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Tag Archives: E.L.K.

Street Art 2014

Standing on the fourth floor balcony of Emerald House in South Melbourne with a cold beer in my hand watching the sun set from the south-side of the city and contemplating the end of 2014. Around me are many of the luminaries of Melbourne’s street art scene: Factor from Invurt, Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K), Toby from Just Another Agency, Luke McManus, Alison Young, Dean Sunshine, David Russell GT, Mini Graff… enough of the name dropping but you get the picture.

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The occasion is the Melbourne premier of a new documentary on street art, Cutback by Rachel Bentley. Cutback was filmed between 2011-2014 in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Berlin, NYC and London this documentary concentrates on the pertinent topic of the acceptance of street art by major art prizes, major galleries and collectors. Cutback is not just a documentary but also a digital platform with more interviews and room to expand.

After the documentary there was a tour of the three story carpark at Emerald House that was painted in 2012 (see my post Melbourne Underground). The paintings are still there and more have been added.

Luke Cornish, Dean Sunshine and Factor

Luke Cornish, Dean Sunshine and Factor

The night before almost the same crew was assembled for the launch of Dean Sunshine’s new book, Street Art Now featuring his photographs of Melbourne and elsewhere. The book launch featured a silent charity auction for a set of large panels by notable artists that were made for Melbourne’s Spring Fashion Week.

Dean Sunshine has made good on his pledge to put the profits of his previous book Land of Sunshine back into more publishing (the same pledge applies to the current book). This time it is a hard back book with better photographs and a foreword by David Hurlston, Australian Art Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria. The photographs are accompanied by online references for each artist acknowledging how much of the street art scene is online.

Every year, there is the launch of another book on Melbourne’s graffiti street art, this year there was two:  Alison Young in Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014) and Dean Sunshine Street Art Now.

Every year in Melbourne’s street art scene it appears as if there is another existential threat to the street art of Hosier Lane, from the departure of Andy Mac, to the CCTV cameras and now the construction of a multi-story hotel. It is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of street art. It is also a reminder of corrupt nature of Australian politics with the then Planning Minister Guy giving the approval for the project as a kickbacks for political donations to his party.

In many ways this year was like any other year in Melbourne. So what else has happened in Melbourne street art scene this year? Otherwise for street art in Melbourne the main story is that it has been a year of murals lots of new big murals around Melbourne, most notably from Rone and Adnate, and the finally restored, old Keith Haring mural.

Rone murals, Lt Collins Street

Rone murals, Lt Collins Street

As the summer sun sinks below the Docklands high rise I contemplate the question: does all this mean that Melbourne’s street art has ‘sold out’, that it has become mainstream, that it is no longer real?

None of what I’ve noted in this post should be taken as evidence for that. Looking at the great wall of skyscraper rising along the Yarra giving way to older low rise buildings, a few with bombs and tags high up on them, there is no reason to believe that Melbourne’s street art, although it is more widely appreciated, has lost its way (see my post from last year for more on the future of street art). Street art and graffiti are not endangered species, rare, fragile things; in Melbourne it is strong, enduring and pervasive. Writers keep spraying, taggers keep tagging, stickers keep sticking, artists keep painting, haters keep hating, and everyones still posting on Facebook or Instagram.

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West End Public Art

Melbourne’s west end is dominated by courts, the lawyers offices, the associated lunch and coffee places; it is not an area of the city that I regularly explore as both street art and art galleries are rare in the area. However, this year I have been in the area as I have been covering the Paul Yore trial. I did find some street art off Healeys Lane, a large stencil work by E.L.K. and some paste-ups by Sunfigo and there are a few public sculptures by Paul Montford, Andrew Rodgers, Tom Bass and Robert Juniper.

E.L.K., You are free...

E.L.K., You are free…

Flagstaff Gardens is like a suburban park in the city, the children’s playground, the adult’s playground (tennis courts and bowls), the residual base of small bandstand and the expanse of lawn. Its hill no longer affords much of a view but there is a Gothic revival sandstone obelisk monument to estimated six pioneers who were buried at its summit,  in 1871 the Department of Public Works then commissioned Samuel Craven, one of the stonemasons who campaigned for an eight hour day, to carve a memorial to mark the site of what was once called Burial Hill. Paul Montford’s bronze sculpture The Court Favourite stands further down the hill near the tennis courts.

