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Monthly Archives: May 2019

Makatron’s Book

Mike Makatron In Ten Cities (Trojan Press, 2015)

I read Makatron’s book, if “read” is the right word for book that is primarily photographs, over a pub lunch and two pints of cider. It is a good over-view of his work in Melbourne and around the world.

I have been looking at Makatron’s work in Melbourne’s walls for the last decade and it is easy to see why his work is popular. He mostly paints animals but there is more to his work that just reproducing a photograph in aerosol paint. Makatron’s animals are often distorted surreal creatures, giant animals with buildings on their backs, decomposing fish or stranger creations. The book doesn’t show all his work but it is a fair representation and not just a greatest hits; there are tags, straight letters and photographs of works in progress.

The text is not indulgent or boasting, fun, modest and reasonably informative although limited and containing way too many puns.

How to present the man behind the paint is a problem given that we are not going to get a photographs of Makatron’s face for legal reasons, although there are a few masked versions. There is a bit of autobiography at the end of the book. A born risk-taker Makatron was working as bicycle courier in NYC on 9/11; something that gets a random page of photographs in the middle of the book and is mentioned again at the end.

Although the structure of the book is not irritating or terrible it could be better than the almost random approach. An editor’s view could have made this book so much better than chaotic travels in time and space.

As a photo-books, street art and graffiti don’t make for great photographs; a wall square on in good lighting is the standard format, photographing street art is often more documentation than photography. John Tsialos is credited as the principle photographer but there are others including David Russell (see my post on his street art photography that brings the streetscape into focus).

I borrowed this book from Moreland Library. Like me, Makatron will have received his library lending rights money for this month for all the times that his book has been borrowed this year. Yes, authors do get paid when their book is borrowed. So go and borrow Makatron’s book (and my book Sculptures of Melbourne) from your local library.

Here are some of my photographs of Makatron’s work in Melbourne.


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Three model buildings

Looking at three artist’s models of buildings in two exhibitions that I saw this week. From miniature realism to fantastic visions model buildings represent a form of life.

David Hourigan, The Chicken Shop Yarraville

The first two models were in “Uncontrolled Development” a group exhibition at Brunswick Street Gallery. One was by David Hourigan, the other by John Gatip.

Hourigan has received plenty of mainstream media coverage for his models of Melbourne’s disappearing old urban sites, like milk bars and donut stands. They are very detailed, almost photo-realistic, 1:25 scale models of actual buildings. However accurate, Hourigan’s models are just a road to nostalgia, a criticism free version of the past, where there are no regrets or disappointments. (For more on Hourigan’s models see The Age.)

John Gatip, part of Eureka series

Gatip’s ‘Eureka’ series of golden models are abstractions of Melbourne; particularly the nineteenth century Melbourne constructed from the profits of the gold rush. His models are not an accurate representations but the city is clearly recognisable from the forms. Gatip is an architect but these models are very different from architects models. In an architects model the building is shown in an ideal state, as an example to imitate in the actual construction; in the artist’s model it is a three-dimensional representation.

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Arrivals and departures

In “Bruised: Art Action and Ecology in Asia” RMIT Gallery, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan models of buildings are clearly made of corrugated cardboard. In their Arrivals and departures multi-storey towers of dense bricolage homes are piled on top of each other in chaotic constructions. Aquilizan’s houses are lively, with overgrown pot plants, bird boxes, antennas and other signs of life. Each building is on a luggage trolleys, ready to move to a new location on the artificial grass.

Bruised is part of ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 the art festival that is unfortunately so necessary in this climate emergency (see my other posts about visual arts exhibitions the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019: The plastic jewellers and Art in the face of a climate emergency).


The Ardern mural

Apart from the graffiti pieces at their base the old silos have stood empty for decades. Now there is a mural by Loretta Lizzio of Jacinda Ardern embracing a Muslim woman on one of them.

So why in Brunswick? The silo is owned by a Muslim and Coburg’s Islamic community has supported the mural. The mural was crowd funded and the artist, Lizzio donated her time. And Ardern is considered far more believable than any current Australian politician according to a recent poll.

I wouldn’t call it an original work; as is a copy of a photograph taken in NZ after the Christchurch massacre. I assume that it has been done with copyright permission from the photographer. And originality is not the purpose of the work, it is getting the image and message up there.

Tinning Street is a good area to explore and see street art and graffiti in Brunswick. There are often fresh new graffiti pieces in the other nearby lanes and there were some guys painting when I was there this week. There is also the vibrant Ilhan Lane, the Hosier Lane of Brunswick for street art. (Ilhan Lane is named after “Crazy John” Ilhan. Remember when retailers would advertise that they were mentally ill? Crazy John, Ken Bruce has gone mad, Bipolar Bill; okay I made the last one up. I’m glad that trend came to an end.)

