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?


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

5 responses to “Retro Style

  • artandarchitecturemainly

    I have a complete theory of retro style. Here it is:

    1. We love modernist style from our own generation and want to keep it.
    2. We loathe our parents’ taste and want to chop up their objects for fire wood. Our parents were sooooooo oldfashioned and tasteless.
    3. We quite like our grandparents’ taste, but our parents destroyed their parents’ furniture etc when they moved their parents into old age homes.
    4. We are passionate about our great grandparents’ taste but we cannot afford to buy such items in antique shops.

    So beloved antiques take 3-4 generations to be valued again. Anything in the interim is retro and affordable.

    I was writing my will and asked our sons to go through the house and see what they wanted to keep. They said, basically, ARE YOU KIDDING?!?!

    • Mark Holsworth

      But these are artists who are painting images of the 1950s, an era that was part of their parent’s generation and not their grandparents. That is what is so strange about the current retro fashion.

  • Steve

    I have an obsession for the 60’s….the main reason is because i was stuck at home in front of the tv a lot as a kid and everything they played ( even though it was the early 80’s ) were re runs from the 60’s! I don’t know why it may have been because of the poor quality of tv programs in the 80’s back then but everything was a rerun, such as I dream of Jeanie, Get Smart, plus i watched all the Bond films…and sometimes sneak over to SBS ( though it was called channel O back then ) and caught glimpses of Godard and Truffaut… ) So I had developed a sense of the ‘outside world ‘ and the adult world as being like that of a Bond or Hitchcock film and that when I grew up I would be one of these characters…I mean even Bugs Bunny was huge at the time and i thought it was a brand new show but turns out it was already 40 years old…also look at Ren and Stimpy…a 1990’s cartoon but all the human characters and landscapes were from 50’s illustrations….anyway….where was I? Oh yes so I thought that when I grew up I would be wearing a suit and…a HAT! But then flash forward to my teens and my experiences in the ‘real world’ full of Bogans, white trash, and sloppy architecture…there was a huge disappointment to realise i was 20 – 30 years off in my expectations. So I have the strange melancholic feeling of losing something i never had….and the artwork is a kind of fantasy world i’d like to inhabit. So the work is really just personal…and luck i guess that the retro look or feel constantly comes in and out of vogue and has enough other fans to sustain the interest. So the question of the future to me is like asking me why i don’t paint a football game or why don’t i paint a desert landscape…you know this is for another artists to paint.
    I can remember when ‘The Doors ” film came out, roughly 1990 and there was a huge surge towards 60’s music, and The Doors sold more CD’s in that year than they had ever sold since they formed. I think there was a kind of focus on beauty and surface and rhythm harmony etc and skill maybe just in terms of surface in the 60’s that totally disappeared in the 70’s… the 70’s were about gritty harsh reality ….so the 70’s was a black hole in terms of any kind of memorable work of beauty and then I think it started to reappear in the 80’s. Compare Dennis Hoppers ” Easy Rider ” 1969 to ” Out Of The Blue ” 1980….just in cinematography…the first one has a particular style and craft and a feeling and a mood….the later one focuses entirely on the story and the ‘style’ is left to chance.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks for that insight, Steve; television reruns is a good explanation for the current generation of retro style. Television reruns, as you point out, are observed as contemporary by the first time viewer even if the shows are decades old. And even without television we are still caught up from a young age in retro styles as we are brought up by parents who base most of their parenting on our grandparents.

    • Steve

      Yes, also i don’t think we can underestimate the influence of cartoons, comics and illustration on the retro look.. Every ad in the 60’s was hand drawn. So they developed a whole illustration language which is easy to define as 60’s…which Warhol/ Lichtenstein then turned into art…so it moved the illustration over to art….then in the early 90’s you had the “Basquiat ” film which I think was the sole trigger for the street art revival we see now. Every kid…heavily influenced by their favourite cartoons…see the film ‘Basquiat’…a graffiti artist plucked from obscurity and handed millions of dollars…these kids see that…see the link with Warhol and the 60’s and all have the same thought…” Hell I Can Do That!! ” The illustration the cartoons are all flat and easy to copy. or draw…it seems so easy to strive to achieve that look… rather than go through the lengthy process of traditional painting….such a more achievable and realisable goal for a beginner..and the source of all this? 50’s 60’s advertisements!

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