Monthly Archives: March 2022

Street Art Sculpture 12

This is my annual post about street art sculpture, a topic that I’ve been focused on for decades because it crosses over into my interest in public sculpture. It is the most difficult of all unauthorised art for street art sculpture often requires more materials, planning and choice of location than other forms of street art and graffiti. Even creating a small piece of black glazed ceramic with the raised letters “Black Lives Matter” on it and gluing it to a power pole takes infinitely more effort than writing it with a marker.

The ABC reported about a googly eye prankster operating in Adelaide, but all I’ve seen in Melbourne is this pink rock attached to a power pole in Brunswick. That pink rock rocks. 

Prof Alison Young pointed out a series of tiny blue creatures inhabiting caves in some ill-formed concrete at the VCA. They were probably made a few years ago, given how many have been damaged, but they are still recognisable.

The year’s highlight was a series of unauthorised sculptures with a contemporary Arte Povera attitude installed in a field in Royal Park is, something very formal, physical and site-specific. 

If you are make something that will survive outdoors in Melbourne, then it will last. I love how this old Will Coles cast concret sculpture in Hosier Lane survives under multiple layers of aerosol paint.

I keep finding tiny doors all over the city; I have no idea how long they have been there or what is behind them.

Street artists will sometimes create three-dimensional versions of their art. The art toy scene is another step further in this practice.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures, see my earlier posts:


Memorials to a murderer

To make it clear about the moral character of John Batman, his neighbour, the colonial landscape painter John Glover, described him as “a rogue, thief, cheat and liar, a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known”. Even Batman’s wife did not stand by the evil, syphilitic, alcoholic man who claimed to have bought the land where Melbourne now stands for a few axes and bags of flour.

John Batman Memorial at Fawkner Cemetery

So how many statues and memorials does Melbourne need to this awful man? How many places, parks and railway stations need to be named after him? Melbourne had over half a dozen, but fortunately, that number has been lowered. A statue of Batman on Collins Street was removed for construction purposes in 2016. Batman Park in Northcote has been renamed Gumbri Park, but there is still a Batman Park in the CBD. The Australian Electoral Commission renamed the inner-city federal seat of Batman in honour of Indigenous rights campaigner William Cooper. Batman train station and two obelisks, one at Fawkner Cemetery and another at Queen Victoria Market, remains.

In 2020 I made a formal complaint about having a memorial to a genocidal criminal in the City of Melbourne. I was informed that: “it is currently being considered in the context of the Queen Victoria Market site. The memorial is an existing feature of the space, and its future will be considered as part of the overall design process. Close consultation with the relevant Traditional Owner groups and descendants of the Batman family is currently being undertaken.” The ongoing consultations have gone nowhere. The inadequate explanation of Batman on the memorial is barely an acknowledgement. The City of Melbourne should return this lump of stone to an Indigenous artist Mandy Nicholson, who carves impressive petroglyphs. 

Thanks to Jo Waite for pointing out the historic photograph of the Batman memorial at Fawkner Cemetery. Melbourne City Councillors in top hats and frock coats standing next to a new obelisk. I rode my bicycle north along the Upfield railway line to see for myself. I found it easily enough, it stands several metres tall in the flat lawn cemetery. It is amongst the old gravestones removed from the old Melbourne cemetery to make way for the Melbourne market (“money before decency” is the Australian motto). The isolated memorial in the lawn cemetery is the most recent of memorials to Batman. It was constructed in 1922, about the same time as many of the Confederate monuments in the USA. A time of international uncertainty, where monuments were designed to cement traditional views in the civic infrastructure.

As few cars were around and the weather was pleasant, I decided to bicycle back on a different route. It was then that I became lost in the vast cemetery, and some panic set in. Why was I putting in this energy to trace the surface archeology of Australian colonialism? Speaking ill of the dead in a place created to commemorate them. Eventually, I found another exit from the graveyard. Like the cemetery map, the network of institutional racism needs to be recognised from the colonial origins to the present. As the Batman memorial at Queen Victoria Market says circumspice, Latin meaning “You must look around”.


Abstracts at Divisions Gallery

‘Inner Hum’ is a group exhibition at Divisions Gallery of painterly abstracts by Belinda Wiltshire, Karen Hew-Yin Eriksen, and Charlotte Ivey. All three artists enjoy paint, working it in different ways.

Belinda Wiltshire, Traveling Friend, 2020

Painter and ceramicist Wiltshire is showing a series of five large works with tiny little details in one place, In Travelling Friend two tiny children lean in for a kiss in a yellow dot on a vast blue canvas. They are displayed in a circle, perhaps thinking of the work hanging of the Rothko chapel.

Three paintings on glass by Charlotte Ivey

Ivey’s small paintings are compositions in a subdued palette of reds and browns that pay attention to their linen, boards and glass supports. 

Hew-Yin Eriksen, There the threshold, 2021

Hew-Yin Eriksen pushes phthalo green paint around into great curves and arcs. Stepping out of the abstract into materialism, she has included one, Sublime Light Now! with an LED fan.

Divisions Gallery is the new gallery in Pentridge Village. It is located alongside the small history interpretation centre on the second floor of the shopping mall. The gallery has a stockroom, a lot of windows and a balcony with views of a stone nineteenth-century prison block. There are three old prison wall spikes at the gallery desk set in an old piece of bluestone from the former Pentridge Prison.

In Pentridge Village, the aesthetics of carceral torture and a panopticon are decorative features. The panopticon no longer exists. The foundations were unearthed in 2014. This brutal modern prison was the first experiment in reforming prisoners. It had the opposite effect, but the architectural form was quickly adopted for schools and military barracks. A must-see for fans of Foucault and extreme irony. 