Andrew Rodgers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers City Living, 1996 is a series of bronze figures of naked men, women and a baby rising up on hemisphere fans of bronze are up on a plinth. It is a kind of modern vision of escaping to an abstract spirit. Central Equity Homes commissioned the sculpture in June 1995 and donated it to the city in 1996. The sculpture is sort of hidden away a little way down Jeffcott Street; I saw it from the hill of Flagstaff Gardens.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

There is another sculpture by Rogers nearby on the Queen and Lt. Bourke Streets, Rhythms of the Metropolis and more recent sculptures by him in the Docklands. Roger has a diverse sculptural practice from these modern bronzes to his gigantic dry stone wall land-art in desert locations around the world, his “geoglyphs”.

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

High on the wall of 160 Queen Street is Transportation 1963-64 by Sydney sculptor, Tom Bass. The figure with aeroplane wings stands in a boat triumphantly holds aloft a wheel, perhaps representing modern transportation. The form of the figure resembles a secular crucifix, this is modernism looking back to the ancient ways of representing ideas. In the niche beneath the sculpture is a small circle of benches and wheelchair ramp.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

BHP House at 140 William St. was constructed between 1967 – 1972 and added Robert Juniper’s Shadow Form III out the front in 1988. Shadow Form is steel simplified organic form, a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer. The plinth provides seating mostly used by office workers eating their lunch.

What once was the centre of the city in the colonial days when the city’s focus was on the port and there was a flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens. Now the old colonial stone buildings like the Langdon Buildings from 1863 abut modern buildings of glass and steel. The life has been slowly drained from the area. Melbourne has since looked south, north and east and real estate agents describe the area as ‘on Melbourne’s doorstep’ in billboard advertising for empty office buildings. There is the city’s first cathedral, St. James from 1839 with it odd octagonal top to the spire, surrounded by an old iron fence (although it would be a mistake to image that this is its original location, it was moved there in 1913-14). Further down the road there are the three spires of the theatre restaurant, Witches in Britches.


Archibald Entries Media Round-up

Each year the media start to report on the arts or specifically on the merging of art and celebrity that is the Archibald Prize for a portrait of “ … some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia during the 12 months preceding the date fixed by the trustees for sending in the pictures”. The $75,000 prize further hypes the media’s attention.

Here is a media round-up of who has been reporting on what entries; it is more than obvious why each media choose their subject except for Athena Yenko’s report in the International Business Times on Robyn Ross’s entry of a double portrait of Christine Forster, Prime Minister Abbott’s sister and partner, Virginia Edwards in a naked embrace. Ross’s entry is is also reported in Same Same with photos.

Same Same also reports on the portrait of Shelley Argent OAM by Iain Wallace.

The Herald Sun reported on stencil artist E.L.K. or a portrait of comedian, Will Anderson in the Entertainment section.

ABC Local Golburn Murray reports on a Marijana van Zanten, plans to enter a portrait of Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan, who defeated Liberal incumbent Sophie Mirabella.

The North Coast’s Echo Net Daily about local artist Liesel Arden portrait of “Byron identity”, Tommy Franklin.

The Age reported on Melbourne street artist CDH portrait of anti-public advertising campaigner, Kyle Magee painted on a Streets ice-cream advertisement stolen from a bus shelter. CDH also wrote a report in Vandalog about Tame DMA entering his tag as a portrait.

Dustin Stahle entered a portrait of Film Producer/Director, Jacob Oberman and Jacob mades a two and half minute film about it.

The Guardian reports on Myuran Sukumaran’s entry self-portrait, encouraged by Ben Quilty who visited him Kerobokan jail in Bali contradicting earlier media reports that Sukumaran would not be allowed to enter. The Guardian also has a photo essay of some of the thousands of entrants.

The Archibald portrait prize about the one percent, the one percent of artist who are exhibited doing portraits of the one percent who at a stretch could be described distinguished. (Christine Forster and Myuran Sukumaran are not “distinguished in art, letters, science or politics” and even to say that about Will Anderson or Tame DMA is a bit of stretch.) There are portraits this year of John Safran, Michael Leunig, Cathy Freeman and Hugh Jackman. You don’t get to paint a portrait of Nick Cave easily, as Sydney-based artist James Powditch discovered and Katrina Lobley reports on Powditch’s entry in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The finalists will be announced on 10 July but I doubt that any of these entries, with the exception of James Powditch and E.L.K., will be finalists. The winner, to be announced at noon on the 18 July, will most likely be a self-portrait by an artist who has already won the Archibald, the judges, like the media reporting on it, generally go with what they know and is close to home.

