Tag Archives: Brunswick

Counihan Gallery summer show 2022

The end-of-year exhibition at the Counihan Gallery’s summer show has the theme of Future Tense.

Tense? I am still masked up amidst a crowd of people at the opening, still concerned about the current wave of COVID. I can’t remember ever seeing so many people in the gallery.

Why am I writing about this exhibition and not others? Hyper-local interest, this is where I live, with the added bonus that Merri-bek has more than its fair share of visual artists living in it. Congratulations to Emily Simek, the recipient of this year’s Noel Counihan Commemorative Art Award, and to Stephanie Karavasilis and Carmen Reid for being highly commended by the judges.

But at my back, I always hear four horsemen drawing near. War, plague, famine and death have been harnessed to the chariot of unimaginable climate catastrophe. Many of the works in the exhibition were activist, most environmental, followed by disability. Pamela Kleemann-Passi Trolley Trouble in Troubled Times records an action by Extinction Rebellion that took place at the intersection just outside the gallery. The fluttering flags contrast the still bodies, their bright colours stand out against the grey tarmac, concrete and stone. It is a combination of protest with aesthetics.

Of course, there was a wide range of interpretations of the theme in a great variety of media and styles, including imitations of cubism, futurism, abstract expressionism and Francis Bacon. However, there wasn’t enough about the location. Kyle Walker’s photographs, The Cat, capture scenes of everyday Brunswick. The photographs are well-composed and poetic without being sentimental.

Another with a focus on the local was Carmel Louise, The East Brunswick, combining photograph and mixed media in a collapsible accordion pop-up book. It is based on the original East Brunswick Hotel and was meant to be critical of the recent high-rise developments along Lygon Street. However, this criticism is muted by the beauty of the paper folding.

Carmel Louise, The East Brunswick, 2022

Bright colours abounded this year; I suspect the cumulative result of many lonely lockdowns. One of these bright works was Claire Anna Watson’s Once when I was six III. An inflated plastic creation involving a mirror, lime green ring, floaties and aubergine. This a contemporary art take on a yoni and a lingam, complete with the aubergine in the middle – emoji reference. Air and inflation have been art components since Duchamp’s Air de Paris (50cc of Paris Air) and early Koons buoyancy basketballs in One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr J Silver Series). And Watson has used vegetable material in previous work. Her artist statement records “floating, hovering between an abstraction of the mind and a nostalgia for what was.”

Claire Anna Watson, Once when I was six III, 2022

While the artists in Future Tense were looking forward, I was reminiscing. Not that want to use Van Der Graff’s Time Pair-a-Docs to go back to the past, but for me, there was a note of past tense in the show. That sentimental, seasonal event, end-of-year feeling, but that’s just memories. seeing new work recognisably by artists I know or have previously written about conjuring ghosts of past years, the evoking of spirits. Shout out to Alister Karl, Julian DiMartino, Marina Perkovich and Carmen Reid glad that they are still alive, creating art and kicking.

Although it is the season of end-of-year shows, the Blender Xmas Party and the 32nd annual Linden Postcard Show are coming up. I am going to take a summer break (if ‘summer’ is the word I’m looking for, given the recent wintery weather).

Thanks for reading.

Cheers, Black Mark

Leon Van Der Graff, Time Pair-a-Docs, 2022

Look: graffiti reduction

A look at an effective graffiti reduction strategy used around Brunswick Station. I bet you didn’t expect to read a longitudinal study on how to prevent graffiti on this blog.

In the past there were many pieces quality graffiti and street art on the block next to the station. This includes some of the area’s first legal walls, which is still in use, although the fishing tackle shop wall has now faded. I remember Banksy stencil of a chimp and Reka a purple monster on the station (or was that was at Jewell) — both removed to the disappointment of travellers young and old. The AWOL crew regularly painted several of the walls, Slicer, Adnate, etc., developing their mature styles from old-school graffiti (read my AWOL Evolution).  

