounter with him and it contains my favourite concept from Burroughs is that “language is a virus from outer space.” I’m not sure where Burroughs got this idea from the “logic bacilli” of Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifestos or the “spooks” of Max Stirner or somewhere in Buddhism. It is the softwear/hardwear distinction, the “meme” of Richard Dawkins, expressed in a beatific poetry.

My favourite movie appearance by William Burroughs is Gus Van Sant’s Drug Store Cowboy (1989) as an old priest – it was a roll that was perfect for him. He did appear in other movies; he plays an unnamed old man with a gun in the comedy Twister (1989) – another roll that was perfect for him.

My favourite work of visual art by William Burroughs is… no, I’m not going that far. I’m not that much of a fan but I do have three books on his art. As Burroughs said: “Something worth doing is worth doing badly.” As far as celebrity painting goes Burroughs successfully integrated his personality with his art practice. And writing about art in Painting and Guns (Hanuman Books, 1992) is certainly worth a read.

Burroughs has influenced so many artists from Jack Kerouac to Keith Haring. His influence has been wide from literature, to music to the visual arts. Many new forms of media emerged during his long life from tape recorders, 16 mm film, computer art and spray cans. This makes him the seminal artist of punk, graffiti and music sampling. He exemplifies the Beat idea of the person as multi-dimensional, free, individual, artists working across art forms and media.

At the request of Alan Ginsberg Marcel Duchamp passed on the mantle of the godfather of the avant-garde to Burroughs with a kiss.

I will end this post with Burroughs “Words of Advice For Young People” – it is good advice, worth following and delivered with an elegant brutality.


Unsafe Sculptures

With the pyramid sculptures in High Street, Northcote being removed due to safety concerns I thought that I look at health and safety issue with public sculpture.

Just 8-days after they it was installed Darebin City Council decided to remove the Syrinx Environmental sculpture. The location of this spiky series of metal pyramids in the centre medium strip of High Street was the chief concern.

In 2008 Manningham councillors voted unanimously to remove “Sidle” (2007) by Melbourne-based architect/artist partnership, Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo from Carawatha Reserve in Doncaster. The reason was not aesthetic but concerns about the safety of children climbing on it; the sculpture was very tempting as it was constructed from multiple metal children’s playground slides albeit with longer legs and arranged in a waveform.

Macleod and Bellemo, Shoal Fly By, Docklands, 2011

Macleod and Bellemo, Shoal Fly By, Docklands, 2011

Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo have also had health and safety problems with another of their sculpture, “Shoal Fly By” at the Docklands. For years temporary fencing has surrounded it but this was not due to the sculpture but the old “zero weight bearing” dock that it was installed on. The Docklands commissioning process does state that the sculpture must “be safe for people to touch and move around without any public liability issues”; it did not state that the location for the installation of the sculpture would be.

Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG

Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG

Orange bollards around each of the three steel pillars surround Anthony Pryor’s dynamic steel sculpture “The Legend”, 1991, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. These were not part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety reasons – just one of the perils of not having a plinth. Another peril of not having a plinth is that a car can crash into the sculpture – this hasn’t happened in Melbourne yet but it has happened elsewhere in the world.

The locations of these sculptures in the urban environment and the possible interactions of cars, children, motorcycles and bicycles are the major health and safety issues.


Seven Exhibitions

The weather was perfect for a bicycle ride to Melbourne University today; I had various reasons to go including having another look at the sculptures on campus for a future blog post. I also saw a couple of galleries on the campus, the George Paton Gallery and Ian Potter Museum of Art and on the way back I stopped in to have a look at Brunswick Arts Space.

I thought that I might give George Paton Gallery a miss because the exhibition “Make it New” was just a student union photography competition and exhibition but as I was passing by the Melbourne Student Union building I felt that this reason was snobbish. I was glad that I saw the exhibition, the variety and quality was impressive; I had seen some of the photographs before in other exhibitions.

Ian Potter Museum had three exhibitions: Heat in the eyes, Colour Me Dead and Under the Sun.

“Heat in the eyes: new acquisitions 2010–13” has more than fifty works recently acquired through purchase and donation. This included works by some familiar names: Jenny Watson, Mike Kelly and Peter Tyndall. Trevor Nickolls’ exuberant painting “Gertrude Street, Fitzroy” is definitely worth acquiring for so many reasons.

“Under the sun” is exhibition for the Kate Challis RAKA Award 2013 is an annual award for Indigenous creative artists. The $25,000 award winner is Mabel Juli for her minimal painting “Garnkeny Ngarranggarni (Moon Dreaming)”. The artists on exhibition are Teresa Baker, Daniel Boyd, Hector Burton, Timothy Cook, Mabel Juli, Kunmarnanya Mitchell, Alick Tipoti, Garawan Wanambi and Regina Wilson. I was taking note on the fibreglass resin masks by Alick Tipoti from the Torres Strait Islands, Hector Burton’s paintings of the trees around the waterhole with their fantastic colours, and the woven patterns in Garawan Wanambi (NT) paintings when my pen ran out of ink and so did my notes at this point.

Philip Brophy’s exhibition “Colour Me Dead” is about “changing perceptions of the nude in art from Neoclassicism and Romanticism”. It sounds more like an art history thesis than an art exhibition but Brophy has created an attractive and clever multi-media exhibition from his research. There is a movie, works on paper, digital art, sounds, lights and plenty to cogitate on. And here was I with out a functioning pen.

On my ride back I looked at the graffiti covered Upfield bike track (more research for future blog posts) and I stopped at Brunswick Arts Space. Where there were three good exhibitions. “I need a life, where can I download one? A drawing investigation by Alice Alva” fills two walls with drawings of debatable quality in a Barry McGee style hanging. Jess Kelly’s “Photosynthesis” has alchemical jars and life-size paper cut-outs of the lamppost growing leaves evoking a mysterious atmosphere. And Andy Robertson’s “Works, 2012” took a wry look at the documentation of contemporary art.


