Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Can't Do Tomorrow Festival

Can’t Do Tomorrow is a 10 day long urban and street art festival in Melbourne.

Well, it is somewhere between an art fair and a festival, but called a festival because the words ‘art fairs’ is becoming unpopular. And Can’t Do Tomorrow would not want be unpopular. Like an art fair there are entry tickets, booths with art for sale and even a print store with on-demand printing. Like a festival there are exhibitions, a talks program, murals, sculptures, and installations, a line-up of live music acts and DJs. I’ve seen worse art fairs and a single venue festival seems limited even if it is a very large multi-level warehouse; The Facility, in Kensington.

Wall after wall in the former wool warehouse has been painted with mural after mural along with large 3D constructions. There has been good detailing with collections of stickers and little pieces by Junkie Projects, Gigi and Tinky in odd locations.

Tinky

There is a mix of local and international artists.

Badiuca

There was another version of this piece about the writer Liu Xiaobo in Hosier Lane in 2018. The paste-up became a shrine for people to leave flowers and photos. It is the work of Chinese-Australian political artist and cartoonist Badiuca. This slick neon version was intended to match the neon lights of Hong Kong.

Can’t Do Tomorrow states that it is the ‘inaugural festival’ and plans to return. There is no doubt that Melbourne needs a street art festival, a regular annual event for both the artists and the public. Since the Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets folded there have been some attempts to fill that gap, like the international event, the Meeting of Styles. Whether an indoor festival/art fair can do that remains to be seen. How it effects Melbourne’s street art scene also remains to be seen.

Will Can’t Do Tomorrow simply be an indoor urban art experience, a commercial and marketing opportunity or will there be something greater?


A paint war in Coburg

War is not pretty. War is ugly. Even a very small territorial war between a Melbourne street artist, 33rd Key and various graffiti writers over a wall gets ugly. The wall is part of some units beside the railway on Reynard Street. It is a large wall that is visible from the road, bike path and the railway line.

It is this view from the trains that make it a valuable asset to the area’s graffiti writers. While these days, few trains are sprayed in Melbourne trains are still connected to graffiti as they are one of the prime ways of viewing graffiti. Consequently walls along railway lines are valuable territory.

There are always new pieces being sprayed along the Upfield bike path. If the developers thought that by having the wall painted by a street artists would be enough to stave off graffiti. They were wrong.

The battle started just after the units had been built in 2017 when Melbourne street artist, 23rd Key was commissioned to paint a mural on the wall. 23rd key’s wall of botanical stencils were bland and boring, even compared to their other work. It might have satisfied the developers but it certainly did not impress the graffiti writers. It was not covered in a clear layer of graffiti resistant paint. And 23rd Key has not responded in paint as a graffiti writer would; they have no further interest in the wall after they have been paid for the original painting.

I don’t know what the motives or casus belli ; I’m not sure if motives are the right thing to examine in a war. Had there been a violation of the graffiti writer’s code of conduct? Had some graff writer had already staked their claim to the wall before 23rd Key sprayed paint?

There was another buff and an attempt to get the wall repainted however, once the war started, all kinds of things happened in the free fire paint zone. Each layer of paint is another skirmish. Someone even took to it with a paint filled fire extinguisher. The graffiti writers have won by their persistent bombing campaign but at what a cost. It is now one of the least attractive walls along the whole train-line.

The wall in early 2020, looking worse from construction barriers for SkyRail.

Legal walls that graff writers paint are rarely subject to tagging or bombing. It is not that it doesn’t happen but when it does it is quickly dealt with. Legal walls, that graffiti writers have permission to paint, are well maintained and even repainted when the colours fade. (See my post about same walls or about how the AWOL crew responded to the vandalism of one of their walls for examples.)

The most interesting aspect of this battle is that part of the wall painted by the naive artist with a brush has been left alone in this spray-can contest. This shows that graff writers do not consider that they have the right to paint all walls along the train-line and that they are painting by a code of conduct.


Counihan Gallery Expansion

Twenty years ago the Counihan Gallery was established by Moreland City Council in 1999. In the following decades it has become a cultural hub for Brunswick. The regular exhibition openings bringing people together in a physical space. Now it has expanded and is once again open after renovations.

There has been a small change to the large foyer with the addition of two vitrines both hung with prints by Noel Counihan from the gallery’s collection. It always seemed a shame that there wasn’t any of his art on exhibition in a gallery named after him.

Inside the gallery there is a dramatic change; it is now over a third larger. The new space merges seamlessly with the rest of the gallery. The same flooring, the same curved marine-ply ceiling panels hang in the new space. And, most of important of all, at the end of the new gallery space, there is a large window facing onto Sydney Road bringing natural light into the gallery. Curious people passing by look in, some of them now aware that there is something going on in the building.

