Saddened to learn that Janet Beckhouse died suddenly and unexpectedly this week. Beckhouse sculpted rich neo-Baroque worlds packed with lush foliage, snakes, skulls and goddesses. Intricate and dynamic worlds in transition, moving between the natural and the supernatural, the mythologic and the psychologic.
Memories of visiting her studio and seeing her intricate ceramic work come flooding back. Her ceramics are in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, Hamilton Art Gallery, Shepparton Art Museum, Bendigo Art Gallery and Victorian College of The Arts but I saw them most often at Craft Victoria.
I didn’t know her well, I just met her a couple of times because William Eicholtz shared a studio with her. Remember visiting the studio and watching in terror as her little black tom cat showed off by jumping through the handle of one of her delicate pieces.
“Nothing of her that doth fade. But doth suffer a sea-change. Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring her knell.”
In her Oppression of Waterways Angela, a Gunditjmara/Gunaikurnai woman, takes on the contemporary political/environmental issue of cotton farmers taking the Murray River’s water for irrigation. The Australian government’s treatment of waterways is an important subject. The paintings elegant design draws the viewer into discovering that the painting has a message, that its curves are waterways. The painting is both simple and complex, ancient and contemporary. It sold on the first day of Confined 11, an exhibition organised by The Torch. The artist, Angela, is still in prison, but will receive 100% of the sales price on her release.
Confined is an annual exhibition normally the exhibition is held at the gallery in St. Kilda town hall. The Torch an organisation that provides art and culture support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria.
Due to the COVID-19 virus there was an online exhibition and online exhibition launch this year. It was my first virtual exhibition and virtual launch in this unusual year. I have been going to the Confined exhibitions regularly for last few years so I have a basis for comparison (see my previous reviews of Confined 10 and Confined 9 and Confined 8).
It was great to hear from more of The Torch team and some of the artists in the virtual opening. The best part was the live crosses as The Torch CEO Kent Morris, as he phoned the winners awards; it was the best award presentation that I’ve seen because it was so real, personal and heart warming. See the video launch on Facebook.
There are a number of ways to explore the large exhibition you could scrolling through themes or look at the painting in a virtual gallery. The large virtual warehouse exhibitions spaces were an ideal vision of how Confined exhibitions should all look, as if there were no space limitations at the St Kilda Town Hall. Without the limitations of space the curators could divide the exhibition into three galleries based on themes: 1. animals and kinship, 2. belongings and waterways, 3. birds, bushfires and country.
The advantage of a virtual exhibition and opening, aside from the avoiding a virus, was that I didn’t have to travel all the way from the north of the city to St.Kilda to see the exhibition. There is a physical exhibition as an adjunct to the virtual exhibition with 177 artworks at The Torch gallery in St Kilda but that is by appointment only.
The big disadvantage was that the live opening didn’t work for me. There needs to be information about the requirements and time that it will take to sign up to these platforms before the event starts. The other disadvantages was that there was no sense of community alone at my desk, there was no chance to run into familiar faces and to meet new people.
If you are like me then you are already bored with all the articles, posts, tweets about COVID-19. So please forgive me for this blog post; I am writing it for a future record rather than for you my present unfortunate readers. On the upside, this short blog post contains my most complete report on what is going on in Melbourne’s art galleries but with fewer images.
A few commercial galleries like, Charles Nodrum Gallery, continued with their exhibition program during March, without the usual opening drinks, and remained open by appointment, asking patrons to call ahead to arrange a suitable time to view the exhibition.
Some street artists and graffiti writers, normally nocturnal creatures, are still venturing outside to practice their art but they won’t have many actual viewers even in the best locations. The famous Hosier Lane is empty, as it often was a decade ago when the art in it was better. I infer this from what I have seen in recent posts and photos for I have seen little more than a few blocks from my home.
Many artists are working from home or alone in their studio as they have always done. What they produce and what is the cultural impact of this pandemic maybe a topic for future blog posts when the art galleries are open again.
Mr Dimples is “pretty upset” and “gutted” that his up-coming first exhibition “No More Suckers” at The Stockroom has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “A years worth of work, ready to hang in two weeks and then boom, postponed.” He told me online. I was intending to review the exhibition so instead decided to write about the postponed show.
Mr Dimples is a street-artist from Bendigo who does these cute robots and aliens. A fan of horror films he started to draw these cute monsters after seeing the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI. There is something defective and absurd about his monsters: they are sewn up, an X for an eye, or are a robot with a joint in his metal hand.
On the street he works with paste-ups and stencils but in the exhibition there will be 53 paintings on canvas. Painting is place for him to express his feelings about the world. “My canvases are where I put my life and soul and display it to an audience. I feel my paste ups and stencils are more like portraits and don’t tell a story.” And he pours out stories about backstabbing mates, controlling partners and “getting rid of toxic people in your life”.
