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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Painful progress on my book

When I last wrote about progress on my book, Melbourne’s Sculpture it was the end of March. I am now three months behind schedule with my book.

Progress of the book has been slowed with getting better photographs than the ones I’d taken, mine weren’t really up to scratch for publication. I never really thought of myself as a photographer and I knew that my photography was the weakest part. I should have asked more questions about it and read the camera manual.

So plan B for the photographs and start to develop a plan C; scratch plan B after two months of going nowhere. Move on to plan C and start to develop a plan D and whole vicious cycle goes on. Somewhere in all of this I decided to do some renovations and a major clean up of the house.

Paul Montford, John Wesley  statue,1935, Melbourne

Paul Montford, John Wesley statue,1935, Melbourne

There has so many lows, more pleas for help on windy winter nights, so few highs recently (some great sculpture exhibitions at RMIT, Callum Morton at Anna Schwartz and Inge King at the NGV) and far too much waiting. It is hard to be patient and anxious at the same time. Waiting can be horribly distressing and at time I felt I was being drip fed hope. The street artist, Mal Function who makes those little gremlin heads finally read and replied to my email six months later but not too late as it happens.

I didn’t feel like writing my blog during this time; too uncertain of what the future would bring, too something. It is an odd feeling because the fate of the book was no longer in my hands. It was a good experience editing with Chloe Brien the book. Everyone is doing a wonderful job holding it together around me, the publisher, David Tenenbaum has been patient, my wife, Catherine and especially my old friend, Paul Candy who had been most helpful when exactly when I needed it. Lots of thanks; I must rewrite the acknowledgements for the book.

The book will now have photographs kindly supplied by the City of Melbourne, ConnectEast, State Library of Victoria and several photographers. More thanks.

Amongst the photographers I actual meet Matto Lucas. I had seen some of his work years ago but I had only met him virtually a few weeks earlier; his Facebook post are are often a work of art. I’d also seen his photography in his blog the Melbourne Art Review.

None of the photographs in this post will appear in the book.

Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005

Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

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Lead Figures (Games and Art)

I was thinking about writing a series of blog post about the tangible art of games, the board and pieces used in play. The art associated with games; painted models, artwork in games and cosplay. The intersection of art and gaming culture is on the rarely examined edge of visual arts apart from when an exhibition of video games comes to ACMI to remind the public. (I have written about games before see my post on De Blob video game that hardly anyone has read.)

Then I learnt that David A. Trampier had died; if you have played AD&D then you will be familiar with his illustrations.

I emailed Mark Morrison, he was my first AD&D DM and now works in the games industry writing and teaching about designing games. I also told Mark Morrison about Sword & Dowkery’s blog post on Bruegel’s The Triumph of Death and lead/tin miniature figures based on the skeleton party in the painting.

When we were teenagers we used to paint the 25mm white metal figures. White metal, is a lead/tin alloy; little lead figures goes back to the ancient Romans but there are health concerns about them now. Skeletons were easy to paint, black in the shadows and white highlights on the bones. The quality of the model figures were amazing and the best of these figures were made by Citadel Miniatures in England. There are plenty of notes to the history of these tiny sculptures, known as miniatures.

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Some notable sculptors have made dioramas with model figures, the Chapman Brothers, and closer to home, Daniel Dorell, among many contemporary artists. Web Gilbert and Leslie Bowles, who were both familiar with making much larger war memorials, made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; Web Gilbert did the Mathew Flinders memorial near Flinders Street and Bowles made the General Monash Memorial in Kings Domain, Melbourne. Frank Lynch and Wallace Anderson are two more sculptors who also made dioramas for the Australian War Memorial.

The ancient greeks had professional painters who specialised in painting sculptures to give it a life-like appearance. Painting the figures, background and models for the War Memorial dioramas went to another set of artists; Louis McCubbin did the original painting but they have since been retouched and repainted by other artists.

These war dioramas can be controversial; Peter Hofschröer, Wellington’s Smallest Victory (Faber and Faber, London, 2004) is a small book about a small matter of Napoleonic war history. Hofschröer’s detailed research into the Wellington’s insistence on an alteration to Lieutenant Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model makes his book an exciting read. Siborn’s Large Waterlooo Model is 400 square feet and has hand painted 75,000 10mm white metal figures.

