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Monthly Archives: March 2016

March Exhibitions Fitzroy

On Thursday I saw a few exhibition at galleries in Fitzroy.

Sutton Gallery has a post-humous exhibition of paintings by Gordon Bennett, part of his “Home Decor (After Margaret Preston)” 2014 series. The hanging of this exhibition has three pairs of paintings, which felt both tasteful and awkward. This feeling of tasteful but awkward is at the core of Bennett’s “Home Decor” series. Like Margaret Preston’s appropriated Aboriginal shield designs of the Central Australia and Northern Queensland Indigenous communities that Bennett has re-appropriated for this series. These are some of the most appropriate works of appropriation art.

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Gordon Bennett, Home Decor

Also on exhibition at Sutton was a single large painting by Vivienne Binns, “Minding Clouds”. A large blue painting was broken up with vignette scenes, that might represent dreams or memories, painted within clouds raised from the textured surface of the painting.

This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer is showing series of sexy drawings by Arlene Textaqueen. Textaqueen’s technique with coloured marker pens (fibre-tips and watercolour on cotton rag) just gets better, her compositions are more dynamic and her message about gender, race and Australia is clear.

The exhibitions at Seventh Gallery didn’t grab me. Sorry, Cameron Bishop and Simon Reis, “Leisureland”, and Jenna Pippett, “Grab a Partner”, but I have seen exercise equipment and artists doing exercises in art galleries too often in recent years.

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If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary

If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary is a large exhibition about the community radio station located just around the corner. Curators Spiros Panigirakis and Helen Hughes have created an impressive and interactive display, even building the frame of a house in the main room. The exhibition  not only tells the history of the station but is a contemporary art exhibition that includes works from several notable artists including Emily Flyod and Reko Rennie.

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Buffing the Buff

In Melbourne’s Hosier Lane two nudes in that Lush painted were censored by the Melbourne City Council. A very unusual occurrence for the city council to buff anything in the tourist attraction zone that is Hosier Lane.

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Lush, nude #?, 2016 (photo by Dean Sunshine)

Lush must be a real artist because he is painting nudes, yeah right. (That reminds me about when I discovered that there was another use for porn magazines, life drawing.) I don’t think that there are many nudes in the NGV Australia across the road from Hosier Lane, as Dean Sunshine argues in the defence of Lush, but there is the nineteenth century painting of Chloe, an underage nude teenager in Young and Jackson’s upstairs bar, about 200m away in the pub on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets.

However, both of these examples are not outdoors in the public and Melbourne City Council applied the same Australian public broadcasting guidelines for nudity in advertising and public places. Basically this meant painting over the nipples and genitals. (If this was a painting of a nude man painting over the genitals would be described as ‘emasculation’.)

The Australian public broadcasting guidelines produce the strange result of become an adjunct to nipple shaming and slut-shaming. Indeed the word ‘slut’ has been written over another Lush’s nudes, this time copy of Kim Kardashian’s nude selfie in Cremorne, Melbourne. The removal and buffing of these nudes is done for basically the same reason that the person who wrote ‘slut’ on Lush’s painting of Kim, to demonstrate society’s disapproval of naked female bodies. (Don’t you feel proud of Australia when its laws and ugly sexists are in agreement? It makes me feel so confident in the reasons and logic behind these laws.)

In all probability Lush is self-indulgently laughing at all this. I like the way that newspapers have decided to call him ‘Lushsux’ after his Instagram/Twitter account.


LOL @ Counihan or how to laugh in an art gallery

People are laughing at the art in the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

That’s good.

Curators Catherine Connolly and Victor Griss have assembled ten artists with a variety of comedic voices from around Australia. If all the artists in the exhibition were comedians Jordan Marani is the one who swears a lot. In Colourful Language: Charm Offensive Marani moves from the sublime abstract to the profane explicit.

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Stephen Bird

Stephen Bird’s plates are the opposite of the usual delicate, tasteful and pretty ceramics.

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Leon Van De Graaff

Local Brunswick artist, Leon Van De Graaff has created a robotic two-handed routine satirising the art gallery opening: “A show about Everything and Nothing: The episode where Yuri and Leon get really drunk at an opening and sing.” Unfortunately the opening was louder than the volume of Yuri and Leon.