At Moreland Station I notice that OG23 and Askem have repainted the same wall that they have been painting for decades. It is not unusual. (See my post Same Walls.)

OG23 & Askem

Has Melbourne’s street art and graffiti reached an almost steady state? In my last blog post about street art wrote that it had. A point where very little changes except for the names and locations; although many of the names and locations have been the same for decades. A decade ago new forms of street art were being explored: installations, yarn bombing, people even thought that you could grow moss in patterns.

Adnate and Fantauzzo

Vincent Fantauzzo collaboration mural with Adnate in Strachan Lane serves as a reminder that street art is now another luxury commodity. F is not a street artist and his fine art works with a theme of luxury and fashion. Artists can have their careers entirely within the street art and graffiti scene, rather than moving to another career in graphic design or fine arts. This professionalism has brought an end to the D.I.Y. aspects of the culture.

What will alter the current stasis?

Locally I have seen that growth of guerrilla gardening out compete graffiti along the Upfield trainline. Planting at Brunswick Station now obscure walls that were once regularly painted. Along the tracks the vines on the side of The Commons building at Anstey Station have green-buffed large sections of that wall.

Scanning the horizon with a global look I wonder how will the environmental hazards of the current street art and graffiti be tolerated? The chemicals, the one-use cans and other aspects make it environmentally unsustainable. Painting another mural to raise public awareness will only be a sustainable argument for a short time.

Van Rudd, climate strike mural

Archibald Prize 2019

 All that a hopeful artist has to do to win Australia’s most prestigious prize for portrait painting is pay the $50 entry fee and deliver their painting to the loading dock at the rear of the Art Gallery of NSW at a certain date. Each year thousands of paintings are arrive and if a painting makes the final exhibition it is doing well.

Installation view of several finalists in the Archibald Prize 2019

The portrait must be of a notable in the fields of arts, science or politics (although judging from the entries this is very flexible). It has to be painted from life, meaning that the artist must have actually met the notable person; the subject has to sign the entry form to confirm this. Mostly it is artists painting other artists, or themselves, in a daisy-chain of insider promotion.

It was a relief to see that there were no portraits of politicians amongst this year’s finalists. No of the finalist artists wanted to be associated with any Australian politician. Although ugly, morally bankrupt thugs have been the subject of Archibald finalists in the past, such as Adam Cullen’s portrait of Chopper Reed, there were no portraits of popular criminals this year.

One positive aspect of both of these trends is that there were a lot more small portraits suitable for domestic display.

Kirpy, Dylan

As a focus of this blog is the intersection of street and gallery so I should report on the two street artists in the exhibition: ELK and Kirpy. Both portraits are very large, more than one square metre, multi-layered stencils spray-painted in aerosol paint and use acrylic paint to fill in the larger areas and give weight and texture. And both compositions have strong horizontal elements, in a rather rigid and static structure. Kirpy’s painted Dylan Alcott Paralympic gold medallist and founder of the musical festival Ability Fest. And ELK (aka Luke Cornish) did portrait of businesswoman and media commentator Sue Cato, along with her dogs, Callie and Comet. In 2012 ELK was the first street artist in the Archibald Prize finals and the following year first street finalist in Sulman Prize.

For the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW is not just the Archibald but also the Wynne and Sulman prize.These prizes receive far less attention in the media than the celebrity focus of the Archibald.

The Wynne Prize for landscape painting or figurative sculpture is, not surprisingly, dominated by Indigenous artists this year. Figurative sculpture has become far less significant in Australia’s art world and there were only two pieces amongst the finalists.

The changing significance of types of art reminded me that the Sulman Prize is for subject, genre or mural painting. And given the increased significance of mural painting I don’t know why more street artists and graffiti writers don’t enter that prize.  After all Guido van Helten’s Brim silos mural project was the winner for the mural prize in 2016.

I haven’t seen the actual Archibald prize exhibition for many years but as I was in Sydney I can report on it.

Wynne Prize finalist Nongirrna Marawili, Pink Lightening

The Plastic Jewellers

In the foyer of the Counihan Gallery is selection of ear-rings with recycled components, recycled silver and plastic. TempContemp’s exhibition of sustainable jewellery is part of the “Art + Climate = Change 2019” arts festival.

Ann Welton, Flotsam and Simone Alesich, Gelo One

On Saturday one of the exhibiting jewellers and curator, Laila Marie Costa led walk and talk; or rather a talk with a walk to change the location. It started at the Counihan Gallery and continued, not far off, at Northcity4. The reason for this geographically extended talk was that TempContemp was also presenting “The Urban Gleaner & the Plastique Pt. II” another exhibition at Northcity4’s very small exhibition space (also part of “Art + Climate = Change 2019”).

Costa is an advocate for contemporary jewellery to have the same status as ceramics in the contemporary art world. She works with found materials and was exhibiting a pair of dramatic earrings built on inverted glow-in-the-dark crosses.

