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Tag Archives: Gertrude Street

Indigenous Culture on the streets

On Friday 5 July I met the NAIDOC Week march as I was walking to Fitzroy. The march was coming the opposite way walking from Fitzroy to Federation Square. I felt inspired by the march – I want a treaty and truth (like South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission). Australia needs a treaty with its Indigenous population; Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its indigenous people.

I considered my options joining the march or continuing my walk into Fitzroy. I decided to continue on looking at public art, street art and art exhibitions but with a focus on indigenous history. My methodology for these walks is asystematic, random, and often without preconceived objectives. This is because I want to take unfamiliar routes and find new things.

This is No Fantasy, the Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stien’s gallery on Gertrude Street was showing Vincent Namatjira’s exhibition Coming To America. Vincent is a Western Arrernte man from Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and the grandson of Albert Namatjira.It was Vincent Namatjira’s fifth solo presentation at this prominent Melbourne commercial gallery. Black dots beside the works showed that every painting had sold.

Vincent Namatjira’s crude but effective style has an absurd sense of humour. The exhibition has a series of paintings depicting his trip to America, including his time in Hollywood, the White House and relaxing on beach chair at the Miami Beach Art Basel. On one wall was a grid of black and white portraits of alternating black and white people. Namatjira seems to be saying: why so serious when this is fun?

Gertrude Street was named after the daughter of Captain Brunswick Smythe who acquired the land in 1839 in colonial exploitation; in spite of it colonial origins Gertrude Street has many reminders of Melbourne’s Indigenous history. There are several plaques by the City of Yarra Aboriginal Cultural Signage Reference Group and the Aboriginal Advisory Group: The Koori Club, the Aboriginal Housing Board and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. (As well as public art I am now looking at plaques — how dull can I get?).

At the corner of Lt. Napier Street, there is the recent ‘Sovereignty’ mural by Robert Young, Heesco and Makatron. They are all Melbourne-based artists but only Young is a Gunnai/Gunditjmarra/Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri man – Heesco is from Mongolia and Makatron is probably from outer space, or Adelaide.

A bit further along Gertrude Street, at the corner of Gertrude and George Streets stand three “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria.  The yarn bombed dress on one of thin bronze figures has been there for years, it implies that it a woman and makes the group more inclusive.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On the same corner is Maysar, the Melbourne Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative with glass design in the windows and glass doors by Mandy Nicholson, a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Kulin Nation. Nicholson’s work is familiar to me as she designed Gayip, the stainless steal spiral headed figure with wings perched on a rock on the South bank and the petroglyphs at Birrarung Wilam.

I turned left onto to Smith Street, named after Melbourne’s Mayor Smith 1855-64 a publican turned politician. At first there was much less reminders of Indigenous history on Smith Street, just on plaque for the Victorian Aboriginal Co-operative Limited at 108 Smith Street, one guy in an Aboriginal flag t-shirt getting lunch and a small flag painted on a house in one of the streets off Smith.

That was until I reached the corner of Stanley and Smith Street where the Glenn Romanis has designed the combination of a micro-park, seating, public art and a map. Glenn Romanis is from the Wurundjeri/woi wurrung and Boonwerrung people of the Kulin Nation, and like Nicholson, Romanis’s public work was familiar from his carving at Birrarung Wilam. The sites are mapped in fossilised wood with granite streets cutting across the sedimentary rock that flows like rivers. Carved in the rock “Wominjeka Wurundjeri Bik” (Welcome to Wurundjeri Country). It was a good place to continue an exploration of Melbourne’s indigenous culture.

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Smith and Gertrude Street Galleries

On Thursday I was walking around the galleries around Smith and Gertrude Streets when I saw lots of men in suits out the front of the artist-run-gallery, 69 Smith Street. They were real estate agents packing up from the auction, the old building and small block of land had just sold for $2 million. The gallery was still open with their second last exhibitions; still life paintings by Martin Tighe and a exhibition of graduating regional artists from GOTAFE.

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As an artist-run-gallery 69 Smith Street survived for many years offering some of the cheapest exhibition space in Fitzroy and Collingwood. Consequently there were many exhibitions by students, amateur artists and a few others. Its final years as an organisation was notable only by an ugly year long dispute about who ran the gallery.