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Brisbane based soft sculpture, Alice Lang ironically comments on communication in popular culture with an Epic Fail.

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Danielle Hakim

Danielle Hakim’s “The End” is a simple, effective and ridiculous one-liner.

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Sharon West

Joking aside, there is the comic vision of Sharon West’s fantastic dioramas depicting scenes in the epic comedy of an alternate Australian history.

Several of the artists have already been compared to comedians. John Bailey in The Age compared the performance and video art of Anastasia Klose to Jackass and Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Sydney artists Kat Mitchell was described as the “lovechild of silent film star Harold Lloyd and video artist Christian Marclay” by Dylan Rainforth in the SMH. The Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane described Ronnie Van Hout as “a master of slapstick existentialism” and, I have compared local Coburg artist, Julian Di Martino to a prop comic and wrote that his exhibition “should be in the Comedy Festival.”

Now he is. Is This Thing On? is an exhibition in conjunction with the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Aside from exhibition of cartoons this is the first art exhibition that Rod Quantock remembers in his thirty years of performing at the comedy festival. Which is a bit odd because humour, like all other emotions, is expressed in the visual arts.

So why hasn’t there been an art exhibition before in the comedy festival? Although humour has always been present to some extent in the visual arts, it has only recently become a central theme. This may be due to the epic failure of modernism, changes in public and critical attitudes towards comedy and the growth of importance of the white box art gallery, what the Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty, compares to “a straight man in a slapstick routine.” (Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution, 2009) It might just be because people have learnt how to laugh in art galleries.

Not that curator, Victor Griss plans to make a comedy art exhibition a regular feature of the comedy festival or on the Counihan Gallery’s program. That easily become the antithesis of comedy, predictable, dull and obvious.


How to Photograph Public Sculpture

The most photographed public sculpture in Melbourne is probably Larry La Trobe or The Three Businessmen… because of their potential for selfies. The most televised public sculpture in Melbourne is Lady Justice by William Eicholtz because there is a shot of it in almost every story on a County Court case.

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

I have some experience in photographing public sculpture for this blog. I did take a few of the photographs in my book Sculptures of Melbourne but most, like the cover photograph by Matto Lucas, were taken by professional photographers.

Here is some practical advice to people on photographing public sculpture and then some advice on copyright issues regarding photographing public sculpture in Australia. There isn’t any technical information and my only advice regarding equipment is a telephoto lens for sculptures high up on buildings.

To get a good photograph of a public sculpture you will probably need to visit the location twice to determine the best time of day to take the photograph as you can’t get the sculpture to turn to face the sun. It is pointless trying to photograph a sculpture with the sun behind it unless you just want its silhouette against the sky. Bronze sculptures on plinths are particularly difficult to photograph, but many modern and contemporary sculpture can be viewed and photographed from all angles.

However, just as you thought that sculptures stand still they are moved, or building works occur around them and they are fenced off, or they have been ‘capped’ by a tagger or sticker. The first time I went to photograph David Bell’s Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies just after it was installed in 2013, it was surrounded by fencing and there were workers rebuilding the corner. I had to hold my camera above my head to take some shots over the fencing. Not the best way to photograph a sculpture and so I returned a few weeks later.

Photographing a sculpture may involve cleaning up the site, removing rubbish wedged in parts of the sculpture and wipe the sculpture with a dry cloth to remove spider webs and dust. While photographing King’s Sun Ribbon at Melbourne University for my book Fiona Blandford had to remove the rubbish left behind by the builders working nearby.

In Australia you do not need copyright permission to publish photographs of sculptures that are permanently installed in a public location. The laws are different in other countries. For more on this see the Arts Law Centre of Australia, “Without my Permission: photographing public sculptures” by Jasmine McHenry.

In Australia you only need copyright permission from the artist to publish the photographs if the sculpture is temporary. This includes illegal temporary street art installations. So I had to track down every street artist whose sculptures that I wanted to have photographs of in the book, not exactly the easiest of tasks. Sometimes I felt like a detective working from an obscure clue: who was the street artist who signed his sculptures with GT? Determining if a sculpture is permanent or temporary may also be more complicated than the drafters of the law anticipated but I didn’t run into any problems with this with my book so I tried to err on the side of caution.

