Monthly Archives: July 2022

Sime Thornton

I’m sorry to learn that Sime Thornton died earlier this year. A funny guy with humour that didn’t put people down but gave them joy. His cartoons entertained many who saw them on the streets.

He listed his skills on Linkedin as “Taking a pen for a wander. Smashing ideas together like lumps of play-doh. Smashing ideas together like lumps of play-doh. Making innocent bystanders smile. Enlistment officer for Royal Melbourne Flying Monkey Corps.”

I did not have the pleasure of Thornton’s acquaintance, but I was familiar with his insightful and humorous cartoons. A clear and concise line often commented on the street artists around him. Drawn in ink and stuck them up in many of Melbourne’s prime street art locations. Often they are on canvas or wood for greater durability (they will last even longer online). BYST


Fame and Misogyny

The Rolling Stones have much in common with Picasso: the artistic success and failures, longevity, fame, Midas power, merchandise deals, appropriated west African culture, misogyny… Both have their respective position cemented in the history of modern art and rock in the top five. However, like the dinosaurs, these great thunder lizards, although still fascinating, are largely irrelevant to both contemporary art and music.

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, originally titled The Brothel of Avignon)

Throughout their lives, both were dedicated followers of the current styles. This dedication led to their initial success and explains the motivation better than any revolutionary desire on their part. Charlie Watts would have preferred to be playing jazz; Picasso might have preferred painting in an impressionist style. We will never know because what he painted and what the Stones played kept on making money. Making lots of money was the artistic vision of both Picasso and the Rolling Stones. They were artists as businessmen (Warhol was a camp parody of Picasso’s commercial success).

Following the current fashion explains Picasso’s surrealist and neo-classical period and the Stone’s expeditions into psychedelic rock, 2000 Light Years from Home, and disco, Emotional Rescue. Looking around, we could even find an equivalent in Picasso’s oeuvre. Works as political as Gimme Shelter, as mediocre as Jagger and Bowie’s cover of Dancing in the Streets (much of Picasso’s ceramics), and as regrettable as Brown Sugar.

The Stones no longer perform this racist song that revels in the rape of a teenage slave. Still, it does point to the misogyny and colonial appropriation of Africa by both the Stones and Picasso. As Dorian Lynsky, in his Guardian article “Rock’s fake rebels”, noted: “The Stones’ unpleasantness was integral to their uncanny power. In an era when many young people saw rock stars as potential heroes of the revolution, the Rolling Stones appealed to less altruistic desires: sex and money.”

Collectors like art about money and power because it reflects their fantasy of identity. In turn, their money empowers the abuse of women. Or worse, R Kelly, who was convicted for sex trafficking women and girls. Although we can separate the art from the artist’s misogyny, Shannon Lee, in Artspace, argues that we shouldn’t. We must recognise that mistaking the combination of talent and fortunate circumstances for a unique genius creates and empowers misogynistic assholes. And it is the machismo desire to dominate that drives both that most need to be re-examined.

Creativity and imagination might appear fun and attractive. Still, they are no good unless used towards creating a better world for everyone. Art can be liberating, but only when it empowers all people. However, talent and creativity can be used to oppress, terrorise and humiliate. It has been used to exploit and create hierarchies where there are none.

If there was a Picasso century, as the current NGV blockbuster exhibition title implies, it was followed by a Stones century. (Even though the two were contemporary for eleven years, Stones formed in 1962 and Picasso died in 1973.) The question is, do we want another century of artists like Picasso or the Rolling Stones? And what can we change to stop it from happening again? How do we create a world where success is not measured by macho domination?


The Michael Gudinski statue

With one finger, the statue of Michael Gudinski outside the Rod Laver Arena points to the sky. A strange gesture – reminiscent of da Vinci’s John the Baptist. However, unlike da Vinci’s Baptist, Gudinski is not recommending the heavens but looking at the stars; he has promoted many music stars.

The Mushroom Group (aka Mushroom Records) founder Gudinski emphasises the ‘Entertainment’ part of the precinct. The mushrooms on the base signify the Mushroom Group that Gudinski founded. Over the years, many of the bands that he represented played in the arena.