It wasn’t the graffiti was terrible; it was the area that was ugly. The street artists and graffiti writers were trying their best to improve the aesthetics of a neglected section of land behind factories – dirt, rocks and fly tipping. The barren area was a no-mans land between the petty fiefdoms of the local council and the railway. So another anarchic community group, Upfield Urban Forest moved in and started to plant trees and cultivate a garden — fine community-minded people with as much planning permission as a graffiti writer. (Read more about Upfield Urban Forest in Brunswick Voice.) Now that the trees have grown, the walls are no longer visible, making them no longer desirable for graffiti writers and street artists.

Tips on preventing graffiti are often vacuous recommendations written by local councils providing less than helpful advice. Regular removal, anti-graffiti coatings, improved lighting, and uneven surfaces are expensive and environmentally unsound options. Painting walls dark colours to discourage graffiti; black is a favourite colour of graffiti writers to buff/undercoat a wall with because it makes colours pop. Another recommended simply growing creepers on the wall, forgetting that creepers like ivy with do more damage to the wall than a coat of acrylic paint.

Graffiti can appear overnight, a mural or legal wall can take a little longer, and a substantial improvement will not happen overnight. It takes years to grow a tree. It took about a decade of work around Brunswick Station and Premier Daniel Andrews “sky-rail” project will destroy it.

All of the artists mentioned in this post have gone on to paint bigger and better walls.

Brunswick Station 2022

The Edge-cation of Joel Gailer

A short history of the edge of paintings on canvas. For most of history, they were covered by frames; then, sometime last century, the frames came off. In 1942 the art collector Peggy Guggenheim took the frames off the surrealist paintings in her Art of This Century gallery. What paint was on the edge of the stretched canvas was accidental. Some artists started to paint the edges. Then in 1958, Lucio Fontana used a knife to slash a linen painting, blurring the lines between painting, sculpture and conceptual art. The influence of Argentine/Italian painter, sculptor and theorist was a bit thing in Melbourne because the NGV had a single painting Concetto spaziale (1964-1965) of his. The gold metallic paint on the canvas stabbed with multiple holes incised in the gold metallic paint is “Luciano Fontana”.

Paintings in Joel Gailer’s studio

In his current paintings, Joel Gailer takes this further, filling the slashes cuts in the canvas with slivers, gobbets and nubbles of bright pigments. Wads of colour patch holes in the canvas. Sculptural blobs, clods, knobs and gobs of paint stuck to the sides of the stretched canvas. Cross sections rolled into cones, clots of eye-melting bright orange and fluorescent pinks, and globules of metallic paint adorn the edges, extending the edge of the art beyond the empty raw canvas.

I spoke to Gailer about these recent works at his Cozens Street studio. He was still on a high after a successful time at Sydney Contemporary with an Artbox stall and getting represented by Sketch & Co Gallery in Sydney.

His approach to these paintings is systematic and formal. The variations on the theme accumulate. There is a wall of them as he works through variations, finding new edges to explore or challenging conventions. “I prefer small canvases”, he repeatedly tells me.

For Gailer, the picture plane has been explored; it was an arbitrary choice of surface. The edge is beyond the picture plane; no longer a two-dimensional painting but a three-dimensional sculpture. Conventions are abstract choices that have been codified, which he points out in his work. It is not all about the edge; there are other conventions that he is considering. Like, should the canvas hang vertically, horizontally or on the diagonal? Or why don’t we use paint for its adhesive quality to stick down the raw canvas or glue two canvases together?

All these conventions about art provide an entrance, and this entrance could be a familiar first step or a medium to transfer concepts. Gailer wants to approach this in a conceptual rather than a formal modernist way. There are different ways to approach an edge: going over the edge, following the border, printing from a bite, and sticking paint to the edge. The side of the canvas is a different kind of edgy, not over the edge but edge-aware. (Gailer is not an Edgelord.)

I knew that we would have to get around to talking about side hustles, for Gailer’s attention to the side of canvases is another aspect of his many side hustles. Art Box, Cozens Street studios, Red Betty bar in Houdini Lane, his extreme printmaking (see my post on his Performprint). The side of things is part of his life, surfing and skateboard riding. Surfers, skateboard riders, and printers know about edges. Skateboarders, like Joel, use the city’s edges to their advantage, grinding their decks on curbs and rails. Surfing, riding the wave, balancing on the edge of a system just before the wave breaks, and becomes completely chaotic.

