Tag Archives: 696

A Hipster Conversion

I love the way that real estate agents describe the city. “In the heart of Brunswick bridal district.” There is a poetry to their succinct phrases flavoured with slight exaggerations. “For Lease, A Hipster Conversion” sign on the factory in Albert Street that previous was the studio of 3 Phase Design. “Ideally suited for cafe/restaurant/brewery” the sign continues, describing the range of larger hipster businesses. Hipster fashion boutiques, coffee shops and barbers would be looking for smaller premises.


This is not a sign of the apocalypse. I don’t object to the gentrification of a suburb, but I prefer the hipsterfication because it improves cycling and other things. It is interesting that ‘hipster’ has entered real estate agent’s vocabulary. (See my post on Hipsters.) The long term industrial decline in Brunswick and Coburg, two suburbs in the north of Melbourne, left vacant many shops and factory spaces that were used as art galleries and studios.

I thought that the sign would be a good a way of introducing a list of art galleries in the area that no longer exist; I couldn’t list all the artist’s studios in the area, like 3 Phase Design, as that would be a very long list. For the all the local art historians; this is probably not an exhaustive list and corrections and additions are welcome. It does not include all the pop up gallery spaces that had one or two exhibitions nor business, such as cafes or bookshops that exhibit art.



696, 696 Sydney Road, from 2008 to 2009 street art shop and alternative commercial art gallery that stocked one off artist creations along with spray paints and magazines. It had a small back room exhibition space with bi-weekly exhibitions and events. 696 also had one-night only exhibitions in “the Yard” in the backyard. Toby and Melika went on to establish “Just Another Agency” representing illustrators and organising exhibitions. 696 then became 696 Ink, a tattoo parlour with exhibitions of pop surrealism. Some of the street art the 696 commission can still be seen in the alley way along one side of the shop.

Circus Gallery in North Coburg (2004-2008), a single room shop front gallery that has to be the most northern art gallery ever in Melbourne. It was up the hill from the old Kodak factory in North Coburg amongst a culture of old shops. The shopfront room alternates as a studio space for Andrew May and an exhibition space; a heavy curtain is drawn across the front window to make it a studio. The gallery had the Starving Artist Prize; the cost of entry for the prize was a can of food and the winners received the cans of food.

Eisenberg Gallery – The Victorian Museum of Experimental Art was at 126A Nicholson St. in East Brunswick on the intersection of Nicholson and Harrison streets. It was an artist run initiative that ran for a few years in a former shop space. The small space was not open but visible from the street through the large shop windows. Exhibitions changed regularly but mostly they were seen by the passing drivers stopped at the lights.

Dudespace was an ordinary private suburban house at 22 Cassels Road, Brunswick. Run by Geoff Newton who went on to open Neon Parc in the city. The house would become an art gallery when a t-shirt bearing the word “Dudespace” hung out the front. The exhibitions in a room in the house would only last a day and featured some notable artists including Juan Ford in 2006.

Pan Gallery was a small commercial gallery in the corner of a pottery supply shop specialising in ceramics that closed in 2011. (See my blog post.)

Ocular Lab, 2003-2010 an artist run initiative, meaning “a site for experimental and alternative models of artistic representation and activity that encouraged the development of professional practice” in a converted shop space in Brunswick with an external ‘billboard’ space.

OM Gallery, was well located opposite the Brunswick Town Hall and ran for many years. It was both a photographic studio and rental exhibition space in a converted factory.

Rinaldi Gallery on Victoria St., Brunswick was an attractive single shop front white room gallery with some one-off designer furniture and objet d’art also for sale. It was run by a very tasteful Italian woman for several years and exhibited serious emerging and mid-career artists.


New Ways of Selling Art

There is always some entrepreneur trying some new idea to sell art. This year there is “Innovative Art” adverting on heavy rotation on late night TV. A company selling you art in your own home with 70% off works on canvas – no gallery space needed. The “art” in the advertisement looks like something from a mass production painting factory.

The current gallery system was established a century ago. It is time for more changes and radical experiments with new ways of selling art. Slight variations on the gallery model like a framing service or a bar/coffee shop, have helped some art galleries but have not addressed the real problems of providing access for artists, encouraging quality art and helping artists achieve the best financial return for their work.

