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Monthly Archives: February 2019

Bushrangers in Australian Art

During the gold rush colonial artists, including S. T. Gill, Frederick Grosse and George Lacy, were depicting bushrangers in ink sketches, watercolours and engravings. Bushrangers soon became an enduring theme in Australian art.

Patrick Marony, Death of Ben Hall, 1894

Another attempt to capture the bushranger theme was made by the artist and cartoonist, Patrick William Marony, aka Nick O’Tine. Marony was born in Curragh, Ireland in 1858 and after studying at a seminary he arrived in Australia around 1883. In 1884 he exhibited sixteen large oil paintings and a number of smaller paintings of bushrangers in the cities of Orange and Sydney.

On Thursday 29 March 1984 the National Advocate, reported on Marony’s exhibition in Orange and praised the accuracy of his landscapes, noting that Marony visited the location for the Death of Captain Starlight.

Reporting on Marony’s exhibition at the Strand Arcade in Sydney Freeman’s Journal, Saturday 30 June 1984, noted: “Apart from the technical merits of the pictures they should be of interest to Australians, as being the first attempts to show the condition of the colony during the reign of terror.”

Marony lived between the end of history paintings in oils and the beginning of cinematic versions of history. Around 1911 he wrote the story for the silent film, Ben Hall, Notorious Bush Ranger, also known as A Tale of the Australian Bush.

In 1887 William Strutt painted Bushrangers on the St Kilda Road. His large oil painting was based on a robbery that had taken place thirty-five years earlier when four men stopped, bailed-up and robbed seventeen travellers on the St Kilda to Brighton Road. Strutt’s painting is like a Charles Dickens’ novel, full of engaging characters; however his bare, flat, desert landscape looks nothing like the scrubby, rolling hills of St Kilda that existed at the time.

In 1895, Tom Roberts painted two bushranger paintings: In a corner on the Macintyre (Thunderbolt in an encounter with police at Paradise Creek) and an epic painting of a stage coach being robbed, Bailed up when he was staying at Newstead, a station near Inverell in New South Wales. Roberts was more interested in combining the romance of crime with the rugged beauty of the Australian landscape than in accurately depicting events that had taken place thirty years earlier; although the model for the stagecoach driver, ‘Silent Bob Bates’ had been held up by Captain Thunderbolt, aka Frederick Wordsworth Ward.

Marony’s transition from painting to cinema highlights the similar aesthetics of 19th century painting and 20th century movies. Marony’s “accuracy of landscape”, Strutt’s cast of characters and Robert’s romance of crime and landscape are all familiar features of movies.

Although depictions of bushrangers diminished one particular bushranger, Ned Kelly, continued to be depicted in modern, contemporary and street art in Australia; from Sidney Nolan to Adam Cullen to HaHa.

Ha Ha Ned Kelly 2017


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Tweed’s Cook Memorial

There are many inappropriate public sculptures in Melbourne, memorials to people who have no connection to Melbourne, memorials to evil men, dumb and ugly things. If I was to put together a list of inappropriate public sculptures in Melbourne I would judge them: irrelevance, offence and aesthetics. So an irrelevant, offensive and aesthetic non-entity like the Captain Cook Memorial by Sir John Tweed would be top of my list.

Sir John Tweed, Captain Cook, 1914

It also appears to be top of the list of inappropriate public sculptures for some of Melbourne’s Indigenous people. People with paint who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of Cook’s death added red paint on his hands and face, a streak of yellow down his trouser leg and ‘Good Riddance’ in black on the plinth. It was not the first time, in 2017 someone poured pink paint over the head of the statue, and it won’t be the last.

Tweed’s Cook Memorial is an anaesthetic non-entity of Edwardian sculpture; created at a time, in the early twentieth century when British art was a non-entity in art history. The one in Melbourne is just another edition of a statue that has an appropriate location in Cook’s home town of Whitby in England.