All this media coverage is not surprising given that J.F. Archibald was a media man, the founding co-owner and editor of The Bulletin magazine. Archibald’s idea was that portraits showing the physiognomy and bearing of distinguished Australians would add to the Australian identity.


My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils

I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.

HaHa Nicky Wynmar

  1. HaHa, Nicky Winmar, The master of multi layered stencils HaHa’s interest in fame and celebrities is at its best with his stencil of St.Kilda footballer, Nicky Winmar’s iconic reaction to racist taunts. What could be more Melbourne than a footballer?Civil - penny farthing - Irene Warehouse
  2. Civil, The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized. Irene Warehouse. This is my nostalgia moment because it was Civil’s stencils that first got me interested in Melbourne’s stencil scene. Civil’s peaceful and entirely civilised anarchic politics is perfectly expressed in this stencil.Kerpy - Flinders St. Station
  3. Kirpy, Flinders Street Station, On the wall of 696, then an urban node for quality work, curated by the Toby and Melieka who ran the gallery/gift shop. A great multi layered stencil of an iconic Melbourne scene.ELK Chimp Jesus
  4. E.L.K. Ecce Homo (observe the man). In this piece E.L.K. is taking the old English tradition of baboonery from the pages of illuminated manuscripts to the street. E.L.K was Canberra based at the time this was done I’m not being picky about where an artist is based in this list. Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes
  5. Sunfigo, Little Diver Redux, In the same location and referencing Banksy’s Little Diver along with many other Melbourne based street artists. This is the ultimate piece of self referencing street art. (In photo, Sunfigo above, Phoenix tribute below.)DSC09008
  6. Calm, Blue Gnu, At All Your Wall in Hosier Lane 2013 before it was covered in tags but then it anticipated all of that.Toys will be Toys
  7. 23rd Key, Toys Will Be Toys, A good stencil and a great reference to both the graffiti insult and Toy Story. Located in the Land of Sunshine, Brunswick.Hanging-boots
  8. Unknown, Hanging Boots, A simple and well-placed elegant still life in Sparks Lane, Melbourne.The Kid Peek-a-boo
  9. Unknown, Peek-A-Boo, Another simple but highly effective stencil because of its placement.This is Shit
  10. Unknown, This is Shit. Sometimes it just has to be said.

Flame, Remember My Name

I was going to comment that this year in street art had a bit dull… the same old same old stuff on the streets, no innovations or developments like yarn bombing or street sculpture. But then along came Doyle with his Empty Nursery Blue in Rutledge Lane. And the division between the technical and the conceptual elements in street art was brought into even sharper contrast with CDH’s article “The Commodification of Street Art” in the September issue of Art Monthly Australia and E.L.K.’s reply “The mouse that sunk the boat” on Invurt.

Mask sticker, 2009

Mask sticker, 2009

I am used the word “technical” in the last paragraph to describe the work of artists with the technical skill of stencil cutting, aerosol spray skills, etc. in contrast to the conceptual, thinking of and executing an idea. I am using ‘conceptual’ in the way that Galenson uses it, to refer to conceptual break through from collage to video art, and not to exclusively refer to works of conceptual art; David W. Galenson contrasts modern and contemporary conceptual and experimental artists in his book Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). I’ve used the word ‘technical’, rather than ‘experimental’ because there aren’t that many experimental artists, in Galenson’s terms, on Melbourne’s streets, most are content to become technically proficient, although Slicer, Reka, Conrad Bizjak and others might count as experimental.

Aside from the conceptual versus the technical there is a contrast in the ideological purity of CDH’s position opposed to the pragmatic concerns of E.L.K. The utopian ambitions of the politics of conceptual artists have often caused them to cry: “sell out” (in various ways, like all the “expulsions” from the official Surrealist movement). This usually been countered with accusations of lack of talent or technique but this doesn’t address the real differences between the two radically different approaches to art. The conceptual artist is not interested in the technique but the politics or philosophy of artistic progress and likewise the technical artist pragmatic has little time or interest in philosophy or politics.

