A gallery of Melbourne street art inspired by Star Wars collected over the last decade. Crisp and HaHa are the two major contributors to this theme but there are also great pieces by anonymous artists. Roughly in chronological order.
More powerful than a spray-can. Graffiti writers have long used fire extinguishers filled with paint to spray paint often used to write a very large tag high on a wall. But one Melbourne artist has made the paint filled fire extinguisher his own – Ash Keating.
Fire-extinguishers filled with paint have long been part of a graffiti tradition of improvisation. Using fire-extinguishers to spray paint peaked in Melbourne in 2012.
Ash Keating has been painting massive walls (long before other Melbourne-based street artists got into the mural business) as performances. Painting massive surfaces of concrete walls with a controlled chaos of colour. Action painting at an industrial scale, without an aisle, without drawings. It is also painting with the hand of the artist mixed in with chance. Earlier this year he painted a painted a warehouse of concrete pumping company on the edge of the city A Love Letter to a Very Rocky Creek (Hume Response). (For more on the Hume Response.)
I visited his studio on Saturday afternoon on the 20 July, it was more of a pop-up weekend gallery than an open studio. The Hume ResponsePaintings are in the same primary colours as A Love Letter to a Very Rocky Creek (Hume Response). The “domestically scaled canvases” are for the domestic market and “invert the whole project” as Keating described it.
Keating has recently moved studios. Ironic, given the surfaces that he paints, Keating’s studio is a brand new tilt-slab warehouse in Bakers Business Park in North Coburg. An added irony is that the only fire-extinguisher in the room is brand new and not full of paint. The pristine beauty of the grey concrete slabs without any drips, layers of paint splatters, misty layers of a thin paint or thick chunky lumps of paint (something that you don’t get with spray-cans) hung with a few paintings.
A young woman reaches for two children. Their large hands emphasis the desire to touch. The ground is strewn with bronze garlands engraved with poetic words that further invoke the separated families. Taken Not Given is a kind of memorial, a reminder of a Parliamentary apology, and a public recognition of the hurt caused by forced adoptions.
The sculpture is by Melbourne-based artist Anne Ross. For the last 26 years Ross has been doing public art commissions around Victoria, NSW, ACT and Hong Kong. Her figurative sculptures are generally playful fun however, for Taken Not Given, she had to reach another tone — one of an absence — of longing.
It was commissioned by the Victorian Parliament after its apology for forced adoption practices following the 2012 Commonwealth Senate Inquiry into forced adoption policies and practices. And was unveiled on 26 October 2018 on a small quiet triangle of garden on the corner of Lansdowne St. and St Andrews Pl. beside the government buildings and opposite Fitzroy Gardens. It can be seen as you come along the street but is obscured from the corner by a large patch of plants. There was no desire line of trampled grass indicating where people had walked over the lawn to the sculpture or read the accompanying explanative panel.
Aside from looking at the aesthetic qualities and style of the sculpture and the landscape gardening when I see a new piece of public sculpture I ask: how is it being used? And, what is it intended to do?
Is this an apology cast in bronze? A solid reminder to the Victorian government not to take children from their parents again.
Or is it art-wash? Buying an indulgence from art to pay-off past sins. Is the sculpture used as a proof of their virtue for apologising and a distraction from the victims?
I’m not sure; but I’m sure that the questions are worth considering. Your answers are welcome in the comments.
On Friday 5 July I met the NAIDOC Week march as I was walking to Fitzroy. The march was coming the opposite way walking from Fitzroy to Federation Square. I felt inspired by the march – I want a treaty and truth (like South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission). Australia needs a treaty with its Indigenous population; Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its indigenous people.
I considered my options joining the march or continuing my walk into Fitzroy. I decided to continue on looking at public art, street art and art exhibitions but with a focus on indigenous history. My methodology for these walks is asystematic, random, and often without preconceived objectives. This is because I want to take unfamiliar routes and find new things.
This is No Fantasy, the Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stien’s gallery on Gertrude Street was showing Vincent Namatjira’s exhibition Coming To America. Vincent is a Western Arrernte man from Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and the grandson of the famous artist, Albert Namatjira. It was Vincent Namatjira’s fifth solo presentation at this prominent Melbourne commercial gallery. Black dots beside the works showed that every painting had sold.
Vincent Namatjira’s crude but effective style has an absurd sense of humour. The exhibition has a series of paintings depicting his trip to America, including his time in Hollywood, the White House and relaxing on beach chair at the Miami Beach Art Basel. On one wall was a grid of black and white portraits of alternating black and white people. Namatjira seems to be saying: why so serious when this is fun?