Commenting on the “current multitude of memorial designs” around the world and the “public physical interpretation of memory” Peter Tonkin and Janet Laurence writes: “the creators of memorials build an image of immortality, often inflating the event’s importance.” (“Space and memory: A meditation on memorials and monuments” Architecture Australia Vol 92 No 5 Sep/Oct 2003 pp 48-49)

There are three or four memorials to Boer War in Melbourne, then there is that massive temple complex called the Shrine of Remembrance, along with all the memorials to subsequent wars in which Australia served its imperial masters; evidence that Australians are loyal foot soldiers to the largest imperial power. There is even a memorial to General Gordon, although troops from Australia was unable to fight in that nineteenth campaign.

A century after many of the wars that sparked the initial round of memorial building in Melbourne Australians are still desperately building memorials (along with war museums and ‘interpretive centres’) like a junky with expensive habit. (For an idea of how expensive this habit is see my blog post An Expensive Identity.)

The quantity of memorial reminds me of the stone age barrows in Kent that were constructed without any associated burials. As the purpose of both constructions appears to be a claim to land ownership under the guise of a memorial. ‘Lest we forget’ that the phrase was first used on a memorial to colonialists killed by Aboriginal people defending their land in the frontier wars is noted by K. S. Inglis in his book Sacred places, war memorials in the Australian landscape (Melbourne University Press, 1998).

I find Melbourne’s public art fascinating because it is an official expression of a civic identity and values that attempts to permanently occupy public space. Both the glut of war memorials and the scarcity of statues of women or Indigenous people shows the official priorities of Melbourne, reveals its collective consciousness. In the case of Tweed’s Cook Memorial it is an imported, British colonial zombie consciousness.


Two Landscapes: Hancock & Smith

It is rare that a landscape moves me, so when I’m impressed by two exhibitions of landscapes it is worth considering why. I don’t find a lot of meaning in landscapes possibly because I am not attached with emotional investment to any place. However this week I saw two exhibitions of landscapes that were full of meaning.

Evan Hancock, Lake Mountain Victoria, 2018

At first I didn’t know what I was seeing, some kind of a landscape but what were all those vertical white marks? At Forty-five Downstairs a series of black and white photographs, “Light.Ash.White” by Evan Hancock that marks the tenth anniversary of the Black Saturday fires. Each of those vertical white marks was a dead tree.

On February 7 to March 14 in 2009 Kinglake, Marysville and the Lake Mountain regions burnt. The catastrophic loss of trees, scars across a landscape at a scale almost too vast to comprehend. Hancock was not aiming for an emotional response from the viewer, nor are his clinical. Only in a couple can you even see a road often there is only nature to give a sense of scale and time to the images. The photographs convey the vast emptiness.

A few small documentary colour photographs lying flat on plinths in the middle of gallery provided context for the exhibition.

It seems a little ironic that the photographs were frame in black Victorian Ash timber.

Peter James Smith, Of Twilights Repeated Measure, 2018

Flinders Lane Gallery is showing “Round Many Western Islands”, by Peter James Smith. Smith is a polymath: BSc (Hons), MSc, MFA, PhD, the former Professor of Mathematics and Art, and Head of the School of Creative Media at RMIT University. His painting are post-modern landscapes; romantic-style oil paintings of seascapes and landscapes with white notes, like chalkboard notes for a lecture, diagrams and words written on top of them. The contrast between the rich, glossy surface of the landscapes paintings with the dry, matt white matches the contrast the interior comprehension and the exterior views of the scene. Here Smith’s encyclopaedic knowledge finds connections between science and art, mathematics to poetics, from ancient Homer’s tales of the resourceful Odysseus to the Opportunity Rover on Mars, from the ancient Aboriginal footprints in the Lake Mungo Desert to Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon, and more. A lifetime of knowledge and travel condensed into an exhibition.

This will be Flinders Lane Gallery’s last exhibition in their current location before they more to the Nicholas Building.


Exploiting Hosier

I still have a look at Hosier Lane when I am in the city. After a decade of watching this dynamic laneway I am still confident that I will see something worth photographing and often something worth thinking about.

