Tag Archives: Brunswick

Askem Graffiti

“What’s his name?” Ask ‘em.

Looking at a fresh, old-school, hip-hop style piece on a wall by local graffiti writer, Askem. Breaking it down into its constituent parts. Starting with a utilitarian brick wall in a laneway in a light industrial area of Brunswick. It is rarely used, judging from the weeds growing between the bluestone pavers. The wall has been buffed rose pink with house paint on a roller in preparation. Next, clean lines sprayed with a steady, precise hand. Guerrilla decor with aerosol paint in a laneway that would be poorer without it.

It is almost a bomb in form, but there are many more colours to the piece. The background is minimal; there is barely a cloud and no supporting characters. The letters are larger than the red cloud, but the small red cloud behind the letters makes both the green and blue of the letters pop.

The old-school design of each fat sans serif letter. Solid bubble letters outlined in black and blue projecting out from the cloud. The letters are not kerned with even spaces between them; they are alive, jostling together like buddies in a group photo.

The green fill of colour in the letters goes from an avocado through leaf green to dark olive. It is not really a fade but a mashing of these colours, which bubble and drip together. It is a combination of colours close to the ugly side of look-at-me.

The shines, bubbles and fake drips of green paint in the fill are some of the best parts. The outline of letters echos this with a few bubbles and spurts over the cloud.

Askem includes two shoutouts; to “MrR” in the S and “SDM” in the M. In acknowledging them, Askem shows that he is part of a larger social group reading graffiti. Even though getting his name up is the main thing, it is not the only thing.

This is not the first, best or the most significant piece of graffiti by Askem or Askm that I’ve seen. I’ve seen pieces by him in the area for over a decade, but I’ve never met, spoken to, had drinks with him, and couldn’t pick him out in a lineup. It is not that kind of relationship (an art critic doesn’t need to personally know the artist). Nor have I read any “artist’s statement” from Askem about why he does graffiti, his influences, and what he hopes to say through his art. It is not necessary with graffiti writers; it is all about style over content. Not that I have anything against spending time with graffiti writers (see my post Piecing in Burnside), and I’d be pleased if any local writers contacted me.


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.


Looking at Urban Design

When I started this blog, I used to write posts like a diary, snapshots of Melbourne’s exhibitions and culture. I would write what galleries I went to, what I saw and what I thought. Now I try to have better-structured posts, but sometimes I miss being able to string together a whole heap of stuff together, like recently when I have been to several events about city planning, urban design and a garden show.

Mike Makatron and Conrad Bizjak’s wall at the Flower and Garden Show

Two weeks ago, I went on a picnic walk and talk led by Professor Alison Young about public space and the arts precinct. This was not a walking tour but an interdisciplinary conversation (music, architecture, criminology and art) about Melbourne University’s VCA and Conservatory as a park-like place with a pedestrian permeable campus. It is a high-end attraction for the urban tourist, with institutions showing highly finished art and expensive cafes. Cafes beyond the budget of the art and music students who study there and must walk twenty minutes to find an affordable place to eat. There are no artist-run spaces or commercial art galleries in the precinct, where even graffiti and street art are rare.

Then, last Saturday, I went to “Can parklets be reclaimed as a form of tactical urbanism?” A live podcast recording by artist Troy Innocent, urban design researcher Quentin Stevens, urban geographer Rachel Iampolski and event facilitator Kiri Delly. It was at Twosixty, a temporary public space on Sydney Road in Brunswick, with a large mural by Mike Makatron of a kangaroo bounding up an overgrown Sydney Road as the wilderness returned.

Before I went to the talk, I had no idea how small parklets are. They are the size of a couple of car park spaces, or during the pandemic, they became a common part of Melbourne’s coffee and dining experience. After the talk, we went to the demonstration parklet in Saxon Street just outside Siteworks. Young people were using it for parkour practice, and then a bunch of urban designers turned up. Good times.

And then, yesterday I went to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Amongst the many exhibits and displays, I wasn’t expecting a wall of painted foliage by Mike Makatron and Conrad Bizjak. Still, given that they have painted so many murals in Melbourne, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I wasn’t surprised to see the Association of Sculptors of Victoria. They have been exhibiting regularly at the Flower and Garden Show for many years now. Several stands were selling sculptural garden decor, but some of the association of sculptors exhibitors were trying to do more. Even if they were carving a Dali inspired giraffe (Peter Saville, Wild Life) or creating a Claus Oldenburg inspired trio of giant blue paperclips (Madi Whyte, Rule of Three). No matter how impressive and popular a kangaroo made from a tractor chain might be, I wonder what these machine parts mean when welded into the shape of an animal or a dragon playing guitar. 

