On Tuesday night, there were two exhibitions opening at fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit gallery on Flinders Lane in Melbourne: William Eicholtz ‘Greedy Pixiu’ and James Grant ‘Retreat’. Both were created during last year’s lockdown but the sense doom has not left Melbourne.
There were a few cases of COVID-19 in greater Melbourne that night, and masks became mandatory indoors at 6pm. I’ve had one shot of the vaccine, and I was determined to get to another exhibition opening before another lockdown. Not even Melbourne’s cold, wet weather was going to keep me away.
At the exhibition opening, William Eicholtz told me about last year and being alone in the studio, which he usually shares with four other people, without a model, without students, without commissions, wondering what to do. There were many artists, musicians, dancers, etc., in Melbourne wondering the same thing.
“I first saw pixiu, a pan Asian mythological chimera, on an artist’s residency in Beijing… Alone in my studio, the sketches I had done of Pixiu years before beckoned to me, and this group of sculptures was born.”
Made from glazed earthenware ceramics, some with embedded vintage Swarovski rhinestones, the pixiu are meant to represent good fortune through greed and over-indulgence. Money-boxes that you will never open. Others are greedily consuming social media or chocolate or eating lotuses. Other pairs of pixiu are dressed up in various costumes, invasive species, cicadas, and even 70s tv dragon H.R. Pufnstuf.
In the large gallery at fortyfivedownstairs was James Grant’s ‘Retreat’. Landscapes and still life of the familiar world around Collingwood, Fitzroy and East Melbourne. Scenes of living rooms, artist’s studios, garages build on the modern democratic attitude of depicting the ordinary rather than the great and the grand. A world full of stuff, books with recognisable titles and products with labels. Paintings that show an appreciation and enjoyment of local life. Familiar environment because we were all looking at similar scenes for so much last year. Retreating from the pandemic, we watched our world become smaller and smaller.
On reading Grant’s artist statement, ‘Retreat’ turned out to be another lockdown inspired exhibition. I emailed him to let him know about his blog post, and he told me about painting them in his home studio in Collingwood during the second lockdown.
I left the exhibition opening minutes before mask-wearing became mandatory and headed home. Victoria is now in a fourth lockdown. Back to drinking Shiraz, doom-scrolling Twitter and getting flashbacks of last year.
These, and all other exhibitions, performances, etc., will close for at least the next seven days. Some might be able to go online, others may be rescheduled, but the majority will have to be cancelled. Remember that these two exhibitions represent about half a year’s work for the two artists. The resilience of Melbourne’s culture looks like it will be determined through destructive testing.