I was passing through Melbourne Central when I encountered part of the ‘Two Block’ Festival. It was a couple of temporary exhibition walls in the clock-tower foyer and a platform decorated with aerosol art. The freezing wind blowing into Melbourne Central was destroying some of the illustrations on paper but the other works were secured with cable ties. There were some stencil art piece by Floh, Megan Dell, Nicole Tattersall and others. I was particularly impressed with the collage of signs by Laser Fist; it was rugged and gritty but had formal beauty. There are many street art and street inspired exhibition on in Melbourne and I have only been able to sample some of them in the last month.
A Mugs Life by Scale at 696 combined street aerosol and illustration techniques to create paintings of arthropods (insects and spiders). This combination of techniques creates some beautiful results including the use of stencils to create a fly’s compound eye. The two paintings of dragonflies with their weathered wood supports were the best in this small exhibition. In other paintings Scale’s inventiveness has over stepped taste with the expanding foam maggots with the squash blowfly. Or has become corny, like the spider and fly or the person with raised hand reflected in the mosquito’s eyes.
Intergalactic Alchemy by Adi at Famous When Dead are paintings from the abstract end of street art influences. Painted in oil and acrylic on canvas, Adi uses aerosol spray creating blends and chaotic splatters and drips. Tom Wolfe asked: “Can a spaceship penetrate a Kline?” (The Painted Word, 1976, p.79); if a spaceship tried to penetrate an Adi, it would get entangled in the web of dynamic black graphic line work. The mystical is never far away from the abstract; in this exhibition Adi has a “Zodiac Series” of 12 small paintings and a triptych forming the Illuminati pyramid. But it is in the larger paintings that Adi captures ethereal beauty.
Guessing the gender of the artist from looking is a fun game to play, especially when, Tesura, the nom de rue (nom de rue = street tag) gives no clues. Looking at the whimsical and delicately detailed illustrations of Tesura I was sure that this was the work of a woman. This time I was wrong; Tesura is a big man from Canberra and this is his first solo exhibition. Famous When Dead Gallery Director, JD Mittman had first seen his work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2008. Along with a series of drawings on paper there were a four mixed media works on found supports; a common strategy for street influenced artists. I talked with Tesura at the opening about his illustrations and the theme of people in animal costumes. He told me that it represented the secret, alternative night-life; a life where he worked in IT by day and was an artist at night.
It is not easy to define what makes a street art influence, as this brief survey of recent exhibitions demonstrates. It is not simply techniques and materials like stencils, aerosol spray-cans, or found supports. What all of these street influenced artists have in common is a strong graphic style.
There are currently a few exhibitions around Melbourne with new work from some notable street artists.
Two notable Melbourne street artists are exhibiting at Platform: Tom Sevil (AKA Civil) and Marc de Jong (AKA marcsta). Tom Civil is exhibiting large illustrations of populations at war and peace in paint and marker pen on paper. These new stick-figure illustrations bare no resemblance to his old stencil art images. Except, in the underlying theme of human political, civil relationships and in the clarity of Civil’s communication. I have not seen Civil’s work for a while because I have not been looking in the right places, his illustrations are widely published and he has even been doing stencils on the Channel 10 TV show Guerrilla Gardeners. Marc de Jong is exhibiting a large series of parody public signs in green and white reflective signs and the illuminated “Exist” sign. Although this parody of civic communication and the well-ordered society with word play has been done many times before de Jong makes it fun and fresh with the use of local slang into play with: “She’ll Be Rite”.
At Famous When Dead there is a solo exhibition by Sydney street artist George Hambov (AKA ApeSeven) – House of the Wind Blown Clouds. This body of work has been exhibited twice before in Sydney but this my first sight of it.
Hambov’s paintings play with dynamic superhero robotic forms as art. The paintings have evidence of being handmade: drips, brush strokes, splatters and the surface built up on old Japanese newspaper stuck to canvas. And the images are as much formal explorations of design as illustration. The exhibition is like panels for a vast, never to be written comic book. The story of the robot anti-hero “3 of 5” and the alchemy that occurs it is exposed to ethereal power is the usual mix of the mythological science fiction or the unknown magic of superheroes. There is a wall painting and another little side part of the exhibition are three painted hipflask bottles, the “Katalyst” for the story, a technical achievement with the right paints and hairdryer George Hambov explained to me at the Friday night exhibition opening.
I haven’t been to Brunswick Street Gallery (BSG) for a while; it has changed a lot since I wrote my last review in my old blog. It now occupies two stories above Brunswick Street with numerous white walled gallery spaces, track lighting and dark wood.
The “first Brunswick Street Gallery Picture This 08 Prize” exhibition filled BSG’s galleries and it stairwells, hung salon style to fit in more photographs. There are some 900 photographs by about 300 photographers in this exhibition – far too many to make individual comments. I did recognize Matthew Harding’s photographs because I had seen them only last month in a larger format at RMIT’s 1st Site gallery. There is great variety of photographic techniques in this exhibition from duotones, b&w, color, and digital manipulated. And the subjects of the photographs are even more varied. The handwritten gallery cards with titles and prices are a bit shabby and some of the artists printed their own.
Not surprisingly with so many exhibitors and the sunny spring Saturday on Brunswick St. there were lots of people in BSG when I visited. And Brunswick St. remains the trend-setting, cultural heartland of Melbourne with its bars, cafés, restaurants and bookshops.