Black Mark and Joel Gailer reflected in Gailer’s Intermedia Machen IV

Where walls are wild

Alchemical calligraphy that turns walls to gold. Pieces that slant, inter-connect, curve and bubble, with eye-popping colours (how did they get brown to look fabulous?). Along with some great supporting characters (who remembers Alf?).

One hot spot for graffiti in Brunswick is an area bounded by Sydney Road, Moreland Road, Albion Street and the railroad tracks. It has a network of laneways in the light industrial area around the Brunswick tram depot. There are other locations for seeing quality graffiti in Brunswick – like the land of Sunshine

This is not an example of Melbourne’s laneway culture, with cafes and bars. Although that is developing with Red Betty’s, a bar run by artist and extreme printmaker Joel Gailer, hidden in Houdini Lane. Mostly it is repurposed car infrastructure surrounded by brick and concrete walls. Some of the bluestone paved lanes are the more disgusting rubbish-filled lanes I’ve seen. Someone needs to get a recycling bin for all the aerosol cans and beer bottles (graffiti is sign-writing partying).

The car park, off Sydney Road, has long been a location for great graffiti. For about a decade, a mural of a train with old-school graffiti on carriages ran along the opposite wall, the colours slowly washing out with the weather. Now Paris and Peril have returned to paint the other wall (covering up the work of a prolific and irritating street artist). Paris and Peril are veterans of Melbourne’s graffiti. Love the way that they have shaded around some of the actual bricks bringing the whole wall into their piece.

Ilham Lane has a bit of quality street art, including a large mural by Civil and some small pieces by Phoenix; however, most of the work in the area is graffiti. 

Graffiti thrives in liminal zones like this area in transition, where multi-storey apartments are replacing factories and the light industry. Not all light industrial buildings in the area are currently being used for industrial purposes. There are artists’ studios scattered amongst them, or in clusters like at Tinning Street, and a commercial art gallery, Neon Parc. Where walls are wild.


Two Exhibitions at the Counihan

Ancient mythology is full of sewing metaphors. The words ‘sutra’ and ‘suture’ share a common Sanskrit origin, a thread. Atropos, the eldest sister of the three ancient Greek fates, cuts the cord of someone’s life.

Pimpisa Tinpalit Silence #1.6.1

“Silence #1.6.1” by local artist Pimpisa Tinpalit is a meditative consideration of mortality. Tinpalit can create spectacular arte povera pieces using simple ordinary non-art materials like ropes and old pillows. The golden colour of sweat-soaked pillows glows in contrast to the black ropes. While tying up loose ends in knots, the other end of the rope is cut.

It is not all made from arte povera non-art materials. There is a video going forwards and in reverse, as the artist covers her face with gold leaf. And there are three ink paintings on large sheets of paper. I saw an earlier one of her Silence series at Yarra Sculpture Gallery in 2018

Two exhibitions at the Counihan Gallery opened on Saturday afternoon. It was the first exhibition opening that I’ve attended in years. The first time the Counihan has held a catered exhibition opening in years. The food was from Zaatars, and the wine was made by a former detainee, Farhad Bandesh. I went back for a second glass of the smooth red. 

Held over from last year was “Means Without Ends” by local documentary photographer Hoda Afshar: two series of photographs, Remain (2018) and Agonistes (2020). What these series have in common is that they depict people who have suffered at the hands of the Australian government. Cruelty is the point, amoral demonstrations of power by elected criminals desperate to feel in control. 

On one wall, Agonistes these “3D photographs” that look like images of white busts, like rough 3D printings of scans of heads of whistle-blowers. Recognisable even though the eyes are blank and there is no colour. Under each portrait, a panel explains what crimes and abuses of power the person reported and what was then done to them. Some of these whistle-blowers exposed abuses of refugees linking to Afshar’s other series of photographs.

On the other wall, Remain a series of black and white photographs staged images of refugees who were indefinitely detained in conditions equivalent to torture. Large-format inkjet prints of men who remained in detention camps on Manus Island for more than six years. The focus varies from sharp to blurred; is the image of the individual or a person? What would be the point of making them recognisable or identifiable?


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.


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