Northcity4 is a jewellery studio in Brunswick in a factory converted into studio spaces on Weston Street where seventeen jewellers work. Costa gave us a quick tour of the well-equiped studio with a forest of indoor plants. The studio tour was followed by a chat about both jewellery exhibitions and the use of plastic in contemporary jewellery.

Two more jewellers, Regina Middleton and Lauren Simeoni spoke about their work in the exhibition.

Lauren Simeoni uses fake plants as her primary material occasionally sneaking in precious materials into these compositions. In her hands the unnatural stamens, twigs and branches become necklaces and ear-rings.

Although they are using plastic as their primary material the horror of plastic covering the planet in a colourful layer of toxic chemical junk is very present in all their minds. Middleton describes an encounter with a Thai beach covered in plastic rubbish and the “tragic beauty of plastic” as it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Middleton creates displays of these tiny, weathered fragments of plastic collected from beaches; elegant display boxes of poisonous, anti-magical, gems.


The great gallery joke

At first glance I thought that Blindside was completely empty. I looked around for the ‘closed for installation sign’; nothing. There was something hanging on the wall of the second gallery, so I went inside. It was only after I entered the gallery that I saw the paintings.

Jan Murray, Chute (Old Police Hospital) 1, oil on linen, 2017

Three paintings of air vents hung on one wall. There are more tromp l’oeil paintings of hatches, grilles, chutes and ceiling vents. Jan Murray exhibition “Unseen” at Blindside in October 2018; oil paintings of the overlooked architecture of the Nicholas Building and Old Police Hospital. It is the opposite of the old cartoon of the middle aged couple mistaking the gallery’s air vent for a work of art.

The Irish art critic, Brian O’Doherty wrote:  “The box, which I have called the white cube, is a curious piece of real estate […] However roughly treated, the white cube is like a straight man in a slapstick routine. No matter how repeatedly hit on the head, not matter how many pratfalls, up it springs, its seamless white smile unchanged, eager for more abuse. Brushed off, pampered, re-painted, it resumes in blankness.” — Brian O’Doherty, “Boxes, Cubes, Installation, Whiteness and Money” A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution (2009)

The double act between the art gallery and the artist gives the art its comedic meta concepts. It is a double act as old as Dada. Consider all the art spawn from Duchamp’s readymades that require the gallery to be present. All the readymades, all the installations, all the interrogations of the gallery space from Tracey Emin’s Bed to tomorrow night’s contemporary art exhibition opening.

As in comedy this double act is an uneven relationship; the gallery has all the power but takes the comic artist’s jokes with good humour. This power relationship is questioned, ridiculed, knocked about is at the core of so much modern and contemporary art. Playing on the tension of does the artist or the gallery, the frame, the plinth make the art? The art gallery is the antithesis of the artist, a space without personality.

If the institution displaying the object removes itself from this double act and no longer accepts being the butt of jokes then it becomes a museum, a temple or a palace. In such an arrangement any authority that the artist had over the object is replaced by the authority of the institution and ‘by royal appointment…’ becomes a measure of quality. And both royal and popularity as authority expose the arbitrary and an-aesthetic aspects of such power.

And now I have explained the great gallery joke; a terrible thing to do to any joke.


Art in the face of a climate emergency

I don’t expect that many of my readers will see the photographic artist Anne Zahalka exhibition “Wild Life/Australia” at Arc One Gallery. The exhibition is part of CLIMARTE’s ART + CLIMATE = CHANGE 2019 festival. It is another way of raising a critical issue, just as this blog post about the exhibition is yet another. For, at its best, art criticism is another way of exploring important issues.

In her series of photographs Anne Zahalka is trying to capture the dubious realist aesthetic of museum’s zoological habitat dioramas. Painted backgrounds that merge to become samples, taxidermy specimens, of the actual in the foreground, a form that Zahalka has adapted into a photographic collage of images. In her photographs the didactic intention of these modernist dioramas have been turned to teaching a new lesson about climate change. Fruit bats fall dead from their roasts in a tree in the extreme heat.

Along with her photographs, displayed on two plinths were plastic recovered from the Lord Howe Island. Both of these were included in her photograph depicting the sea bird colony of on Admiralty Rocks at Lord Howe Island.

Arc One Gallery is a commercial gallery that represents mid-career contemporary Australian artists. It is not putting this exhibition on as an act of charity; the importance of issue is evident to all who don’t have an ideological commitment to oppose them. I was expecting to see more evidence of this climate emergency in the city aside from this exhibition. I was looking for it but all I’ve seen is a couple of pendants and some painted bollards from Extinction Rebellion.

Too many species have become extinct in the half century of my life and many more are endangered or threatened by climate change, pollution or habitat loss. This includes humans, we are just another species on this planet, a species that future alien archeologists might refer to as the stupid ape.


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