Slide in Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces doorway Tim Hillier’s video “Shackle me not”. The video features two men on a beach wearing a double hoodie, two hoodies sewn together along one side, like a garment for co-joined twins. The video is fun combining avant-garde body sculpture traditions from the 1970s with popular romantic images of running on the beach.
Seventh’s gallery two has “sonance”, a work of sonic and sculptural art by Miles Brown, Monica Zanchetta and Craig Love. It is beautiful and strange with musical influences from LaMonte Young and Luigi Russolo. I don’t know if the three white card pipes and horns contributed much acoustically, apart from allowing the listener to separate the sounds, but they looked the part magnificently.
At 696 artist and gardener Bernadettte Trench-Thiedeman had a small exhibition “Archeology” of pen and ink drawings. What is remarkable about this exhibition is its installation-like hanging. The whimsical drawings are on small linen kites that have become stuck in a tree, their strings trailing down. Bernadettte Trench-Thiedeman has been busy this year; she had the exhibition “Eat the City” at Platform and helped plant vertical garden at Melbourne Central. So the use of the tree branches for the installation is part of Trench-Thiedeman botanically influenced art practice.
There is a good circuit of galleries around Melbourne Central Station comprising Michael Koro Galleries on Franklin St, then across the road to West Space in Anthony St. and back to RMIT Gallery and 1st Site. It took me a bit over an hour to see it all, but RMIT Gallery was closed, and I spent some time photographing the stencil graffiti in the alley beside Michael Koro Galleries.
Michael Koro Galleries is a new commercial gallery on the ground floor of a two story old black building with Blender Studios out the back. There is a real estate agents sign on the building, a worrying indication that it may not last long. The gallery does nightly video projections on the galleries front window but I was visiting in daylight.
The current exhibition at Michael Koro Galleries is “Resist, Collaborate, Destroy” curated by Michael Meneghetti, an all-encompassing title for a contemporary art group show. In the unnamed side alley beside Bender Studio there is an unofficial part of the Melbourne Stencil Festival features some of the best stencil artists in the world.
I was hoping to see Regan Tamanui working in Blender studio but he was in NZ. I met and had a good talk with Doyle instead. Doyle runs Blender Studio and Michael Koro Galleries, is a Youth Arts Officer at the City of Yarra and had a sculpture in the current show at the gallery.
West Space, an artist-run gallery, has changed its configuration of gallery walls slightly but still have three gallery spaces. All three currently had exhibition from graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts. Kiron Robinson exhibit “The 17th of December 1987” consisted of two sets of fluorescent lights spelling out two phrases that might mean something to her or the viewer. Alasdair McLuckie installation ”Laelia and the seasons” had more content and some very detailed beading. McLuckie creates imaginary cultures and myths in his installations this time about the cycle of an imaginary calendar. Veronica Kent “Seymour” is an installation with sculpture of a little girl, a frog and lots of hair. Kent’s installation suggests a narrative, a myth or fable, but the viewer has to invent it.
1st Site, in the basement of RMIT also has three exhibition spaces. Matthew Harding was exhibiting panoramic photographs of Melbourne’s urban decay and ruin in Footscray, Nicholson St. and Kensington often prominently featuring graffiti. Harding documents these spaces of urban change and preserving the street art in the space. Ellara Woodlock was exhibiting quirky pencil drawings of an imaginary armless girl in a series titled “stories from a girlhood in an oil drum”. And Karri Cameron’s “Finding True North” is an installation searching in a darkened gallery for a direction with lights and shadows.
Fashions change in the art world, not always in dramatic ways, often in small trends. Two unrelated recent art trends are exposing raw canvas and whimsical illustrations in books.
At Seventh Gallery Julia Theobalt is showing paintings in the current fashion of hardedge, minimalist, abstracts with exposed raw brown linen support. It is the third exhibition that I have seen in this style in the last month. There is more of the same style just across the road in Dianne Tanzer Gallery, ‘Sweet Delirum’ by Louise Blyton. Blyton has been working in this style for several years now, she was exhibiting raw linen at Red Gallery in 2005, but now the trend has caught up with her. I first saw this raw canvas style last month at Stephen McLaughlan Gallery with the paintings of Jason Haufe.
This new style or trend is attractive and decorative in a minimalist way. The paint is very flat and the geometry more playful than rigorous. The sight of so much raw brown linen is new and appealing. It has been done before except for so much raw linen, that is the trend can be explained within art history. This trend may not be confined to minimalist abstract painters; Yvette Coppersmith uses raw unbleached linen very eloquently in her “Forever in Blue Jeans’ 2007.
Artists have stopped destroying books and making art out them, a trend that I was observing two years ago. They have returned to more traditional approach of making and illustrating books.
“The fashion world’s obsession with whimsical art in a book” Elle (US) (March 2008, p.282) If this is the case then Pierre Lloga’s children’s book “The Amazing Fleabomb” should do well. It is the story of cat that plays drums in a band. The colorful, endearing, whimsical illustrations are the main feature of the book. I was at 696 to enjoy the launch of the book. Pierre Lloga was also exhibiting the illustrations from the book in the small gallery. There was a small crowd of people at the opening but only one child.
Another artist that I have seen working in this whimsical style is Leith Walton. Walton’s watercolor and ink drawing at Brunswick Arts Entry 08 sold before the opening night. Walton is, not surprisingly, working on a children’s book.