So to all the people painting readymade cast figures, to all my readers with Warhammer armies; remember that you are still doing what can legitimately be called art.

Early Martian army

Early Martian army at the Munich Toy Museum


Street Art Notes June ’14

I should write a post about street art, I keep telling myself that, but what to write about? There is little to nothing is going on in the street. I’ve feeling jaded and I post some click bait: My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils. Still my point remains, so I will type it again; little to nothing is going on in the street. Sure another wall has been painted, sure another street artist is having a show in Collingwood, and sure Doyle has had another controversy with another mural but it is just more of the same.

Will Coles has been in the city again. Will Coles, Is This Art?

Will Coles has been in the city again. Will Coles, But is it art?

The only person currently doing anything worthwhile on the street right now isn’t in Melbourne. It is Peter Drew in Adelaide with his boat people street art. Peter’s paste-up boat people project is right for the streets because it is in the streets where the protest can be heard the loudest amplified with TV news coverage and Facebook. This visual form of protest has been called for by the refugee advocacy groups (see my post and my post). (This isn’t personal Peter; that’s one thing that critics and the mafia have in common – it isn’t personal)

No, I don’t want to write about Australia’s inhuman treatment of refugees again and again, it makes me despair. Should I mention that I came to Australia by boat, at this point? It was an ocean cruise ship, PO Oriana; even at the time I knew that it was a bizarre experience but that was nothing compared to the insanity of Australia current refugee policy.

I have to go for a walk and calm down in the cold air.

“Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry

“Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry

Looking at Coburg, my local neighbourhood there are stencil painted totem poles on corrugated plastic sheets attached to the trees in the Victoria Street Mall. They are “Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry and the totem poles mix in with an earlier work by McGarry, in the mall, the koala bears in the trees. The koala bears are made from plastic shopping bags – and like his totem poles they will last for years. It is a new look for the area after the yarn bombing. Street art techniques continue to be employed on this busy local hub of el fresco eating and sitting.

Pillars of Community Celebration, Aaron James McGarry

Pillars of Community Celebration, Aaron James McGarry

Sitting is very important to this area; there are a group of men who regularly sit on the seats along the front of the library. There is plenty of public seating in Victoria Street Mall. Sitting is the contrary position to the pedestrians. Sitting is local, low energy and social. It has long been of interest to me (see my post of public seating in the city) although I don’t practice regularly it. On a suburban street I walk past a seat that some kind person has built into the fence of their house.


The Brian Robinson Mix

Working on culture in a post-colonial world is more than just cultural maintenance. The post-colonial experience of travelling between different cultures is reflected in the visual culture just like the music and stories. Brian Robinson is like a DJ, or a curator, he was a curator at the Cairns Regional Gallery; mixing and making new sense out of diverse elements. He creates a visual culture mix, like a DJ mixing different sources with a beat to create new music to keep on dancing to.

Brian Robinson makes the kind of art that is loved by judges and the people; the kind of art that art writers and curators enjoy to write about and he clearly enjoys tells the stories of his art. Robinson also clearly enjoys making images with linocut, paper, spray paint, plastic toys, wood and even a shell can be the image of a shell. Story-telling, the myths and legends, are based on visual images as well as a words and his pictures often say more than a thousand words.

I went to his ‘floor talk’ Saturday 21 June at the Counihan Gallery. Robinson shines with friendly, informal, relaxed manner and he has a lot to talk about mixing memories of childhood with detailed knowledge of literature, Greek myths, Roman Catholic, Phantom comic books and popular culture. See a video interview with Brian Robinson on Creative Cowboy.

Robinson is not scared to do the masters, he references them in his linocuts; Leonardo, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Hokusai’s Great Wave. Why should he be? Brian Robinson from Waiben (Thursday Island), Torres Strait, of the Kala Lagaw Ya language group. He is doing it Straits style, mixing in his own stories and he was the winner the 2013 Western Australian Indigenous Art Award and that year’s People’s Choice Award.