Mr Dimples came up with his name in five minutes and kicked off his career when the Bendigo Advertiser wrote an article about him.
Four years ago, when I first saw his sweet little monsters stuck to a Bendigo wall, Mr Dimples was about the only street artist in the Central Victorian gold rush city. There is a bit more now and the local council have tentatively begun to commission the odd piece but it is still not a flourishing scene.
To compensate for that he has joined forces with Melbourne’s “the ninjas” to bring his art to the laneways of Melbourne. “Working with the ninjas has allowed me to work with a group and share, grow and enjoy other artists company. It’s like a quirky little family, where we do art, laugh and then eat dumplings.”
We will have to wait an indefinite time before we can see Mr Dimples’s exhibition but in the meantime here are a few more of his images.
On Friday I went into Melbourne to see some exhibitions and street art. With increasing isolation looming, firstly due to the closure of my train line for Sky Rail construction, and the prospect of further isolation due to the pandemic, it might be my last chance to see some exhibitions for a few months.
A walk along Flinders Lane leads to less galleries than it did a decade ago.
Arc One had an exhibition of furniture made of leather part of Melbourne Design Week 2020, it was more like a shop than a gallery. It was “Partu” (the Walmajarri word for skin) by Johnny Nargoodah and Trent Jansen. Most of the pieces looked awkward and you could see the steel armature underneath the leathery contortions.
Fortyfive Downstairs had “Between Horizons” haunting sculptures in the shape of boats by Jan Learmonth and, “Microcosmographia” a group exhibition about animals.
Turning off Flinders Lane I walked down Hosier Lane and although it was less crowded without the Chinese tourists, I was surprised at how many people were still there. I was looking for the aftermath of the great fire-extinguisher spray performance event. You could still see it, high up on the walls, if you knew what to look for and where to look for it. Most of it has been repainted. Local writers are keen to inform the public about the effect that the shop, Culture Kings, is having on the lane’s culture. Culture Kings are the main offender but there are other advertisers with stencils who were exploiting the traffic in the lane. Everything is not a platform to advertise your product; there are more important things.
My main objective was to see the “Japanese Modernism” exhibition at the NGV International and but while I was at there I looked at the art book fair, an up-market and quality zine fair for people who love book design.
“Japanese Modernism” is not a large exhibition, just a large room, with men’s fashion on one side and women’s fashion on the other side. It is mostly design, rather than art, with some great examples of ephemera in the form tourist maps, magazines, make-up and music scores for the popular modern instruments harmonica and ukulele.
There was no shock of the new for Japan as the land already shaken by the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. And Japan adopted modernism with a confidence born from the fact that modernism was always a syncretic mix that included Japanese and European elements.
Large crowd for an exhibition of small art; there was a queue out the door at Beinart Gallery waiting to get into the miniature art exhibition. I have never seen that at a commercial gallery before. Not that it was uncomfortable or dull standing in that line; under the trees in Sparta Place in Brunswick on a mild autumn evening is very pleasant.
It is not unusual for Beinart Gallery to have big crowds or to exhibit small-scale art but on this night some of the art was tiny. Carved graphite tips of pencils, by Salavat Fidai that had to be viewed through a magnifying glass or painted Tic Tacs (actually polymer clay). Both of these objects gave a sense of scale and, in the case of Steve Casino’s Tic Tacs, some sweetness to tasteless subjects.
The miniature art exhibition had many works and artists using a great variety of media. Co-curated by model-maker and director of Espionage Gallery in Adelaide, Joshua Smith, who brought in fellow model-makers, and Jon Beinart, the director of Beinart Gallery who found the pop surrealist painters working on a small scale.
Model making of abandoned buildings has grown in the last five years. It is another way for street artists to express their love for derelict houses and shops. The decay, graffiti, posters are all lovingly recreated; the empty Sushi Noodle Guy shop is so detailed that it even has a poster for the current NGV exhibition on it. However, the realism on these dolls houses for boys leaves little room for a personal style and Joshua Smith’s models look little different to the other models builders in the show, or those of, local artist, David Hourigan (whose work is not in this exhibition).
The second exhibition opening that night at Beinart was “Obstruct” paintings by David Bonnici. Faces distorted or obscured along with largely empty landscapes with views obstructed by a tree or pylon. Along with a subtle concept, Bonnici paintings have a softer focus than the obsessive detail of the pop surrealism and fantasy art that Beinart Gallery is known for. These are paintings about the unseen and overlooked, as distinct from the visible and the invisible, for there are many more things that obstruct our vision than what a realist imagines we see.
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.
There is a mix of local and international artists.
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?