Specifically in reply to CDH’s article I would argue that street art is not held back or corrupted by its commodification because that was happening since the beginning of street art; Fab 5 Freddy was exhibiting in galleries in 1979, it is part of the street art system. Nor is being distorted when graffiti goes mainstream that was also happening since the beginning, appearing in pop music videos like Blondie’s “Rapture” (1981) and the 1983 PBS documentary, Style Wars, for example.

In Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt’s introductory essay “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion” the authors examine Alvin Toffler’s mainstream absorption model where “the potential disruptive energies of the subculture are controlled, and the hegemony of mass culture is continually reasserted” and provide a counter example, hip hop, where “the process of mediation and commoditization were factored in all along”. (Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, ed. Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, V&A Publisher, 2011, p.53) To put it bluntly not all subcultures have the same relationship to mass culture as hippies or punks.

Finally, I have no aesthetic or political opinion on the matter for without conceptual artists there will be little or no innovations or developments in street art but without the technical artists there wouldn’t be as large an audience or the interest. What I think is holding Melbourne’s street art back is the conservative traditionalists in street art and graffiti that believe that they can enforce their various definitions; in this respect they have a similar attitude to their traditional opponents, the police, railway security and city councillors.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station, 2012

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station, 2012


Metro Art Award 2011

On Tuesday, 26 July Jeff Kennett will announce the winner of the Metro Art Award. 25 artists aged 35 and younger are in the running for the award for painting. I went ahead of the announcement to see the exhibition of the selected paintings.

Ben Smith, The Influence, oil on board

There are plenty of paintings with over blown hyperbole, dramatic images showing-off the painter’s technical skills. There are paintings that are too ordinary or too sentimental. It felt so conservative, all these young artists painting studiously but often without any purpose other than attracting attention. Ben Smith’s “The Influence (Leonard Cohen Consoles Nick Cave)” has odd proportions and in the future, when Cohen and Cave are no longer well known, the painting will just look odd.

Vincent Fantauzzo, The Creek, oil on canvas

Vincent Fantauzzo “The Creek” looking like a Caravaggio, with a baroque drama created from working with film director, Baz Luhrmann. Vincent Fantauzzo would be the favorite having previously won the 2011 Archibald Packing Room Prize winner and Metro Art Award’s People’s Choice Prize Winner in 2009 and 2008. The wild card entry would be Matto Lucas “Daruma” who has painted on a photograph of a painted face.

I think that winner might be Michael Brennan “Right Place, Wrong Time” with the intense surface of wrinkled dried paint. Or one of the artists who emerged from Melbourne’s stencil art scene: Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K.) “Untitled, Self Portrait” a multiple layered stencil his legs climbing a ladder, a familiar exercise for artists. In the past I’ve dismissed E.L.K.’s work as technically proficient let down by the content but “Untitled, Self Portrait” combines technique with powerful but restrained image. Or Ben Howe, who was a highly commended emerging artist at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009.  Howe’s “Time and the Elastic” is an intense, dynamic and unusual image of multiple people in multiple layers. Metro Gallery represents several local and international street artists; a framed Banksy currently hangs in the window by the gallery entrance.

“The Metro Art Award previously consisted of a Judges’ Choice Prize of $40,000 and a People’s Choice Prize of $10,000.  In 2011, the People’s Choice Prize has been eliminated and the $10,000 has been added to the Judges’ Choice Prize, which is now $50,000.” (Metro’s media release) Dropping the People’s Choice Award is a good move; there are too many of these polls and the results are too easily manipulated. Popular opinion is well represented by the selection panel itself that comprises “the Hon Jeff Kennett AC former Victorian Premier and Arts Minister (Chair); with Fenella Kernebone, Presenter of the ABC TV’s Art Nation Program; the Rev Dr Arthur Bridge AM, founder of Ars Musica Australis, a charitable foundation supporting the creative arts; and human rights advocate Julian Burnside AO QC”. 

See my review of Metro Art Award 2009.

P.S. The Metro Art Award 2011 was won by Vincent Fantauzzo with “The Creek” – I told you he was the favorite to win.


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