The previous experiments of rental art spaces and artists-run spaces have not solved these problems. Many of these spaces have no effective control of the art that they exhibit and their reputation is only as good as the last exhibition, a situation that I experienced as part of the management committee at 69 Smith St. The rental art spaces and artist-run spaces put the financial risk on the artist. The artists have to pay two or three weeks rent for these spaces, as well as, publicity and wine for the opening making it a financially precarious proposition to exhibit.

Online art galleries have been around for over a decade now providing access for artists. Internet galleries of images have been instrumental in street art and the current wave of illustration. But online galleries have made little real impact on art sales.

After a few years of running Artholes as a rental space gallery in Fitzroy Tony Knolls had a radical vision. It was a radical vision best summed up as do the opposite of what every other gallery is doing. He has good reasons to try something different as the current gallery system is failing artists economically and in providing exhibition opportunities. Tony Knolls radical experiment was a one-week group exhibitions with the work sold by silent auction, letting the market establish the price rather than the artist guessing. Opening nights were out; closing nights were to be the event.

Exhibition at "The Yard"

Another experimental gallery space, “The Yard” at 696 was an outdoor gallery that only operates during the summer months. Shows at “The Yard” were only open for one night as most art in galleries sells at the opening.

Neither Artholes nor 696 are still operating in this way – the experiments did not last long. However, it is important that these radical experiments in art galleries are tried because the current system needs improvement.

696 Ink Opening

I thought that I was going to the opening of a tattoo parlor with a few paintings on the wall. The sinks for the tattoo parlor part have yet to be installed so the only ink was on a few drawings – it was just a gallery opening.

696 Ink is a new gallery in the same location on Sydney Road as 696. To the casual observer it may not even look like a new gallery. Some of the same artists are on the wall. The front gallery is still hung salon style although the larger paintings make it look less crowded. Amongst the hundreds of people at the opening was Melika, one of the previous 696 gallery directors. “In a few years there will be another couple of display cases and more art on the wall.” She predicted. The change in direction is subtle from a street-influenced art, illustration and craft direction to hardcore pop surrealism.

Pop surrealism is the bastard child of Salvador Dali and a Hollywood hooker. The child grew up in an American tattoo parlor reading underground comics and eating acid like it was candy. Like many of that generation pop surrealism traveled the world, growing bigger, fatter and more popular but is still hanging out in a tattoo parlor reading comic books, or fatter graphic novels.

There are some good examples of the variety of pop surrealism, from comic book style to super realist, on exhibition from the 20 artists on exhibition at the group show opening of 696 Ink. The sculpture on exhibition is particularly powerful. Mark Powell’s cabinet diorama looks like a scene from Wm Burrough’s Naked Lunch. And Isabel Peppard, who has worked with Patricia Piccinini, has a humanoid larval form developing in a skeletal womb.

696 Ink is being run: Meg Woodsworth, Jason Jacenko (the tattooist in the trio) and Jon Beinart. Jon Beinart has been publishing books about pop surrealist artists for several years and collecting a coterie of artists, the beinArt Surreal Art Collective. Monthly shows of artists are planned for the second back gallery room, with the next show by Karl Persson (see my review of his previous exhibition at 696).

End of 2009

This will be my last blog entry for the year. 2009 was not a year that I’d want to live through again. 2009 was the year of the zombie. There are so many zombie computer games, zombie computers, zombie armies, zombie movies, even zombie artists. Anne Billson in The Guardian Weekly report on zombies in films. “Lively time for the movie undead” (10/7/09)

The suburbs are full of zombies, the inhabitants look like people but they lack a life. Sure these zombies are animated and often employed, zombie slaves make good workers for menial labour, but they are not living their own life. How to live your own life is an important cultural question. Other people might value your life for their own reasons, some want to eat your brain.

Speaking of dead I’ll segway to mention that Famous When Dead will close after two years, the only remaining question is – will it be famous now that it is dead? And Utopian Stumps is about to up stumps from Collingwood move into the CBD next year. 696 has closed, too. I’m sure that other galleries in Melbourne have shut or moved this year but I don’t want to dwell on the business side of Melbourne’s art world. In the art I am glad to see an increasing trend of artist-gardeners and street art sculpture in 2009 and I hope to see even more next year.

Victoria’s draconian anti-graffiti legislation is impacting on some of Melbourne’s municipalities, like the City of Kingston but not others, like the City of Moreland, where the Don’t Ban the Can group is active and trying to get the council to support street art projects. They are having more success with painting the walls of the local businesses and getting in the local paper.