Anthony Pryor “The Legend”

“The Legend”, 1991, stands at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is a steel sculpture with the upper part suggesting the movement of the football in play. Anthony Pryor wanted it to be a climax of exuberance and energy.

Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG

Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG

Daryl Jackson describes “The Legend” as a “gateway, an arched figure through which people may journey to the game.” (Joanna Capon, Anthony Pryor: Sculpture & Drawings 1974-1991, Macmillan Education AU, 1999, p.6) When I last saw “The Legend” there were orange bollards around it. I don’t think that the orange bollards around each of the steel pillars were part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety reasons – just one of the perils of not having a plinth.

The maquette for “The Legend” was made at the studio that Pryor shared with Geoffrey Barlett and Augustine Dall’Ava at 108 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. The actual sculpture fabricated at J K Fasham Pty Ltd a firm that specialize in architectural metal fabrication. (J K Fasham Pty Ltd in Clayton South fabricated many other public sculptures including Deborah Helpburn’s “Ophelia”, Inge King “Sheerwater” and Edward Ginger’s “The Echo” in Melbourne.) The sculptures commission was associated with the re-development at the MCG. It was completed and installed just before Pryor’s untimely death in 1991; he was only 40.

The youngest of three siblings Anthony Pryor was born in Melbourne in 1951. His father Ron Pryor ran a knitwear manufacturing business. Pryor grew up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs where attended Reservoir High School and Preston Technical Collage. It was a tough place in a young man in the late 60s and Pryor thought that he wanted to be an engineer. He changed his mind mid way through an engineering exam and studied sculpture at RMIT. There he met fellow students, his friends, and now, also notable sculptors, Geoffrey Bartlett and Augustine Dall’Ava.

Anthony Pryor, The Performers, 533 St. Kilda Rd.

Anthony Pryor, The Performers, 533 St. Kilda Rd.

Pryor’s sculptures are dynamic even though they stand still. They have so much energy zapping around them that they have are lighting bolts and motion blurs. His curved marble forms have metal wings.

Anthony Pryor has other public sculptures in Melbourne, as well as, in Brisbane, at Bond University, in far north Queensland and in central Victoria. There are several of his sculptures outside corporate buildings along St. Kilda Road. In the foyer of 607 St. Kilda Road there is his “Tree of Life 2”. And at 553 St. Kilda Road “The Performers” 1989 metal and marble commissioned by Pomeroy Industries for its development now occupied by the American Consulate General. There is another figure titled “The Performers” at Box Hill Central. This is not the only Pryor sculpture in Melbourne’s outer suburbs; Templestowe City Council acquired “I am a Man Like You” in 1986.


Urban Folk Art

Notes towards a history of graffiti….

Graffiti has been around for millennia; it has been recorded as far back as the Sumerians (1500 and 1800 BC). But in the last few decades of the last century it suddenly changed. One of the reasons for this change was developments in technology but spray paint cans and marker pens doesn’t explain all the changes and rapid growth of graffiti/street art. Lee Newman invented the felt-tipped marking pen in 1910 but it was not until the early 1960s that they were refined or common. Aerosol spray paint was invented in 1949 Edward Seymour in Sycamore, Illinois. Other reasons for the change in graffiti are best explained by a re-examination of folk art in an urban world.

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In trying to position street art in art history, it is not useful to understand it as the feral younger brother of pop art, as it is a kind of urban folk art. Folk art is often ignored in art history except when folk traditions and outsider artists influence modern and contemporary art.

Is it realistic for folk art in the urban context have to remain un-influenced by academic or fine art? Is it realistic for all folk art to remain the activity of amateurs? Is it realistic to expect that all folk art will be cosy, apolitical and conservative? Or is more realistic that urban folk art to attempt to actively engage in trying to change their world. Urban folk art is not outsider art; the artists are as well informed about art as they want to be. They have access to the same technology and materials as professionally trained artists. Due to this crossover of fine art ideas, materials and technology, urban folk art can be artistically progressive and even avant-garde.

Consider the single most important development in the visual arts in the last century – collage. Decoupage was a popular activity for upper and middle-class women in the late 19th Century. Commercially produced images for decoupage were available in the late 19th Century and these were cut and pasted on dressing and fire screens. It is a short step from decoupage to collage or photomontage. It should not be surprising that a young woman would make progressive artistic collages. That woman was the Berlin Dadaist artist Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978) whose photomontage and collage art used images from magazines.

Perhaps Dada should be considered, in part, as a radical urban folk art movement. Dada emerged from the home printing press movement of the 1890s (L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was an early home printing press enthusiast). Although there were trained artists in the Dadaists there many of Dadaists were neither trained as artists nor went on to a career as a professional artists like Richard Hulsenbeck was a medical student at the time he joined the Zurich Dadaists, he went on to practice psychiatry.

Stencils on back of a truck

Other urban folk art movements followed including Mail Art and punk. Mail Art movement worked with a folk art tradition of decorating envelopes, examples of which can be seen from throughout postal history. To this tradition the Mail Art added an artistic and a utopian intention that the future of art would not be high-end art objects but multiple edition art mailed to insiders. Punk took to the streets with bands using stencils and spray paint for publicity.

There are many folk art/craft elements in street art and graffiti from automotive spray painting to yarn bombing. The interior decorating craze for stencils in the 1990s lead into Melbourne’s street art stencils in 2000, it was a familiar craft technique. Street art and graffiti emerged as an urban folk art movement and due to the internet became the most international and visible urban folk art movement so far.

Yarn bombed bicycle Collingwood


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