Tag Archives: Melbourne

Created in the last lockdown

On Tuesday night, there were two exhibitions opening at fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit gallery on Flinders Lane in Melbourne: William Eicholtz ‘Greedy Pixiu’ and James Grant ‘Retreat’. Both were created during last year’s lockdown but the sense doom has not left Melbourne.

William Eicholtz, Pufnpixiu

There were a few cases of COVID-19 in greater Melbourne that night, and masks became mandatory indoors at 6pm. I’ve had one shot of the vaccine, and I was determined to get to another exhibition opening before another lockdown. Not even Melbourne’s cold, wet weather was going to keep me away.

At the exhibition opening, William Eicholtz told me about last year and being alone in the studio, which he usually shares with four other people, without a model, without students, without commissions, wondering what to do. There were many artists, musicians, dancers, etc., in Melbourne wondering the same thing.

“I first saw pixiu, a pan Asian mythological chimera, on an artist’s residency in Beijing… Alone in my studio, the sketches I had done of Pixiu years before beckoned to me, and this group of sculptures was born.”

Made from glazed earthenware ceramics, some with embedded vintage Swarovski rhinestones, the pixiu are meant to represent good fortune through greed and over-indulgence. Money-boxes that you will never open. Others are greedily consuming social media or chocolate or eating lotuses. Other pairs of pixiu are dressed up in various costumes, invasive species, cicadas, and even 70s tv dragon H.R. Pufnstuf.

James Grant, Liv’s Apartment (photo courtesy of Grant)

In the large gallery at fortyfivedownstairs was James Grant’s ‘Retreat’. Landscapes and still life of the familiar world around Collingwood, Fitzroy and East Melbourne. Scenes of living rooms, artist’s studios, garages build on the modern democratic attitude of depicting the ordinary rather than the great and the grand. A world full of stuff, books with recognisable titles and products with labels. Paintings that show an appreciation and enjoyment of local life. Familiar environment because we were all looking at similar scenes for so much last year. Retreating from the pandemic, we watched our world become smaller and smaller.

On reading Grant’s artist statement, ‘Retreat’ turned out to be another lockdown inspired exhibition. I emailed him to let him know about his blog post, and he told me about painting them in his home studio in Collingwood during the second lockdown.

I left the exhibition opening minutes before mask-wearing became mandatory and headed home. Victoria is now in a fourth lockdown. Back to drinking Shiraz, doom-scrolling Twitter and getting flashbacks of last year.

These, and all other exhibitions, performances, etc., will close for at least the next seven days. Some might be able to go online, others may be rescheduled, but the majority will have to be cancelled. Remember that these two exhibitions represent about half a year’s work for the two artists. The resilience of Melbourne’s culture looks like it will be determined through destructive testing.

James Grant, Fitzroy Houses (photo courtesy of Grant)
William Eicholtz Cornocopia Pixiu

Australian Art Terrorists

A few Australian groups have acted or threatened to take action outside of the law to achieve artistic and cultural objectives. Most are right-wing conservatives — so much for the so-called ‘cancel culture’ of the left.

A.C.T. target Picasso’s Weeping Woman

In 2003 the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places threatened to destroy a number of pieces of public art. That the “spokesman, Dave Jarvoo, told The Australian newspaper” about the threat speaks to the conservative taste of this so-called Revolutionary Council. The fact is that they were all talk and no action, and the spuriously named, Dave Jarvoo appears to be the only member of this organisation. 

Their targets were modern sculptures Fairfield Industrial Dog Object and in Sydney; Ken Unsworth’s Stones Against the Sky ‘poo sticks’ in Kings Cross and Brett Whiteley’s Almost Once giant matches behind the Art Gallery of NSW. David Fickling for The Guardian came up with several more deserving targets in Sydney (see his article), and I could do the same for Melbourne (perhaps in another post). (Thanks to Vetti Live in Northcote for drawing my attention to the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places.)

The Australian Cultural Terrorists (aka A.C.T.) stole Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV, held it to ransom and then returned it undamaged. They seem to have twice as many members as Dave Jarvoo’s Revolutionary Council; at least one man and, maybe, one woman. They were more successful than the Revolutionary Council but, perhaps, no more radical given their demands for more art prizes for local artists. They had no follow up aside from stories that the following year they also wrote some  libellous letters about people in Australia’s art world. The A.C.T. wrote lots of jeering, satirical letters, several of them attacking state Arts Minister, Race Mathews.