Gertrude Street was named after the daughter of Captain Brunswick Smythe who acquired the land in 1839 in colonial exploitation; in spite of it colonial origins Gertrude Street has many reminders of Melbourne’s Indigenous history. There are several plaques by the City of Yarra Aboriginal Cultural Signage Reference Group and the Aboriginal Advisory Group: The Koori Club, the Aboriginal Housing Board and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. (As well as public art I am now looking at plaques — how dull can I get?).
At the corner of Lt. Napier Street, there is the recent ‘Sovereignty’ mural by Robert Young, Heesco and Makatron. They are all Melbourne-based artists but only Young is a Gunnai/Gunditjmarra/Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri man – Heesco is from Mongolia and Makatron is probably from outer space, or Adelaide.
A bit further along Gertrude Street, at the corner of Gertrude and George Streets stand three “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria. The yarn bombed dress on one of thin bronze figures has been there for years, it implies that it a woman and makes the group more inclusive.
On the same corner is Maysar, the Melbourne Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative with glass design in the windows and glass doors by Mandy Nicholson, a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Kulin Nation. Nicholson’s work is familiar to me as she designed Gayip, the stainless steal spiral headed figure with wings perched on a rock on the South bank and the petroglyphs at Birrarung Wilam.
I turned left onto to Smith Street, named after Melbourne’s Mayor Smith 1855-64 a publican turned politician. At first there was much less reminders of Indigenous history on Smith Street, just on plaque for the Victorian Aboriginal Co-operative Limited at 108 Smith Street, one guy in an Aboriginal flag t-shirt getting lunch and a small flag painted on a house in one of the streets off Smith.
That was until I reached the corner of Stanley and Smith Street where the Glenn Romanis has designed the combination of a micro-park, seating, public art and a map. Glenn Romanis is from the Wurundjeri/woi wurrung and Boonwerrung people of the Kulin Nation, and like Nicholson, Romanis’s public work was familiar from his carving at Birrarung Wilam. The sites are mapped in fossilised wood with granite streets cutting across the sedimentary rock that flows like rivers. Carved in the rock “Wominjeka Wurundjeri Bik” (Welcome to Wurundjeri Country). It was a good place to continue an exploration of Indigenous culture in Melbourne.
Here are a couple of Victorian (in every sense) places that can be seen if you are wandering around Melbourne.
333 Collins Street is one of the best example of preserving the old architecture is the fantastic dome inside a multi-storey building at 333 Collins Street. You can go into the foyer and look up and see the old dome. Through the dome’s windows you can see, instead of seeing the sky, the inside of a new building. It is unfortunate that the architect didn’t plan public access to the roof of the dome so that the surreal sight of an old roof inside a new building is not available. You can easily imagine this site if you look at the architectural model of the new building that stands in the foyer. It is a fine example of the greed and exploitation that is quintessential to Australia. Once the dome was part of Melbourne’s banking’s “cathedrals of commerce”, yes in the 19th century Australia really did build temples to Mammon.
Another of these temples to Mammon is at 380 Collins Street. Like a cathedral there are stain glass windows, carved wood screens and stone guardians in the gothic revival style. Labelled as the ‘ANZ Banking Museum’ with an impressive brass plaque – all I saw of that were two very small display cases on the floor bank. Instead of Biblical scenes one of the stain glass windows there is a series of the motifs from the Victoria Memorial in London. It is also very modern; cast iron pillars support the roof space that includes a large skylight.
The Block Arcade of Marvellous Melbourne has becoming a home to middle-brow tourist art and ersatz culture like the Dr Suess Gallery but it still has a great mosaic floor. A neo-classical Victorian design by Craven Dunnell Pty Ltd. of the United Kingdom made from Italian tiles. (For more on Melbourne’s many mosaic’s see my post Time and Tiles.) George Sala, the man who coined the phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ spent a lot of time in the arcade. Sala needed to coin phrases about Melbourne as he was the special correspondent for the Daily Telegraphy. In 1880s he wrote of Melbourne’s arcades:
“Indeed, but for the fact that prohibitions on smoking are conspicuously placarded about in the Royal, the Victoria, and the Eastern arcades, you might, without any very violent stretch of the imagination, fancy on a fine night that Bourke Street was one of the Paris boulevards instead of being a highway hewn not fifty years ago out of the trackless Bush, and that you were a flâneur from the Café du Helder who had just strolled into the nearest passage to saunter from shop to shop, the contents of which you may have seen five hundred times before, and to rub shoulders with a throng whose faces from long acquaintance should be perfectly familiar to you.” (from The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia, p.328)
When the Block Arcade’s opening in 1892 there were 15 milliners, three lace shops, a photographer and the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Only the Hopetoun Tea Rooms survives. The prohibition on smoking in the Royal Arcade remains.