The best, the worst, the new trends of 2009 are now behind us. Personally 2009 has been a busy year for me with weddings, funerals and travel to Singapore (thanks Kamal, Killer Gerbil and Slac for showing me around the street art scene). I was also kept very busy for a few months as the volunteer and emergency secretary for the Melbourne Stencil Festival, a position that I will be continuing in 2010.

I now have my YouTube Channel featuring videos of my art and exhibitions, as well as, other videos about Melbourne’s visual arts. I have also started a fun blog with my wife, Catherine, featuring the worst window-shopping in the world: Who Buys This Stuff? Typical of Internet weirdness the most popular photo on this blog this year was one of me wearing some fancy Indian clothes. I do have two sets of ordinary Indian clothes that I wear on days over 30 degrees; they are far more comfortable and better looking than shorts with a t-shirt. So here it is once more.

The White Rabbit @ 696

The White Rabbit at 696 is only on for one week. All of the works are pencil on paper drawings of rabbits. All the drawings were displayed in white frames on 696’s small white walled gallery with 696’s usual attention to detail and installation (including the rabbit shaped invitations). The small works are all very reasonably priced (many under $50) another advantage of pencil on paper (and red dots were going up at the opening). Realistic, romantic, cute, skeletal, dead or dissected, illustration or cartoons there is a plague of rabbit images in this exhibition.

There are many artists exhibiting in the exhibition. Pencil on paper is a traditional and fundamental technique for artists, although most of them, like Caitlin Rigby, we normally only see the painted version. There is a cartoon silhouette sequence by Pav Art, who is better known for his silk screens. The largest work in the exhibition is a detailed cartoon illustration of girl playing with her soft toy “Dead Set on Destruction” by Pierre Lloga.  There are many drawing by ‘Rabbit’ (aka Melika, yet another gallery director exhibiting) providing the backbone to the exhibition. Melika told me that she wanted to show to the artists that exhibit regularly at 696, she had learnt how to draw at art school.

All of these images of rabbits have a strange effect, the sudden and startling awareness of the presence of images of rabbits. The rabbit looms large in our cultural imagination from ancient to modern times. There are many highly significant rabbits from Brer Rabbit, Peter Rabbit, the Easter and Bugs Bunny, to going down the rabbit hole with Alice chasing the White Rabbit. There is even a Watership Downs inspired role-playing game: Bunnies & Burrows. It makes you wonder what a world where rabbits were the dominant species on earth.

All you need to know is Big Bunny is watching you. Big Bunny loves you.

Surreal Bondage

“The fact is that it is in eroticism – and doubtless in eroticism alone – that the organic bond, increasingly lacking in art today, has to be established between showman and spectator by means of perturbation.” A. Breton, 1959

“Neuropsychosis’, an exhibition of oil paintings by artist and illustrator Karl Persson at 696, explores eroticism with dark visions of S&M, bondage and mutilation, along with a couple of truly surreal visions. In his ‘Shiny Chicken’ a raw chicken is morphed into a toothy grinning fleshy orifice is a surreal study of castration anxiety. Another of Persson’s erotic surreal images is that erect penis nipples enjoying sadistic polymorphic arousal.

The surreal eye of the Marquis de Sade shapes Persson’s goth imagination. It brooks no idealism; it is a materialistic world where happiness lies in the imagination.

Persson’s images are disturbing in that they are private, there is only one implied spectator viewing the subject, the other isolated body. The bound figures twist in the baroque empty darkness. These are alienated lonely isolated visions where all interactions are bound in an S&M relationship. Persson’s self portrait shows the artist struggling to remove the mask of his image from himself.

The many threads depicted in Persson’s paintings are a figurative painter’s bondage theme. The thread is tied tight to the victim just as the painter is tied to the lines being painted. Concentration focused on a single line that separates one area from another and bound to painting it over and over again until the fully realized image appears. For there is bondage and masochism in creating such beautiful, meticulous and technically excellent works in oils on canvas.

696 back gallery room has been transformed for this exhibition. A Turkish carpet lies on the floor. The paintings are hung in dark old rococo style frames on a grey band of paint on the gallery wall. The grey walls bring out the colors in the paintings and the usual sterile white gallery walls would be totally inappropriate for Persson’s style.

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