For sculptural elements in gardens looking at the shop window floral designs or RMIT fashion’s display was more aesthetically grounded than any of the garden ornaments. I continue to think about private garden sculptures (see my earlier post). My advice is to go large at home.


Psychogeography 2021

The sad trophy of a great white hunter sits on a porch of the Edwardian bungalow propped up on an old armchair — a sad artifact from another continent and another era. The Cape Buffalo, syncerus caffer caffer for all the zoologists, is the least endangered of the big five game hunting animals. It reminded me that both of us spent time in Africa before we ended up in the vast suburbia of Melbourne.   

I avoided writing an end of year blog post for a couple of years, but 2021 needs one because it was a very unusual year. I saw few exhibitions; it seemed like I was always seeing one the night before the city would go into another lockdown, with some of these exhibitions being about art created in the previous lockdown. So I’m not even going to try to name a favourite. Melbourne endured the longest lockdown in the world, which has left deep scars psychic on the city.

Possibly due to the bad craziness fermented during the lockdown, two new sculptures were vandalised and a Discus Thrower from the Melbourne Olympics was stolen from suburban garden.  Some sculptures are vandalised every year with more inefficiency and completeness than the unfinished damage inflicted on a statue of Gandhi and Fallen Fruit.

For me, it was an enforced period of hyperlocal psychogeography, not the psychogeography of Iain Sinclair, based on literature and history, nor the long-distance walking and speculative psychogeography of Will Self, nor the esoteric psychogeography of ley lines and occult architecture. There could be no grand projects circling the city, only a limited circumference of kilometres from your home. It was the basic dérive that Debord wrote about, drifting through suburban streets — wandering to escape the confines of your home. To lose yourself on the walk, the complete opposite of those English celebrity goes somewhere shows. Who was that masked man?

“All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops — the geometry.” Raoul Vaneigem words are pertinent to Melbourne’s experience; the Belgium writer would have been familiar with the curfews based on zero medical evidence, the cops and the occupied space, the shuttered spaces, closed shops and quiet streets. Last year I wrote a post about walking around in lockdown, and this year I wrote one about COVID related street art or graffiti but I didn’t really want to think about it during the lockdown.

It was hard to form memories without events to distinguish them when even the deaths of friends went unobserved — walking, eating and sleeping, day after day like the seemingly endless streets of Melbourne suburbia. Past police investigation, a forensics team digging up and examining the tarmac under a burnt-out car. Past suburban emergencies, a ruptured gas main. Past garden and architectural nightmares; houses with twenty-eight gables, kitsch concrete garden sculpture grottoes, or last-capitalist hordes of wrecked cars.

Should I organise a Melbourne Psychogeographical Association? (Please get in touch with me if anyone is interested in such an association or regular walks). I don’t know if anyone will be willing to engage in psychogeography for a long time. Or have the anti-vaxers, and Qanon conspiracy theorists discovered a kind of mass psychogeography in their repeated meandering protests around the city? Has it become worn out as a revolutionary strategy? The glass taxidermy eyes of the buffalo only give the look of seeing and don’t register images.


Banj Banj/nawnta

Banj Banj/nawnta (meaning “sisters” in Taungurung/palawa kani) is a joyful collection of paintings with bright colours vibrating and lots of birds. Art that is the antidote for a post lockdown brain, the first exhibition that I saw after Victoria’s fifth lockdown. Eyes dulled with repetition pop. The backstory to these paintings is not so joyful.

Thelma Beeton, A Sign from Our Ancestors

Stacey (Taungurung /Boon Wurrung) and Thelma (Palawa) are close enough to be sisters. The two Indigenous women are from the same regional town and met up again when they were incarcerated at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, Victoria’s maximum-security women’s prison in Deer Park.

Their artistic origin story of these two jailbirds watching and laughing as two galahs flew down to look at them is told in an animated video narrated by the artists. Thelma Beeton records the story in one of her paintings, A Sign from Our Ancestors. She depicts the artists as a couple of emus with big brush stroke feathers behind a bluestone wall.

Beeton’s emus and bees have a cartoon simplicity with their bold outlines and colours. In contrast to Stacey’s meticulous art, a fusion of ancient and contemporary images with the traditional diamond pattern forming a background for her realistic depictions of birds, animals, and insects. There are subtle colour gradations and combinations in these backgrounds that are intensely beautiful.

The two artists works have a different mood and tone that works together in harmony. I wish that there were more collaborative works between these two artists. However, I understand that might be logistically difficult given that Stacey is still in prison.