Unknown, skull moth, Hosier Lane

In the last decade Hosier Lane has changed a great from a notable location for street art in Melbourne to an international tourist attraction. A decade ago you might find that the laneway that you were the only person in the lane; now with both increases in tourism and homelessness that will never happen.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that people are still exploiting Hosier Lane. The concept of exploitation is little/very well understood in Australia because the basis of the Australia’s economy is exploiting minerals and land for mining and agricultural economy. It is almost a swear word in a country where a billionaire heiress believes that the description “heiress” is a “negative slur”. So let’s be clear: ‘exploitation’ is when you get something for nothing or at very little cost and you make a lot of money from it.

Hosier Lane earlier this week

Some of the photographers are exploiting the street art and graffiti for their own profit. Most are not, the amateurs, the tourists taking selfies and the students are not but when you have lighting and a model, it does looks very professional. The wedding photographers that use the location for free are certainly exploiting it.

Last year there was the issue of KIL Productions was exploiting the walls of Hosier to make money from brides and grooms who think it is romantic to have their message of love on the walls. KIL productions has been painting in Hosier Lane for many years and I have nothing against him for any of those pieces.

One of KIL’s non-exploitive pieces from 2017

Many urban artists have an entrepreneurial spirit, making money from their art where they can. However there is a vast difference between selling art (or conducting street art tours) and making money exploiting world famous walls that cost you nothing to use. Nobody would be complaining about a wall behind one of the bridal boutiques along Sydney Road in Brunswick; I might even be writing a post about wall and graffiti chic instead of this post. This is not a question of censorship people’s art but about inappropriate in a particular location.

Hosier Lane is no longer the best location to see the latest or best street art or graffiti, for years now it has become its own thing, exploiting its own reputation into the future.

To see the freshest street art and graffiti your best bet would be to go for a walk, or bike ride, in the inner city suburbs. This is the first multi-panel, narrative, aerosol mural that I have seen; I don’t know who did it but kudos to them for painting in black and white.


Confined 10

I’m standing in line, about to buy a painting when the woman just in front of me buys the very one that I wanted. She must have excellent taste but I am so disappointed. I look at the exhibition catalogue again, before heading to the bar for a consolation drink. The same woman is just in front of me in the queue for the bar, fortunately she didn’t drink the bar dry.

Thursday, January 31 is opening of the Confined 10 in the Carlisle Street Arts Space at the St Kilda Town Hall. Confined 10 is the annual exhibition by The Torch, an organisation that supports Indigenous artists currently in or recently released from prisons in Victoria. The gallery is packed to capacity, there is a security guard only letting a hundred people in at a time, and there are hundreds more people in the foyer and the ballroom.

The walls of the gallery are full of paintings, hundreds of paintings; amidst all these you would think that I’d be able to find another painting that I liked. However, there are now there are more dots on the walls, not more dot paintings but red dots to indicate that a painting has been sold. The paintings that are just designs, without any images of animals are selling very well.

“It’s what the painting represents more than the painting.” I overhear the familiar voice of for Premier Jeff Kennett. He is talking to someone else just behind me in the crowd but I’m not surprised to see him. Jeff Kennett has been the Chairman of the Torch since 2016 and ensured that the law was changed so the Indigenous prisoners could sell their art. I don’t know what Kennett means; is he referring to the humanitarian value of helping people in need, or that Indigenous culture is more than just a painting. But I am still feeling the loss of the painting that I wanted to buy, its colours, its designs, Kelvin Rogers bold signature with date.

I shouldn’t have taken so much time looking at whole exhibition, photographing the couple of quirky works, like the wooden model motorcycle by Shane J, and gone straight for the buying. But the art critic in me wanted to look at variety of art on exhibit. For the last two years Shane J has been exhibiting some impressive constructions made from matchsticks and ‘paddle pop’ sticks.

Anyway, enough of the regrets, the speeches are starting in the ballroom. Kent Morris, the CEO of the Torch told the story of how an exhibition, a decade ago featuring 18 artists and 25 art works, grew to its current size with 217 artists and 230 art works. Followed by more speeches from Auntie Caroline, the Mayor of St. Kilda Dick Ross,  and Uncle Jim Berg, Gunditjmara Elder. The award winners were announced: Ash Thomas, Kim Kennedy, Chris Austin, Paul Leroy McLaughlin, Lodi Lovett, Veronica Hudson, and Graham ‘Gil’ Gilbert. 


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