To this list, we could add the Catholic Church for their attack on Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in the NGV. Graffiti writers, like Pork, that cap and tag as a form of conquest and censorship. And BUGA-UP, graffiti to stop tobacco advertising, vigilantes with a specific type of art, selling a particular message in mind, not exactly the artistic kind but still ‘art’ in the advertising copy sense.

Revolutionary Council target Fairfield Industrial Dog Object


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.


COVID-19, street art and graffiti

Melbourne street art and graffiti riffs on topical themes, and, currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most topical. And there has been a mix of politics and personal responses in street art and graffiti.

This is not a collection trawled from the internet, to attract page views without knowledge or information on the background, but a limited selection that I have gathered on my walks in Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg. Some of these images have appeared in previous blog posts, but there is also some new work. Cell Out paste-up in Hosier Lane refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine’s problems.

In a surprising practical move, the City of Melbourne stuck social distancing markers in Hosier Lane. It is one of Melbourne’s tourist hotspot, but without international tourists, there are now far fewer people in the lane.

I saw a couple of visual references to the virus combined with other images. The grenade is obviously explosive. The tennis ball is a reference to the 2021 Australian Open spreading the virus, remembering that the state government favoured sporting events over culture consistently during Melbourne’s several lockdowns.

Stickers were the most political media on the street during the pandemic. They focused on state politics. Although State Premier Daniel Andrews gained many fanatical supporters during the pandemic, he was also hated by others. (I have the opposite view to Daniel Andrews on many things. He supports the police and cutting down trees, whereas I support cutting down the police and not trees.)

Given Victoria Police’s history of racism and connection to extreme right-wing politics, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, I was surprised that I didn’t see more graffiti and street art about the use of police to enforce the lockdown.

Other pieces were more personal and representing the change of image from wearing masks. Given that graf writers tend to mask up anyway it wasn’t much of a change.


Jinks @ the Hellenic Museum

The shock and awe of encountering the goddess Iris, apparently in the flesh. Not that the woman with golden wings is delivering a message, her usual role. Installed in a darkened room in front of a large pool reflecting like a mirror. Why is Iris pouring a jug? Nectar for the gods to drink or water from the River Styx to swear by? Or simply watering the clouds for rain?

Sam Jinks, Iris

Imagine if you were an ancient Greek and encountered Sam Jinks life-sized statue of Iris in a temple. Jinks is a Melbourne-based, super-realist sculptor. The ancient use of polychromatic paints on statues, ivory eyes, gold leaf, and other elements that have been largely destroyed by time. There are even reports of animatronic sculptures in temples in ancient Greece. We have been taught to forget all the colour looking at the white marble remains. And the unpainted white marble has become a racist symbol of ‘civilisation’.

However, there were no temples to Iris, a minor divine figure, a servant of the Olympian gods, sent to deliver a handful of messages, to collect water, and pour drinks. Some say that she the mother of Eros, others that Iris carried the young Nemean lion in her girdle from the sea to the mountains. Her appearance on the Parthenon is her most glorious moment; a running woman, her light linen chiton rippling with the movement.

Why show a messenger in a contemplative and static pose? Was it just an excuse to make a winged woman? These questions beat like the wings of Iris, rattling like wings of pigeons, around the quiet galleries of the Hellenic Museum. Why? Was it just an excuse?

The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne is an odd mix between art, antiquities, history and cultural exhibitions. It describes itself as “inspiring a passion for Greek history, art and culture”. It is also located in Melbourne’s old mint, which, apart from its Neo-classical facade, has nothing to do with Hellenic culture. The old mint is an attractive nineteenth-century building with an impressive walk-in vault, as you might expect to find in a mint.

Jinks is not the only artist with an exhibition at the Hellenic Museum. In front of the building, there is Renegades, a street-art/graffiti-inspired installation out the front of the building by a Spanish urban artist, PichiAvo. Inside, along with Iris, there is a photography installation by Bill Henson, Oneiroi, in an attractive dark nineteenth-century room. However, the photographs of Greek landscapes and backs of women’s heads were bland and uninspiring. As well as a room of contemporary icon paintings. There was also a room of contemporary icon paintings.

Most of the Hellenic Museum is not art but exhibitions of archaic Greek and ancient Greek antiquities: pottery, jewellery, statues, marble carving, helmets and weapons. There are even some Roman marble carving and enough red-figure vases to satisfy most people’s interest. The rest of the exhibitions are about modern Greek history and culture, much of it donated by the local community members. These are focused on establishing the modern Greek nation with folk costumes, jewellery, pistols and other antiques.