The distinction between “Arts” and “Entertainment” is part of the collective consciousness, divided by the Yarra River and built into the city’s fabric. Like the arts precinct on the Southbank, Both have extensive parklands, trains, and trams. Melbourne’s entertainment district is the sports stadiums, which are regularly used for large stadium concerts, on the north bank of the Yarra River.

When I looked, some real dry stems were amidst the bronze mushrooms. The remains of some flowers. Gudinski is still being mourned a little over a year after his death on 2 March 2021. But what will it mean in a couple of decades? Who will recognise him then? Curiously, Gudinski’s name is in stone and, on a bronze plaque on the back of the plinth that gives more details about his life and words “Forever #1”.  As if there was already some uncertainty of him being recognised.

Why does Melbourne need another statue? Celebrating music in bronze appears pointless. The three-dimensional representations of an abstract experience of organised sound seem to contradict Hegelian aesthetics. Rock now shares the money and influence with high-end culture for some odd memorials. That more of Melbourne’s music heroes are celebrated in bronze statues should be no surprise. In my review of the Mushroom Records exhibition at RMIT Gallery in 2014, I wrote, “rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment.”  

It must have been a tight schedule for the Meridian Sculpture Foundry in Fitzroy team to complete the statue, remembering that making a bronze statue is a team effort. The figure was made by Darien Pullen, Meridian’s senior mould maker and wax technician. The casting and coloured patination on the surface of the bronze statue is the work of others. Peter Morley, the founder of Meridian, has created different patinas to make Gudinski’s overcoat darker than his body. This is achieved by gently blow-torching a cocktail of chemicals sprayed onto the sculpture’s surface.

After Louis Laumen’s sculpture of Molly Meldrum, I’d heard that the next music star in the line for the memorial sculpture was Micheal Hutchins. Laumen’s staid portrait of Meldrum in his cowboy hat holding one of his dogs and his other hand with a thumbs up is the least rocking of Melbourne’s rock tributes. There are also laneway tributes to Bon Scott of AC/DC and Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls and a shrine to Elvis in the Melbourne General Cemetery.  

Darien Pullen, Michael Gudinski, 2022

Melbourne Street Art notes

Some notes about Melbourne’s street art:

Should Melbourne’s street art-covered lanes receive heritage protection? There has been no action yet, but the calls for protection are getting louder. However, how do you protect ephemeral art that thrived on neglected urban walls from change and redevelopment? 

There is a fun collection of images of cats at the far end of Presgrave Place. There is washing hanging on the lines of electric lights above the lane and with some of the best stencils and sculptural street art

What is a lost form?  

A Series of sculptures, including unauthorised interventions

B Stack of three cubes with a globe one quarter sunk into a top corner

C Just some more Melbourne street art

D All of the above

Yes, they have been around for a while, and I love the sticker “Your form?” reply to them on the wall of Rutledge (off Hosier Lane).

Dan Worth, Mask Emoji

I saw a carving of a mask emoji in Hosier Lane that reminded me of the work of Dan Worth in his Social Hieroglyphics exhibition. Worth informed me that his carved stone mask emoji was “installed it on the 15th of march 2020 and coincidentally later that day we got a state of emergency announcement about going into lockdown.”  

Shout out to Phoenix, VKM and Kasper. Thanks to all the street artists for keeping Melbourne weird, even the silly people following that South Australian trend for sticking googly eyes. 


Animal (the exhibition)

Bruce Armstrong’s eagle (Bunjil) is known across Naarm/Melbourne, his carved beasts that guarded the entrance to the NGV in the 1990s. There are more of his eagles at the entrance to Hyatt Hotel.

Bruce Armstrong at & Gallery

I came to see the works by Bruce Armstrong, but there is more to the “Animal” exhibition than just his beasts. “Animal” is an exhibition of work by nine established and mid-career artists, including Bruce Armstrong, depicting a variety of animals in a variety of media. & Gallery is a commercial contemporary art gallery located in the Atrium in Fed Square opposite the NGV, where previously there was a glass-art gallery (as well as, a branch in Sorrento).

