Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

Fantastical Janet Beckhouse

What if I’d reviewed “Fantastical – the art of Janet Beckhouse” Hunter S. Thompson style? Drop a tab of acid. Run the gauntlet of election campaigners at the entrance to the all-white suggestion of a town hall. “I’m not here to vote.” Inside the Box Hill Town Hall, I located Artspace and started to look at the glazed stoneware sculptures as the first notes of Jimmie Hendrix’s Purple Haze play.

The Four Elements, 2004/5

It would have been intense. When every other artist was going minimalist, Beckhouse went the other way. In her Master’s graduation piece, Grotto (1998) realistic lizards, poisonous frogs and fat caterpillars crawl amongst the glazed ceramic foliage. It is all alive and significant, vivaciously writhing with life.

A refined version of fantasy art for stoners with a gothic taste. A snake crawls out of the eye of a skull and worms from the mouth of a corpse buried in a garden. There is ambiguity, are those shells or leaves, worms or twigs. In The Mystery of Love, a woman auto-impales herself with a spike.

Beckhouse’s works are supported by two structures mythology and ceramic forms. Using these structures to compose. Mythology gives structure to her themes, just as ceramic forms structure her work. Some of the pieces look almost practical as vases and platters.

She knew that death is part of life, part of the symbolism of creative and destructive aspects of the feminine. Mythology gives depth and power to her work. The mother of all monsters dwells in the depths of the ocean. There are lots of references to the sea, coral and shells. Why have the flared nostrils of that person grown seashells?

It was then I saw the vase with the bats.

“My work and creative interest have become all-encompassing over the years. I realise I do not wish to do anything else. It gives me peace, comfort and meaning in my life, and to share it is a joy.” Janet Beckhouse (1955-2020)

Beckhouse was Melbourne’s foremost ceramic artist until her sudden and unexpected death in 2020. This is her final exhibition, twenty pieces spanning her career as an artist.

Whitehorse City Council has bought two works for their collection of the work of Australian and international ceramic artists. Some of the collection is on permanent exhibition in a small adjoining gallery.

Beckhouse moulded the gods and demons out of the dust of the earth. Using alchemical processes and elemental forces, she turned base matter into lustrous gold. Creating ceramic sculptures seething with the neo-Baroque complexity, transformative drama, and the acid intensity of a Hendrix’s solo.


Confined 13

The gallery in the white neo-classical Glen Eira Town Hall in Caulfield, constructed in 1885, is occupied with an art exhibition by Indigenous people who have been incarcerated in Victoria. I wondered if this symbol of colonial imperialism is appropriate. Maybe it needs to be occupied.

Seeing The Torch’s annual exhibition, “Confined”, I go through similar emotions. A rush as I see, hung from floor to ceiling, hundreds of paintings filling the visual field, 400 artworks from 350 artists. Powerful images of Indigenous culture mixed with less successful work give a mix of highs and lows. The quantity of art is variable. For some, this is their first exhibition; others are regular exhibitors. Each painting tells its own story, but all of the artists have been in prison, which is tragic. The over-representation of Indigenous people in jail is evident in the scale of the exhibition. Then I think of the recidivism rate, with only 11% of those who go through the Torch’s program returning to prison compared with the average Indigenous recidivism rate of 53.4%, which gives hope.

“Because of culture, I believe in myself now and have found who I really am.” – Ash Thomas (Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri people) Precisely what culture should do. I would prefer that Indigenous people be paid a living wage to connect to their culture instead of doing that in prison.

People want many things from art, and while it was good seeing some new work by artists that I’ve written about in the past. As a writer, I want art to be a story that takes the viewer to current events or a new view of history. We love it when an artist references art or history and doubly so when the two are combined because it gives us more to write about. So for me, two works stood out from the mass of paintings at “Confined 13” in the Glen Eira City Council Gallery. (Full disclosure; I bought two paintings through The Torch a couple of years ago, and one of them is on the wall behind me.)