One curious feature of the Hellenic Museum was that there no signs in Greek. After visiting many antiquities museums in Greece that had signs in English, it felt odd. They would be of no use to me, but as Melbourne has one of the largest Greek-speaking population of any city in the world, they would be helpful to some people. For all the talk of multi-cultural Australia, there is almost no public paid signs anywhere in languages other than English.


Stuck on Stickers II

Kids love stickers. Bumper stickers and other self-adhesive messages have been around since 1935 when Stan ‘the Sticker Man’ Avery invented a machine to manufacture them. With street art stickers underwent a change in identity and context from promotional to person and from the bumper to the street.

Walk along any street, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seoul or Singapore, you will see stickers. They may be on the backs of signs, on utility boxes, or elsewhere as local custom demands, but you will find them somewhere. And often in clusters.

There is a mystery to stickers because there is no way to determine what they mean until you look closely at them. Is it a kind of tag, street art or political, or is it advertising? Is it advertising or the logo manipulations, politics and puns of culture jamming? Maybe several, thinking about the politics around the “Sticker Lady” (aka Sam Lo) in Singapore. For these sets are not exclusive, and there is considerable overlap.

“Hello, my name is” one of the common kinds of stickers. An extension of tagging, slapping down an old conference name-tag sticker with the tag written on it, rather than risking writing the tag on the street. The linear progress along a route mapped by the placement of the same sticker.

Once identity became the stickers’ objective, like tags, a place with one sticker leads to more. The accretion of stickers in a location is like a dog pissing on a post to show other dogs that it was there. Sticker collects at way-posts. The collective greeting that stickers represent, gathering places around the city slowed down to the speed of sticker accretion. The Cherry Bar’s disused windows in AC/DC lane, the old elevator doors in the Degraves Street underpass, the backs of so many street signs, the supports for power poles…

I recognise many of the stickers in Melbourne, it is broader than just street artists and graffiti writers. There are stickers from people who are not street artists but are on the edge of street art: street art collectors, street art photographers and dog walkers. Contemporary artists join in condensing their philosophy down to an aphoristic slogan: “The truth is a copy” from Joel Gailer.

For more on stickers, there is my post from 2009 Stuck on Stickers.


After another lockdown

After yet another lockdown, after the other two lockdowns, not going out for what felt like half a year, after a heatwave, I am standing in the light rain on the steps of Parliament. Police and some protest march are approaching.

What am I doing?

Kerrie Poliness Parliament Steps Walking Drawing

I am photographing and looking at the public art project by Kerrie Poliness. Parliament Steps Walking Drawing is part of ACCA’s current exhibition. A large-scale participatory, geometric chalk drawing by Poliness and volunteers done at the start of the month is now being washed away in the rain.

I’m putting in the leg work. So much has changed; what was once familiar streets are strange. I’m trying to find something to write a blog post. But now, with the demonstration approaching Parliament, it is time to take some photographs.

Is this an anti-lockdown protest? There aren’t many people and they are all wearing white. It turns out to be Zero Suicide Victoria, people who want the government to pay more attention to the issue. I listen to them for a bit. The first speaker wants a Minister for Men because suicide is mostly a mens’ problem in Australia.

I think that if we want to bring the suicide rate down we need to make deeper changes to the way we live and think. We are in many ways a suicidal culture destroying the planet, poisoning ourselves, and driving our speices to extinction in a new four wheel drive.

An exhibition of John Kelly’s paintings at Smith & Singer on Collins Street is unlikely to help. More pictures of fake cows for the very wealthy who like their art based around a single anecdote. Maybe writing a review of Madrid-based Colectivo Ayllu’s lithographs on exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop would be better. Their collage aesthetic has an anti-colonial discourse about the savagery of the Spanish exploitation of the Americas.

Maybe I should write about how we now visit galleries. Everyone is wearing masks inside and most people are wearing them outside. The maximum capacity notices at the door. We are checking in with a QR code on our phones or with pre-booked free tickets. QR codes everywhere, some galleries are even using them instead of room sheets to give the titles.

Or maybe I should write more about public art and outdoor exhibitions, like the International Festival of Photography Photo 2021 that I encounter in various locations around the city. Sarah Oscar’s Most Wanted series pasted-up like posters in Hosier Lane juxtaposed with a street artist’s paste-up of standover man, Chopper Read. Other works in the exhibition are five storeys tall, on the side of a building, and more on a billboard in Collingwood. Although sometimes it is hard to work out what is part of the exhibition because there is so much photography in the city.

What will happen to all of this? Washed away like chalk drawings in the rain.


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