In the exhibition, Armstrong’s smaller bronze edition of the Hyatt Eagles and NGV guardians, along with other small sculptures, paintings and works on paper. Armstrong carves the image of an animal in two dimensions in the same way he carves wood. Rough-hewn lines cutting through space, rendered in pastel, ink and shellac on paper. Cutting to what is necessary to represent a cat curled up.

However, Jenny Crompton’s wire crochet sea life, hanging in the gallery’s window, first caught my eye. The intricate white painted wire strange bodies bedecked with resin jewels looked alien and life-like. And yet, like, us, they have a body with mirror symmetry, a top and bottom.

On entering the gallery, Emily Valentine Bullock’s chimerical dogs with wings and feathers held my attention. These magical creatures combine contemporary art, jewellery and taxidermy, for Bullock is a jeweller who specialises in working with feathers. What kind of world would it be with flying dogs?

There are also ceramic sculptures of dogs and cats by Lynne Bechaervaise. Anna Glynn’s paintings of dream-like-cloud horses are influenced by Chinese painting. Cash Brown’s oil painted copies of animals from details of old master paintings.

Susan Reddrop’s beautiful and natural sea-life in cast lead crystal, Susan Crookes paintings of dogs and Mark Cuthbertson’s cast concrete bears and sinister rabbit. Cuthbertson’s rough economic forms are the closest in style to Armstrong’s animals.

What would it be like to be another animal, especially a seahorse, a jellyfish or lobster? Non-human animals and fantastic mutant creatures feature prominently in contemporary art. They are no longer symbols like a lion nor a possession like a horse or a cow. The animal is the other with life, values, and preconceptions different to our own. Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand him” in his posthumous Philosophical Investigations (II 190).


Victoria’s first professional female sculptor

“Margaret Francis Ellen Baskerville (1861-1930) was an artist, educator and Victoria’s first professional female sculptor. During her 50-year career she produced several notable works including the Alexandra War Memorial, Maryborough War Memorial, the Edith Cavell Memorial, the James Cuming, Footscray and the Ernest Wood Memorial Plaque, St Paul’s Cathedral. Margaret’s studio from where she created her sculptures was located in close vicinity to this lane.”

I was surprised to see the panel because, apart from a sculpture nerd like myself, would have even heard of Margaret Baskerville? Who else would care about an obscure turn of last century sculptor? The plaque is the work of the Victorian Women’s Trust, UEM Sunrise, a member of UEM Group, and Probuild. It is part of the art washing around the Aura tower construction site in the middle of the city.

It was on a wall in a lane so new that Google maps has not yet included it. It is on the north side of La Trobe Street, near the intersection of Swanston Street. The lane is part of a pedestrian detour over four times longer than the blocked footpath that has lasted many months. And this morsel of art history is to somehow ameliorate this inconvenience. 

I am interested in Baskerville only because of her public sculpture. I didn’t know about the studio that plaque refers to or even how many studios Margaret Baskerville had in Melbourne over her career? When I last looked into it, I found that she had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914, and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Baskerville’s studio then was behind Assembly Hall in Collins Street; obviously, she had another studio near La Trobe Street at another time.

Baskerville at work on the Tomas Bent statue.

Maybe it was when she received her first public commission for the Thomas Bent statue. Tommy Bent was the kind of crooked politician and state premier that Australia is famous for, who corruptly enriched himself through public office. The kind who needs a larger-than-life statue to be impressive enough compared to their shortcomings. Originally, it stood at the Nepean Highway and Bay Street intersection in Brighton; it was moved to Bay Street in the 1970s.

Aside from being the first public commission given to a female sculptor in Victoria, the Bent statue is the first bronze sculpture in Australia to be welded together with an oxy-acetylene jet from cast pieces (before that, statues were riveted together). In the case of the Bent statue, there were over sixty pieces. Not that Baskerville did the welding or the casting (or the stone caving in later projects), her role in the project was to sculpt the clay model.

Baskerville found that Victoria’s first professional female sculptor was not always a disadvantage. She received the commission for the Maryborough War Memorial because the committee raising the money were all women and favoured giving the commission to a woman. And by the time she received her final commission for the Nurse Edith Cavell Memorial, she was not the only professional female sculptor in the state. By then, Ola Cohn was also at work. 

Margaret Baskerville, Nurse Edith Cavell Memorial

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