Robinson’s art is beautiful, often intricate but it can also be scaled up as in his massive, mixed media wall friezes. He a fan of the art of M.C. Escher and pays tribute to it in Dawn Raid Strategy, 2011. There is more to this image than just a tribute piece, it speaks of deadly strategies and games of chess. For above all his art is alive because he is playing – he must be a great dad except when he takes his kids toys to use in his art.

Robinson knows what it feels like to look for lost worlds under the sea. In his 2012 linocut, Navigating narrative – Nemo’s encounter in the Torres Strait, he creates an illustration for the one of the several chapters set in the Torres Straits in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

“‘Savages!’ replied Captain Nemo in a sarcastic tone. ‘And you are surprised Dr Aronnax, that when you set foot on one of the lands of this globe, you find savages? Where are there not savages, and in any case, are those that you call savages any worse than the others?’”

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, trans William Butcher (Oxford, 1998, p.152)

There is so much to see and enjoy at Brian Robinson’s exhibition Strait Protean at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The title says so much about the way the Robinson mixes images; Proteus is the ever changing adaptable sea god. Much of the work in the exhibition was developed during a twelve month long residency that Robinson had at Djumbunji Press in 2010, his skill with lino cutting has been refined and developed to an amazing level. His adaptable vision makes him not just an artist for the present but also for keeping the past alive into the future.


My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils

I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.

HaHa Nicky Wynmar

  1. HaHa, Nicky Winmar, The master of multi layered stencils HaHa’s interest in fame and celebrities is at its best with his stencil of St.Kilda footballer, Nicky Winmar’s iconic reaction to racist taunts. What could be more Melbourne than a footballer?Civil - penny farthing - Irene Warehouse
  2. Civil, The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized. Irene Warehouse. This is my nostalgia moment because it was Civil’s stencils that first got me interested in Melbourne’s stencil scene. Civil’s peaceful and entirely civilised anarchic politics is perfectly expressed in this stencil.Kerpy - Flinders St. Station
  3. Kirpy, Flinders Street Station, On the wall of 696, then an urban node for quality work, curated by the Toby and Melieka who ran the gallery/gift shop. A great multi layered stencil of an iconic Melbourne scene.ELK Chimp Jesus
  4. E.L.K. Ecce Homo (observe the man). In this piece E.L.K. is taking the old English tradition of baboonery from the pages of illuminated manuscripts to the street. E.L.K was Canberra based at the time this was done I’m not being picky about where an artist is based in this list. Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes
  5. Sunfigo, Little Diver Redux, In the same location and referencing Banksy’s Little Diver along with many other Melbourne based street artists. This is the ultimate piece of self referencing street art. (In photo, Sunfigo above, Phoenix tribute below.)DSC09008
  6. Calm, Blue Gnu, At All Your Wall in Hosier Lane 2013 before it was covered in tags but then it anticipated all of that.Toys will be Toys
  7. 23rd Key, Toys Will Be Toys, A good stencil and a great reference to both the graffiti insult and Toy Story. Located in the Land of Sunshine, Brunswick.Hanging-boots
  8. Unknown, Hanging Boots, A simple and well-placed elegant still life in Sparks Lane, Melbourne.The Kid Peek-a-boo
  9. Unknown, Peek-A-Boo, Another simple but highly effective stencil because of its placement.This is Shit
  10. Unknown, This is Shit. Sometimes it just has to be said.

Memories of the Museo Del Prado

Visiting the Museo Del Prado was an all day marathon event for me – I was close to the front of the line gained entry just after it opened at 9 am. I had been told that it was impossible to see the Prado in one day but I was determined to prove them wrong. I systematically ticked off room after room on my map. I ate like a marathon runner, lots of carbohydrates and sugar.

That day in Prado I fell in love with the Baroque that day, especially Ribalta, Ribera, Valazeques and Meléndez. Ribera’s paintings of people are so human, wrinkles and all and he paints it all with so much feeling.