Big Dom, Koorie Old Style Boxing

Big Dom’s (Gunaikurnai) Koorie Old Style Boxing has a different view of history that I hadn’t seen before. Black figures on a terracotta pot refer to similar images on ancient Greek pottery. I wanted to see more and could imagine vases with other Indigenous athletes depicted. Koorie Old Style Boxing takes the viewer to two. Ancient Greece and the history of Indigenous boxing in the twentieth century when in Big Dom’s words, “they used to travel around doing old style tent boxing to make some money to feed their family and keep fit.”

Deaths in Custody by C. Harrison (Yorta Yorta) is an all too current event, and it is something that the whole of Australia needs to address. Root and branch reforms of the custodial system need to take place. As Harrison points out, “Aboriginal people are 7 x more likely to die in custody than Australian defence personnel in war.” The calmly ordered rows of bodies on a red ocher background. There are forty-four figures in each row by ten columns. Each one painted by hand, an act that does not reduce them to statistics and symbols. The artist is aware that each represents a person who died in custody between 1991 to 2021 and whose family and friends still grieve (the number has gone up since painting).

C. Harrison Deaths in Custody 

Half a century of sculpture

Cleaning up the house, I found a Bicentennial Schools Memento belonging to my wife, a kind of medal, like a large silver coin. It was given to all Australian school students in 1988. The obverse was designed by M. Meszaros and the reverse by M. Tracey. I don’t know who M. Tracey is, but I know of M. Meszaros.

Michael Meszaros (b.1945) is a sculptor with half a century of work and an extensive portfolio of making public sculptures and medals. Sculpture is a tradition in the Meszaros family. His father, Andor Mészáros (1900-1972), was a sculptor and medalist, and his niece, Anna Meszaros, is also a sculptor. Michael Meszaros is still working in the same studio in Kew that his father built.

I have seen many of his public sculptures around Melbourne and some of his other medals at the Melbourne Museum. Making medals have been a constant feature of his career, the earliest was in 1963. His medals are somewhere between sculpture and jewellery, between coins and plaques. His design for the Bicentennial memento has a group of people moving to the horizon under the southern cross; the group of people is repeated in many of his sculptures. Groups of people and the connections between people are a significant theme in Meszaros’ art.

Michael Meszaros, Elected Representative, bronze, 2017

I haven’t seen his small private sculptures before the retrospective exhibition; “50 Years as a Sculptor”. The exhibition includes free-standing sculptures, wall-mounted medals, wall-mounted portrait medals, commissioned medals (including the Bicentennial Memento) and photographs of commissioned sculptures.

In August 2021, due to the last Covid lockdown, the exhibition at the Hawthorn Arts Centre to celebrate Michael Meszaros’ 50-year career closed after 3 days. The show could not reopen, but it was installed on Level 11 at Owen Dixon Chambers East in 2022. Meszaros’ sculptures were an appropriate scale for the wide corridors lined with lawyers’ offices and overlooking the dome of the Supreme Court.

His abstract sculptures were often made from brass and copper, trying to resolve the long tail of modernism in Australia. His most recent works, bronze trees, are an elegant compromise between his figurative and abstract work.

There are plenty of versions of interlocking figures on exhibition representing politicians through to lovers. The interlocking figures join the repeating patterns of fish, horses, sailboats, and trees. His work ranges between minimal elegant visual communication and obvious kitsch sentiment. Would I look at it if this was a drawing and not a sculpture?

How to access a lifetime of sculpture? Meszaros has thought of this: two small brass staircases in brass, one narrows at the top, the other at the bottom – Success and Failed Ambition.

I was surprised by how many exhibitions there were at Owen Dixon Chambers when I visited. I don’t normally look at art in legal chambers and here were three exhibitions. For as well as Meszaros on Level 11, there were two more in the lobby. There was a temporary exhibition by French photographer Mohamed Bourouissa (part of the Photo 2022 festival) and a permanent exhibition of portraits of lawyers by some notable artists, including one by Juan Ford and a video portrait by Sean Gladwell.

Portrait exhibition in lobby

A visit to Adelaide

I was recently in Adelaide, where I visited the Art Gallery of South Australia, Carrick Hill and two historic artist studios. I was aware that I was coincidently continuing my research into art crimes as I was visiting the scene of some historic art thefts, photographing windows, and retrospectively casing the joints.