There was a launch of this new space and the first exhibitions for a new year on Saturday 8 February with a “Welcome to Country” by a Wurundjeri Elder, a couple of speeches and a performance by Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri Women’s Dance Group. I was there enjoying a glass of wine, a pumpkin kibbe (shout out to Zaatar’s, a great local cafe, this is a personal endorsement with no quid pro quo received or expected), meeting new people and catching up with acquaintances.

Tyler Payne, KIMSPO and #doitfortheafterselfie

The three current exhibitions:

At first I didn’t really get Histrionic by Marion Abraham, Saffron Newey and Tyler Payne. There were plenty of attractive and engaging works to look at from Payne’s installation with iPads to Newey’s large painting of a great, green, sea monster. Then Abraham’s art historical references in her two large paintings lured me in to deeper thoughts about contemporary life.

Chris Bowes, Monitor

Screen Time is an interactive installation by Chris Bowes with lots of messy black cables contrasting with the clean colour digital images. It looks like the output of high modernism: the cubist break down of the image onto seperate screens, the dots of colour of the pointillists, and the readymade an-aesthetic of the physical installation.

Nusra Latif Qureshi, Balancing Act II

And in the new space there is  f_OCUS; a selection of works by women from the galleries permanent collection. Twenty artists whose names or works should be familiar to anyone interested in Melbourne’s art; Hoda Afshar, Wendy Black, Megan Cope, Destiny Deacon, Emily Floyd, Fiona Foley, Marlene Gilson, Helga Groves, Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, Joy Hester, Deanna Hitti, Regina Karadada, Carmel Louise, Mandy Nicholson, Rose Nolan, Jill Orr, Carol Porter, Nusra Latif Qureshi and Judy Watson. I remembered first seeing Nusra Latif Qureshi’s post-modern take on traditional miniature painting at the Counihan Gallery’s Women’s Salon.


The Saigon Welcome Arch

It is a strange sight in the middle of the tasteless utilitarian architecture of Footscray’s low rise suburban shopping. Two matching curving arabesques of wings and bird’s neck reaches high into the sky. The forms of the fabled Vietnamese Lac birds The inside of these enormous forms is lined with golden printed metal with an image with a mass of flowers, butterflies and a woman in traditional Vietnamese dress.

On one edge, in clear lettering is “Saigon Welcome Arch”. Footscray is such a welcoming place, or at least it aspires to be, a short distance away there is and Indigenous welcome, the ‘smoking’ ceremony at Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins.

The Saigon Welcome Arch in Footscray is packed into the intersection of Leeds and Hopkins streets with a cafe one side and a pharmacy on the other. This is about creating a better urban space by making a place out of an otherwise nondescript T-intersection. It doesn’t fit into bland cheap utilitarian architecture of the place, it burst free from it.

But does any of that matter aside from aesthetics how does this public art work? On a large scale of architecture and human interaction the arch is a landmark in Footscray and the Saigon Night Market operates every second a Friday of the month under it and along Leeds Street (I should go, sculptures and public art is different at night). On the small personal scale of comfort for tired legs there are matching curving white seats at the base of each of the arch’s wing.

It was created in 2016 by architects McBride Charles Ryan and local artist Khue Nguyen as part of the redevelopment of the Little Saigon precinct. Khue Nguyen came to Australia as a political refugee in 1988 and in 2010 he was a finalist in Archibald Prize for a self portrait.

There aren’t a lot of gateways in Melbourne but Khue Nguyen has done another on the opposite side of the city for the Springvale retail area. This time it was in collaboration with Hassell Architect. In Buckingham Ave two towers topped with a flat red roof hang large golden banners printed with a Vietnamese design. Springvale, like Footscray, also has a large population who were, or whose parents were, from Vietnam.


The scene: Haring & Basquiat

This to-do list by is  Keith Haring is a massive name drop even though mostly only first names are used: Whoopi, Jean Michel, Debbie … It is exhibited as part of the documentary part of the exhibition “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV. It shows the vibrant artistic scene that Haring and Basquiat inhabited.

The scene, the geographic-social environment that an artist lives and works in. The loose association that both inspires and documents them. Often appears as interesting as the artist themselves – Warhol’s Factory scene, the Dadaist or the Surrealists.

I wonder how the geographic-social environment contributes to an artist’s development and success or failure? How much their art is a product of a network of people talking, dancing and otherwise moving around (depending on the type of transport)?

Or is it all about the unique talent of the ‘great man’ independent from the city and its society? If it is all about the person then it is very surprising that two or more great artists, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, would emerge at the same time and place.