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands


Nost Thoughts

A couple of thoughts about Nost’s massive tag/bomb capping all the tags and bombs that had accumulated along lower section of the 30 year old Smith Street feminist  mural. I haven’t been out to see or photograph the wall, I doubt that I will ever have time for that and I trust that others already have digitised it documenting it for history.

Tagging on this massive scale becomes a kind of buffing. The amount of block colour covering the wall makes it essentially buffing. This makes Nost in this case a kind of grey ghost, the anonymous men who in response to graffiti and street art unofficially buff walls.

Towards the end of the Fitzroy Flasher’s post there is a critique of Megan Evans and Eve Glenn’s original mural. Arguing “a faded, neglected and in my humble opinion, outdated public mural” that need to be refreshed. Fitzroy Flasher’s points out that the original mural is “poorly painted”, that “the perspective is wrong, shadows not true to where they should fall” and that it was not as good as the work of Adnate or Kaffeine.

Fitzroy Flasher’s critique demonstrates the different priorities between graffiti and the Melbourne muralists of the 1980s. Clearly there differences in aesthetics, perspective, subject, politics and the work’s place in history between the muralists and graffiti writers. It would be good to examine these differences but that would mean going over the history of Mexican muralists, Union banners and I don’t have the time to go into all of that right now.

Expectations of progress on the part of the mural artists have not been fulfilled by the last 30 years of history, consider domestic violence or the gender pay gap. On the other hand graffiti writers, like Nost expect their fame to be instant and temporary rather than historical. The fresh novelty in graffiti and street art demands that the viewers, to some extent, forget the past. Popular culture, from television series to popular politics, assumes an ephemeral state of memory.


Courtroom Artists

Courtroom sketch artists go back to nineteenth century in an on again, off again relationship with printing technology and the courts permitting cameras. In Australia cameras are generally banned from the courts, so in order to have a picture of a defendant appearing in a trial courtroom sketch artists are employed by the media.

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One of Wendy Black’s courtroom sketches

Melbourne painter and silk screen artist, Wendy Black has worked as a courtroom sketch artist for Network Ten and other media outlets. I interviewed her about this intersection of art and crime.

Black explained the job. “It is a bit like extras work, you stand around and wait and wait for hours and then you have three minutes of intense action. It is the same with this. You are just given one name and there could be thirty people going through the court that day and you just have to listen for that name. So you are looking very intently at everyone. When that name comes up you have to intensely draw for three minutes and remember what colour eyes, ties and shirts if you haven’t drawn enough in three minutes.”

There are a small band of court artists in Melbourne, about half a dozen courtroom sketch artists working on a freelance basis. Black started working for newspapers and moved to television when in 2005 she rang Network Ten to tell them she had just drawn the accused in a high profile murder at the time, Joe Korp, the husband of the women in the boot story.

In the UK courtroom sketch artists cannot draw in court but must work from memory and notes to produce their drawings outside the courtroom. In Australia and the USA artists are permitted to sketch in the courtroom. There is no restriction on the media that courtroom sketch artists can use. Black had a lot of time to explore different media. “I got very fond of coloured pencil, I must admit.” But there is a limit to what you can bring into court because of security. “I really had to change from Stanley knifes for sharpening very fine points on pencils to going to the dreaded pencil sharpener which I couldn’t bare but now I’ve sort of come back to liking it.”

After the sketches have gone through the media cycle, the artist can keep them or sell them. People and institutions collect these sketches; the National Museum of Australia that has 182 courtroom drawings by Veronica O’Leary of the 1982 trial of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain.

In 2007 Black had an exhibition of her sketches in Langs Lane, part of the Laneway Commission “Three Minute Attention Span”. The exhibition involved her drawing in the Magistrates court for sixteen weeks everyday.

She prepared for this with lots of life drawing. To be a courtroom artist you need to stay in practice with life drawing to keeping your hand in. For budding courtroom sketch artists Black recommends the life drawing sessions where you do the one minute, three minute, five minute drawings before you get into a longer pose.


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