There hasn’t been a gallery of any kind or any exhibitions in Coburg for years. Now there is Divisions Gallery and an exhibition space at Schoolhouse Studios in the old Coles supermarket. (These were the kind of posts that this blog was built on. I haven’t been doing enough local exhibitions. A sort of horizon scanning before the artist becomes known to the mainstream.)

I have participated and observed the arts in Moreland for three decades, mainly in the area of visual arts but also music and literature. Since 2008 I have written 84 blog posts about the visual arts in Moreland. Writing about visual arts has informed me about the variety of local art practices, from street art to contemporary. It is important to write about local culture, the emerging and the marginalised, rather than what everyone else is writing and talking about.

View from Divisions Gallery

Coburg graffiti and street art

Street-level art criticism and being aware of what is happening in my neighbourhood. Coburg graffiti and street art continue to work their way northwards piece by piece and to use the piers along the new elevated railway. And I’m still walking (and riding my bike) around these streets, lanes and paths, photographing it.

There is a good collection of graffiti pieces around Batman Station. (When will that station get a name change from that of a genocidal killer?) Playing with letterforms like a signwriting class on acid; Digs playing with different styles in the one piece.

Further back from the railway, walls that would have sported advertising a century ago are now decorated with street art. Commissioned murals legal walls, along with random stencils and tags.

However, as usual, my eye is drawn to the smaller stuff. Many fun stickers, including some espousing anti-fascism, are always good to see. Slap-up stickers may be a small platform, but it does show that you are not alone in holding those views. I spotted a tag (and some stickers) by Psalm, reminding me that he has been painting it across Melbourne since the 1990s or maybe longer.

Then there is the aerosol activity of the local WWW crew (aka World’s Worst Writers, also known as the UBM crew of Dsel, Mudl, Smelly, Achy, Luna and Calypso). How bad are they? Enquiring minds will want to know and will be disappointed that they aren’t worse. The worst is as hard to find as the best. People with talent spend years working at being the best in their field while most of us, like the WWW crew, will settle for ordinary and unexceptional most of the time. There are many shout-outs (lots of names around the pieces) on their pieces, reminding me of the social aspect of graffiti writing.

Near Coburg Station, a series of large paste-ups appeared on the piers of the elevated railway with either single words (space, air, time) on them or arty photos. They didn’t last the long Labour Day weekend before most of them were torn down.

A yarn bomber on a fence along the train line proclaims: “I love Coburg”.

P.S. Achy commented that the WWW crew only consists of Achy and Calypso and not the UBM crew. I wish to clarify with this photo I how I accessed the information and made that association.


Dr Louis Smith & the arts

To one side of the entrance to the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton stands a bronze bust of a man with a moustache. It is on a granite pedestal plinth with the following words engraved:

The honorable Dr LL Smith FRCS

Erected by public subscription 26th March 1914

Chairman Exhibition Trustees 1884-1909

A trustee from 1881

Dr Louis Lawrence Smith (1830-1910) was a celebrity doctor, anatomy museum director and politician in colonial Melbourne. A witty, self-promoter, and as unscrupulous and corrupt as the best Australian politicians. He also had some odd connections to the visual arts.

Being a celebrity doctor, only the best will do with the bust by Australia’s first international superstar artist, Bertram Mackennal. It is not a significant work in Mackennal’s career, a small commission compared to others that he had from Melbourne’s doctors (you must see the grave commissioned by Dr Springthorpe at Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew).

Dr Smith arrived in Melbourne in 1852 at the start of the gold rush as a ship’s surgeon. His father was a theatrical entrepreneur in London, and from him, Smith learned how to gain attention by spending enormous amounts on advertising. Smith specialised in venereal disease at a time when there were no effective cures. Besides a medical practice, he ran an anatomy museum, a nineteenth-century cover for sex education, alongside his clinic in Bourke Street, until 1869 when it was ordered closed because it offended ‘taste’.

Dr Smith supported the early release of the bushranger turned sculptor William Stanford. He examined Stanford in Pentridge Prison and diagnosed that Stanford had contracted a lung disease from the fine granite dust that he had inhaled carving basalt. Dr Smith’s prognosis was that Stanford could not be expected to live long. Smith diagnosis was incorrect; Stanford did live for many more years, working as a stonemason and did not die of any lung disease.

A petition for Stanford’s release in 1869 failed. Stanford completed his fountain in 1870. In the 1871 Victorian elections, Smith won the seat of Richmond as the ‘people’s candidate’ and called for ‘an unconditional pardon’ for Stanford. Stanford was ‘discharged to freedom by remission’ in October 1871. Smith provided him with an interest-free loan of £900 (about $140,000 today) to buy a house on Madeline Street in Prahran and establish a monumental masons business on Dandenong Road in the then working-class suburb of Windsor. If all parliamentarians lent released prisoners as much money, recidivism would be far lower.

Stanford’s Fountain in Melbourne

Later Dr Smith gave a gift to the Royal Exhibition Building of a ‘Rembrandt painting’ The wayfarer. Smith claimed it had been given to him by the Duke of York in 1901. The painting was subsequently stolen during a burglary at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne on the 29 April 1932. The canvas was cut from its frame, making me doubt its authenticity, as most Rembrandts are painted on wood. And before we mourn the loss of a masterpiece from the golden age of Dutch painting, remember that there were thousands of more paintings attributed to ‘Rembrandt’ in 1932 than there are now. Even supposing the original attribution was even close to being accurate, the painting would be attributed to one of Rembrandt’s students or followers. The inaccurate attribution may itself have been a reason to steal it, saving the owners from the future embarrassment of owning a fake.

Everything I learn about Dr Smith raises more questions.


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