Sometimes I wonder what is the value of my practice of going around as many galleries as I can in a day. Sometimes I do this in different locations (Chelsea Gallery Crawl) but most often it the same familiar galleries. What am I doing exploring often the same territory? Why am I bothering with going to some rental space or small ARI?

I am observing the opening and closing of art galleries, the changes in the street, the graffiti and street art? I observe that a few galleries have closed in the area in the last couple of years. Finally I spotted a piece by Utah and Ether, graffiti’s Bonnie and Clyde, that will help with the book I’m writing about art crime.

In the past I used to write regular reports of these walks, I still do them but now I use the exercise to find a particular art work or artist that I am will write about or just for the exercise of the walk.

I have a late lunch at the Beach Burrito Company on Gertrude Street. It is the only Mexican restaurant I’ve seen with an empty in-ground swimming pool, presumably for skateboards. As I eat my tacos I look at my notes:

Backwoods had its end of year stockroom show featuring art by the usual street art suspects including Deams, Shida, Roa, Reka, Twoone, and Lush.

Collingwood Gallery, “Nepo Rab” new paintings by Eric Henshall, a whole series of acrylic paintings on canvas depicting colourful scenes in American bars. Why American bars in Collingwood?

Gertrude Contemporary, there was too much to read at the “Gertrude Studios 2016” exhibitions. Pages and pages of notes for a single art work, more pages for another one, along with a room sheet in 10pt font. What ever it is, contemporary art appears to be a form of literature.

This Is No Fantasy, Neil Haddon, “New Works” are lush paintings that fracturing, in several ways, including between sort of landscapes and silly portraits with two round eyes.

Seventh Gallery, several strong contemporary art exhibitions at this ARI, including an upstairs space (shows how long it has been since I was last at Seventh) where Elizabeth Presa “In Playland” depicts the frozen memory of playtime in plaster. Downstairs in the front gallery Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux” is an impressive, expanding weaving of donated clothing, fabric and yarn that grew during the exhibition.

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Elizabeth Presa, In Playland

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Freÿa Black “Umbilicus in Flux”


Gertrude St. Culture

There are many art galleries (a few years ago there were 7, hence the name of Seventh Gallery), art supplies, bookshops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and antique shops spreading along the street. Rose Chong Costume Hire has extravagant window displays and Arcadia Café has exhibitions on their walls. Most of the activity is concentrated in a few blocks north between Smith St. and Brunswick St. is a microenvironment of greater cultural significance than its size.

Seventh Gallery, Gertrude Street

At the corner of Brunswick St. the housing commission flats start, part of a slum reclamation by the state government, at Gertrude St. The high-rise housing commission flats have not been as successful as the gentrification that the arts brought to the area. Here, as elsewhere in Fitzroy, there is a slow gentrification going on.

Life, like the numerous pubs along Gertrude St. ranges from down-and-out to up-market. The two sides of the street are distinguished by housing commission flats on one side and on the other, rows of 19th and early 20thcentury shops, post office and pubs. Preserving the turn of the 19th century buildings with their eclectic style architecture are a mix of charities and boutiques continues west. The gentrified area is slowly spreading – initially from the Collingwood end – oddly creating a quiet area closer to the city. It started from Australian Print Workshop established in 1981 and a cluster of galleries around the corner on Smith Street that moved the focus to this end of the street. Darren Knight Gallery, now located in Sydney, was originally just around the corner on Smith St. along with Australia Galleries. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Australian Print Workshop, Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. is the one place in Melbourne where there is a strong Koori presence. The old Post Office building on Gertrude St. that was once painted the yellow, red and black of the Aborigine flag has been painted white and turned into a restaurant. On the corner of Gertrude and George Streets three thin bronze figures with aboriginal motifs on their torso stand. They are  “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria and a graduate of RMIT.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On Lt. Napier Street, the laneway next to the old post office, there was some Koori street art by the Bellamah Tribe in 2006: the use of ochre colours, images of goannas, lines and track marks set this wall apart. There were great sprays of paint, black brush marks and tags. It has since been covered up with other pieces since. The Bellamah Tribe wall was an impressive and distinctive and I hoped to see more of the Koori street art but apart from Reko Rennie, that has yet to come. In 2012 the AWOL crew did do a tribute the original owners of this land, who were never asked permission to construct Fitzroy and Collingwood.

AWOL Gertrude Street

I always see something interesting on my walks along Gertrude Street; what was the most interesting thing that you saw there last?