Even if it is unique talent of the individual that created it is the social environment that gives meaning to the art. Without the gay club scene Haring would not have created his dancing figures or his art about AIDS. Without his black identity Basquiat would not have attempted to write art history. These topics were not so much chosen by the artist as determined by the scene.

Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were living in a particularly fertile art scene, that produced many other artists including the street artists, Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf. A self-selecting scene, volunteers who had congregated because they wanted to be artists and New York was the place to do it. It was a geographic and social circle that included various clubs, art galleries, flats and people from Madonna to William Burroughs.

The exhibition catalogue for “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” does much to document their scene. It has many interviews, including one with Jenny Holzer and Patti Astor. And a map of lower Manhattan shows the tight geography where everything was within walking distance or a few subway stops. (I can’t emphasis enough how important a walkable geography is to a vibrant arts scene.)

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. See also Haring/Basquiat @NGV and Under the Influence (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition.)


Hosier Lane January 2020

“I can draw anything you like. 10 min $15 draw” His sign said. In Hosier Lane yesterday there were two people occupying two of the alcoves selling their drawings. The next step will be for a caricature  artist set up a stall to sell portraits to the tourists in the lane.

I am not going to be hysterical and apocalyptic and declare that this is end of Hosier Lane when there are so many more clear indications of doom in the world (the climate catastrophe). There has always been a commercial aspect to the paint in Hosier Lane; graffiti writers and street artists have all these commercial projects — t-shirts, leading walking tours, exhibitions and commissions. And a few metres up the lane, the shop Culture Kings has made a massive hole in the lanes famous walls to provide access for buyers of their shit.

That said, an attractive piece of commercial art was being painted opposite the entrance to Hosier Lane on Flinders Lane. George Rose was just finishing an attractive mural commission celebrating the Lunar New Year.

George Rose, Have a Grand Lunar New Year

Although the lane was, as usual for a weekday, full of tourists, the walls were not looking their best. There was a lot of text in marker pen written across many of the pieces by someone who thought that they had unique insight (it happens). There is a lot of bland work about current events. Many of pieces with an @Instagram rather than a tag showing that their creators are focused on getting ‘likes’ above everything else. A couple of relevant political pieces struggled to find space on the walls. The tourists didn’t care as they were focused on taking selfies of themselves in front of the paint covered walls.

I was pleased to see what I took for the work of an Indigenous street artist in the lane as I don’t see enough of this. Reclaiming their country and culture by painting walls. Dot painting with dots of aerosol paint.

If you want to see more whoring for Instagram ‘likes’ there are Lush’s work in Higson Lane a few corners further up Flinders Lane. About half a dozen huge celebrity faces randomly exploiting the popularity of anyone from Baby Yoda to Julian Assange.

Lush, Julian Assange

Working in a different direction is the increasing street art in Presgrave Place. This started in 2007 when was a couple of picture frames with art prints still in them glued onto the wall of this circuitous lane. The picture frames are still glued to the wall but the quantity of art keeps growing focused on the creativity of art rather than aerosol of popularity. 


Faces – the survival of street sculpture

A face emerges from or sinks into the aerosol paint covered walls. A person merging with the structure of the city, a skeleton of metal, a body of bricks and concrete and a skin of paint. Features register underneath the layers of paint, the hint of a smile. There are more faces on the wall… It is the same face? Is it a portrait?

Street art sculpture still interest me on because it is such a difficult medium. The sculpture has to survive the conditions on the street. Public sculpture criticism needs to be modified by a difficulty rating. Just as the aesthetics of sculpture is modified by a difficulty rating for moving large pieces of metal or stone around, public sculpture has the additional difficulty rating for being exposed to drunks and dickheads. And street art sculpture has the added difficulty multiplier for being done without permission.

The sculptures survive under multiple layers of paint. In graffiti intense environment, like Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, a street art sculpture will need to still work underneath aerosol paint.

There are a cluster of Will Coles crushed cans at the entrance of Rutledge Lane (now a stub off Hosier Lane blocked at both ends by building work). Further along there on a ledge are the vandalised remains of a Will Coles sculptures that someone broke trying to steal it. Nearby are cast sea shells, the faces and pieces with raised lettering. I suspect, because of a couple of tags in raised letters, that the raised letters could be the work of Anthony Lister except the letter style is different.

I have no idea who did the faces. There are many other similar works, like Mary Rogers cast faces for a footbridge in Moreland. They are also similar the work of the French artist Gregos but it is not his face and therefore not his work.

Having a particular focus on street art sculpture and don’t feel compelled to photograph every piece of street art that I see. My photography teacher always emphasised being focused.


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