Stacey and Thelma’s corkboards (installation view)

The two prison corkboards are displayed on a background of bee wallpaper, evoking the decoration that Thelma painted on her cell’s walls. The corkboards are similar to the ones that can be found in every cell at Deer Park. They are self-portraits of each artist, represented who they are personally, socially and culturally in a mixed media of cards, letters and drawings.

The exhibition at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick is organised by The Torch. The Torch works with incarcerated Indigenous people in Victoria, the most incarcerated people on the planet, providing artistic training, materials, exhibitions and opportunities for sales. I would have seen their art before at the Torch’s annual Confined exhibitions. However, there are hundreds of paintings all competing for attention, so I’m not surprised that I don’t remember them. After this exhibition, I won’t forget them.

Stacey My Children Coming Home

Rendall’s Plastic Things

The last time that I saw Steven Rendall’s art was at John Buckley Gallery; I wrote a blog post about it over a decade ago. It included two large paintings about things on shelves. This time I’m looking at his Things Between Other Things on window frames of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The exhibition is “The Space We Live, the Air We Breathe”, curated by Jan Duffy and Matthew Perkins. And Rendall is still making art about things.

Things Between Other Things is a collection and a reference to filling in time with this project. For time makes an appearance amongst the materials listed: “scavenged plastic, time, polymer emulsion, glue, screws and various other things”. A metaphor for life, sandwiched between things, waiting for the next thing.

As Rendall’s artist statement iterates. “These are the things between other things. They are sculptures in the domestic filed. They find their place between other moments and actions, between breakfast and going to work. They are easy to store and transport.They are endless and can be made of anything. They are a subsets with the overall scheme – some are more like fantasy gaming figures; some are more like modernist found object assemblages; some are made from a unified colour range; some are painted; some aren’t; some are inspired by practical special events; some can relate to art historical references. They exist.”

Rendall’s things are evenly spaced along the gallery’s window frames. This means that they can be seen from both inside and from the outside on Sydney Road. I wonder what the people waiting for a tram will make of these beautiful and frightening Anthropocene mash-ups. Cthulhuloid monsters with scuttling claws glued together with other broken toys. The true horror is the materials sourced from the infinite amount of plastic in our time. It gets everywhere, from the depths of the oceans to placental fluid.

Many creative people are trying to use what they can of this pollution, recycling, or just up-cycling. For art is about using up the surplus materials, as well as, time. Lego Lost At Sea (@LegoLostAtSea) documents and creates photographs of carefully laid out collections of plastic found on the beach. For more plastic recycling see my post on local jewellers.

The other two exhibitions at the Counihan, Jessie Boylan’s “The Smallest Measure” and Mikaela Stafford “Proximity”, are presented in association with CLIMARTE: “Arts for a safe climate”. Boylan is about air and measuring gases in the atmosphere. And Stafford has a strange beauty, both digital and biological. However, Rendall’s Things Between Other Things really made me think about the environment, the space we live, and the air we breathe.

My view of parts of Mikaela Strafford “Proximity”

Create Dangerously

Trying to walk down unfamiliar streets and lanes rather than using the same path. This post might be just an excuse to show a few photographs. On the other hand, I’m reading Albert Camus Create Dangerously and thinking about anarchy.

I was in Brunswick when I met a person involved in Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. They mentioned how few signs of any radical politics they were seeing on the street. I differed as I had just seen a set of recent anarchist paste-ups, only a couple of blocks north.

Drafted a blog post about anarchist posters but delayed because, as a bit of research on the images showed, they were not created locally. However, I admire their dedication to distribution, along with the neat and often colour co-ordinated placement.

That draft was then rewritten when a friend started posting images of some of the same anarchist posters in Reservoir. So my potted history of anarchists activity in Brunswick that noted Barricade Books and the annual Anarchist Book Fair at the Brunswick Town Hall was irrelevant.

Are these analogue agitprop paste-ups a Luddite throw-back? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work online than on the streets? Being on the street is different from an online armchair activist as it occupies, uses, and appropriates actual space and not virtually nothing. Being on the street is propaganda by deed, a fact testified by every protest march, by those occupying the street, by every political slogan written on a wall…

Create Dangerously is a speech that Camus gave in 1957, a few days after receiving the Noble Prize in Literature. In it, he examines the tension between popularism and formalism or art for art’s sake. In Melbourne, there is Lush, who will paint anything that will generate the most likes, and the graffiti writers, who are only painting for themselves and their mates. Camus provokes and challenges artists to find another way to engage with the world.


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