This Is Not A Book Review

The most amazing things that I saw walking around Fitzroy today (and there are many amazing things to see on Gertrude Street alone) was in the window of Artisan Books – the 7th Annual Artist Book Exhibition. There are more artist books inside; but these are three-dimensional (if not more considering the contents) objects and white gloves are provided for closer examination. There were 29 participating artists and slightly more books on exhibition (beautifully displayed – the elegant shelves of Artisan Books providing the prefect installation).

I was enchanted by the “Adventures of the Not So Well-Known Four” by Liz Powell brings back memories of Enid Bylton books (and the Comic Strip Presents “Five Go Mad In Dorset”). Also on display at Artisan Books is her “Tales of Daring Do”; the detail in these works and the collage of different elements makes them so appealing. Liz Powell is a NSW based a mixed media fibre artist and teacher. She who makes wonderful books complete with book boxes.

Melbourne-based artist, Sai-Wai Foo’s “The Early Bird Gets the Worm” is a magnificent example of paper cutting. I have seen many similar works by Nicolas Jones, a couple of years ago at Platform.

There are many other quality works in this exhibition; enough to appeal to many different tastes.

Image of book by Keira Hudson courtesy of Artisan Books

Image of glass book by Janis Nedela courtesy of Artisan Books

Around 2006-2007 I saw a lot of art made from old books. Old books have been stacked, folded and cut into new works of art. It appeared as if art made from old books has become a new genre; from Duchamp’s experiment, “Unhappy Readymade” (1919), a geometry book destroyed by the Parisian weather, repeated with variation until it become a genre. It was a wedding present to his sister Suzanne, who painted a picture of the book. Art from books was not a trend isolated to Melbourne – it is an international trend. At San Francisco Public Library in 2003 there was the “Reversing Vandalism”, an exhibition of over 200 original works of art created from the damaged books. There is now a book about it The Repurposed Library by Lisa Occhipinti  (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang). And “Extended Shelf Life” by Megan Johnston reports on creative ‘upcycling’ of old books in the Sydney Morning Herald (7/1/2012)

I haven’t seen as much art from books since 2010 Stephanie Hick exhibition “A Short Season” at No No Gallery featured wreaths of paper flowers made from pages from old children’s books. Now that I know about Annual Artist Book Exhibition I hope to see a lot more.


Ephemeral & Street Art

On Gertrude St. sidewalk, in an ironic reference to Arthur Stace, the “Eternity” man, someone had stencilled in yellow chalk powder, in a copperplate font, “Optimism”. Chalk was Stace’s medium and it will be washed away with the next rain. An irony that Stace seemed to miss – his eternity was only temporary.

Optimism on Gertrude St.

Optimism on Gertrude St.

Across the road in Dianne Tanzer Gallery there are two exhibitions with a close relation to street art. Dianne Tanzer Gallery is an established commercial gallery, so this is clear evidence of how street art techniques have influenced the contemporary art. Matthew Hunt’s “Pure Gut Feeling”, in Dianne Tanzer’s ‘Project Space’, has a punk street art feel. Statements like “Odd Ball” and “Solid Gold Turd” are statements drawn in crude blockbuster style on paper. Hunt is recreating the aesthetics of adolescent art, the kind of drawings that are done on the cover of a school notebook, a feeling close to many young street artists.

In the main gallery there is Hannah Bertram “Now They Are Gone”. The main gallery looks empty but on the polished concrete floor are 2 very large stencils in water and ash. Bertram specializes in transfiguration of the commonplace materials into art. The stencils are neo-barque roundels with a variety of floral motifs from carpets or wallpaper. Or are they mandalas, like the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas that are destroyed after completion to symbolize the transitory nature of life. Using ashes as the medium is also symbolic of all that is left after death and destruction. When I visited the gallery a few footprints had damaged the edge of one of these ephemeral works. At the end of the exhibition they will be gone, washed away.

Art was once believed to be for eternity, for the future; it seems a strange belief now. Street art is full of deliberate ephemeral words and deeds. The point is to say something with style. To write something to relieve the boredom, to state that ‘I was here’ even though, ironically, I have already moved on. The ephemeral nature of street art aspires brief attention, “instant fame” as Happy says in his paste-ups, and not eternity. Street art is not forever – it is for now.


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