A painting by Paul Gauguin that was stolen in a robbery from Carrick Hill

The Art Gallery of South Australia the gallery’s collection has been wholly rehung in a vast improvement from the traditional hanging I remember seeing on my last visit over a decade ago. Indigenous artists repainting the white colonial arches, paintings hung on patterned wallpaper, items juxtaposed, works placed high and low. The binaries of European and non-European art and historical and contemporary are ignored to give thematic coherence and more for the eye to find.

In contrast, the “2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free/State” (at the Art Gallery of SA) was hung in the now traditional manner for contemporary art. Basically, one work or artist per room. This safe approach applied to its curation, which was fun enough without anything new. There was a diversity of contemporary Australian artists, from Abdul-Rahman Abdullah to Reko Rennie. It was also good to see the work of the former Melbourne street artist known as Miso, now doing contemporary art under her name Stanislava Pinchuk.

Stanislava Pinchuk, The Wine Dark Sea, 2021

I had been warned about the cafe at the Art Gallery of South Australia by a random lady on a bus, but I ignored her warning about my loss. If you fail to fill a coffee order, you fail as a cafe.

Carrick Hill, the former home of Australian ultra-rich couple Bill and Ursula Haywood now open to the public. The mock-Tudor house is a Frankenstein creation bringing to life parts from a demolished English manor. The odd contemporary sculptures have since been added to the estate’s expansive gardens but not enough to call it a sculpture park. The wealthy art collectors were purchasing safe options. Their tastes were conservative and uninspired but expensive. A Turner, a Gauguin, several works by Augustus Johns, about ten busts by Jacob Epstein and other works of English, French and Australian artists. The Gauguin and a Boudin were stolen in a break-in just after the house was open to the public but were fortunately recovered shortly after.

In a bucolic setting out of the city, just outside the town of Hahndorf, are the historic studios of Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora Heysen. The landscape, even some of the same trees from his paintings, can still be seen close by. There are very few historic artist’s studios open to the public in Australia; the other is Brett Whitely’s studio in Sydney. Historic artist’s studios are an opportunity to see the artist’s actual materials, tools, brushes, palettes, easel, collection of art books, and even some incomplete works. Again a few contemporary sculptures have since been added to the rural property but not sufficient to call it a sculpture park.

The nearby Hahndorf Academy had a couple of art exhibitions by some contemporary artists, some historical exhibits and a couple more drawings by Hans Heysen. Heysen had donated more pictures to them, but they had been stolen in a break-in decades ago, uninsured and never seen again. Except for their frames which were found discarded in someone’s backyard on the way to the airport.

I would have liked to have seen the Samstag Museum of Art at UniSA but ran out of time on my brief visit to Adelaide.

detail from Marguerite Derricourt, A Day Out, 1999, Rundle Mall, Adelaide

Art Precincts

“A media release is not a creative precinct,” said the Minister for creative industries, Martin Foley, when he announced plans to spend millions to create the Collingwood Art Precinct centred around the refurbished old Collingwood TAFE building. Arts precincts are a popular idea in urban planning. But is there anything more to a precinct than an official artwash announcement designating an area of a city and repurposing old buildings into studios or performance spaces? How sustainable are arts precincts? And what is their impact on grassroots creative precincts?

Keith Haring mural at the Collingwood arts precinct

In the past local city councils often ambitiously declared an area “an arts precinct” and hoped for the best. The City of Yarra once proclaimed the “Smith St art precinct” on one side of a block with one art gallery, a couple of designers and a community radio station.

If we were to count the Collingwood Art Precinct, then Melbourne currently has several arts precincts, the main one in Southbank centred around the NGV, State Theatre, Concert Hall, ACCA, Buxton Contemporary. Melbourne also has a Sports and Entertainment Precinct around the Tennis Centre and MCG. And there is the Brunswick Design Precinct with the TAFE design faculty and Siteworks in a converted old school building and heritage house. These different precincts raise the distinction between the arts, entertainment and design in the collective consciousness as reflected by city planners and politicians and built into the city’s structure.