I had prepared for this visit by reading Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art by Victor I. Stoichita (Reaktion Books, 1995). The portrayal of internal private experiences, such as visions, in a visual media creates a complex visual grammar distinguishing between the real and the imagined.

An American tourist was laughing out loud at Alonso Cano’s Lactation of St Bernard (c.1658-60). He couldn’t believe what he was seeing the clarity of this lactation porn looks crazy to modern eyes. It is not St Bernard who is lactating but a painting of the Virgin Mary. The American has to point out to me – “She is shooting a jet right into his mouth!”

It was not the craziest painting in the Prado created from the fermented and distilled Catholic thought of the 17th century. That honour has to go to Francesco Rossi Salvaiati’s Sacred Family with Parrot presented by an Angel (1543) – what’s next the teenage Jesus presented with a Playstation by presented by an Angel?

Situated in a couple of the galleries there were coin operated machines, like those old chocolate machines on English train stations, selling little Gallery Guide books for major artists available in English, French, Spanish and German. I bought the guides to Velázquez and Bosch (the Prado is the place to see Bosch).

Pieter Brueghal the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562

Pieter Brueghal the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562

I am particularly taken by Pieter Brueghal’s The Triumph of Death but I wonder what would happen to this zombie apocalypse now that the living out number the dead?

There is a 16th century copy of La Gioconda (aka Mona Lisa) sans the background landscape.

I was disappointed with seeing Goya’s work for the first time, his big brushstrokes were much better in reproduction, but then he did start his career painting the designs for tapestries so they were always, in a way, intended to be reproduced in another media.

By the end of the day my feet were sore, particularly my big toes, something about the way that you move in a gallery – walk, stand, walk… Checking my watch I had twenty minutes to see the last four or five small rooms on the second floor but I was sure that now my eye was well tuned and that I could spot the paintings that were worth looking at. I would look around the room and select one or two paintings for a closer look and then move to the next room.

At 6pm the Prado was shutting but I had completed every gallery and I was exhausted, dizzy and disorientated with a bit Stendhal syndrome. I’d had Stendhal syndrome before so I wasn’t surprised by it. I staggering into a bar and ordered a whiskey. I could remember all the paintings but the wet streets of Madrid were almost unrecognisable.

The next day at 9 am I was back in the Prado again, it was free entry on that day and I walked around looking again at my favourite works. Maybe you can’t see the whole Prado in one day.


Dark & Light

Two current exhibitions one dark and the other light.

RMIT First Site Gallery describes this exhibition as “probably the darkest show we have ever had…” on their Facebook page.  The trio of exhibitions at First Site are dark as in obscured rather than dark subject matter; obscured by lacunas, palimpsests and dark spaces. Lacunas and palimpsests were popular subjects at the height of post-modern in nineties because they referred to areas of uncertain and indeterminate meaning.

Eugenia Raftopoulos, Some things last a long time is a series of uncanny and subdued oil paintings that often featuring lacuna, a missing section, a hole in the illusion of the painting. Nicholas McGintity, Parallel, a 47 sec video loop features palimpsests, crossed out black and white pornographic images, shown sideways, out of focus and otherwise obscured as they rapidly click through the loop like a demented slide show.

Wilson Yeung, Trace, features 31 boxes with pinhole photographs using a monotype transfer process. In the darkness of the gallery, the blurry images of the faces are almost unrecognisable as the images in the back lit boxes pulse from light to dark.

No Vacancy’s exhibition Look Mum! couldn’t be more different, it is light like a child’s drawings on the fridge. Look Mum! is a group show featuring eight Melbourne-based illustrators: Eveline Tarunadjaja, Sean Morris, Fiona Lee, Gnashing Teeth, Stevie D, Sass Cocker, Jeremy Ley and Jospeh Keena. Each of the illustrators are showing their mature work next to drawings and toys from their childhood displayed on fridges, just as they were in childhood. Each of the fridges has the artist’s name displayed on it in magnetic letters. Beside each fridge there is a shelf of toys and other memorabilia from the artist’s childhood. The gallery has a domestic feel with a lounge area and a table with paper and crayons for doing your own drawings. It is a great look for an exhibition about illustration and I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before.


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