The Southbank arts precinct has changed from swampland to an area for popular entertainment. Wirth’s Circus and others used to pitch their tents where the Arts Centre now stands. It was a decaying area of warehouses in the 1980s; the old police horse stables are now part of the College of the Arts, and a brewery has become the Malthouse Theatre.

Southbank only has training facilities and high-end exhibition and concert halls, cutting out the mid-level entirely. There is very little street art, no artist-run spaces, and no commercial galleries. It is a high-end attraction for the urban tourist, full of institutions exhibiting highly finished art and expensive cafes beyond the budget of the arts and music students who study there and must walk twenty minutes to find an affordable place to eat.

Performance artists in ACCA forecourt 2016

Compare this to grassroots locations that spontaneously emerge in the inner city. One such area is around the Brunswick Tram Depot, between Moreland Road and Albion Street. It did not occur due to media releases but available and affordable space. It is light industrial on the edge of inner-city suburbs with lots of warehouse space, some of which have been converted into artist studios and a gallery. Neon Park is the kind of high-end commercial gallery with a stall at the Melbourne International Art Fair. There is no public space, and the closest thing to a park is a planter box. Still, it does have bluestone laneways that are regularly covered in fresh graffiti. And there is live music and cheap cocktails at Red Betty’s in Houdini Lane.

In spooky synchronicity, an artist working in that area sends me this SMS message as I write this. “You should get really topical and investigate how the local council funding of studios in Moreland, such as Schoolhouse and Pentridge, have adversely impacted the homegrown grassroots economies of all the independent studios in the region.”

So much for the guff from the Minister for creative industries. The point of arts precincts does seem to be the media opportunity for the politician. Generally to announce funding to convert the old building (or build new ones) rather than to support the arts where it already exists.


Schoolhouse Studios Coburg

Tom Civil has painted many murals around Melbourne, but this was the first time he had a party thrown for one. On Saturday, 2nd April, there was a band, a DJ and a couple of hundred people at the new Civil mural in Coburg. It was like a scene in one of his paintings with people and bicycles, only it wasn’t set in a garden but in a car park.

Schoolhouse Studios occupies the old Coles supermarket near the Coburg Station is now artists’ studios. A not-for-profit creative space located in the ugly heart of Coburg, a desolate area of car parks and utilitarian concrete blocks supermarkets. Carparks, empty tarmac or full of cars don’t make any aesthetic difference to the wasteland. It is an intersection between the inner and outer suburban north, where walkable meets automotive sewer at Bell Street.

Inside, the vast space of the former supermarket has been partitioned into small frames of little houses with clear corrugated roofs. There is also a performance space and an exhibition space. Outside, the south wall has been painted by Melbourne street art veteran Civil.

I walked past on Wednesday 9th March when Civil was about to start. The whole wall had been painted emerald green. He had only made a couple of chalk marks, trying to come to grips with how his plan will work on the actual wall. Realising that the south-facing wall is always in shadow, the colours look different in the shade but will last longer.

It took ten days working with an assistant and a scissor lift to paint the wall. First, a few trees started to appear, then, along with the outlines on the trees, some of Civil’s “stick folk”. Finally, tufts of grass and dots of rocks were added to fill out the design.

From March 22 – 31, another eight days of work for three people to paint the car park tarmac. Another local street art veteran, Michael Fikaris, helped paint the car park section.

Now the car park has become a park. And it blooms, not just with the mural but also with seats and planter boxes by Urban Commons. (For more about parklets and urban design, see my previous post.) 

Amani Haydar

In the exhibition space at the front of Schoolhouse Studios was a series of paintings and a tapestry by Sydney-based writer Amani Haydar. Her paintings of women depict images from domestic to symbolic. And her use of patterns in the background and in representing clothes is effective.

Since it opened at the start of the year, I have seen a couple of other exhibitions at Schoolhouse Studios, including “It’s in our Nature,” a group exhibition by the Lucy Goosey Feminist Art Collective about environmental and feminist issues. And I’m glad that there is another art gallery close to my home; it is the kind of exhibition space the neighbourhood needs.


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

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