Tag Archives: Melbourne

Off The Grid

“Off The Grid: Invader and Melbourne Street Art in the early 2000s” is a small exhibition with a lot of depth at the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall. Curator, writer and photographer Lachlan MacDowall discovers ingenious connections between the inventor of computers, Charles Babbage, the surveyor of Melbourne’s streets, William Hoddle, the game Space Invaders and Melbourne street art in the early 2000s.

The salvaged work by Invader in Off The Grid

The hub of these connections is the French artist Invader, who unites computer graphics with Melbourne’s grid of streets. His grid of tiles depicts aliens from the Space Invaders game. In 2002 Invader was in Melbourne, sticking his work around the city; a year before, Banksy visited in 2003. The grid and alien invasion also come together in Melbourne with the imperial occupation of the Kulin nation’s lands.

Invader’s work can still be seen on the streets, and the ceramic tiles have aged well. One of Invader’s pieces has ended up in the collection of the City of Melbourne due to it being salvaged from demolishing the part of the Melbourne Arts Centre next to Princes Bridge. Invader’s work can still be seen on the streets, and the ceramic tiles have aged well. 

MacDowall also refers to local artists Crateman, Sunfigo, GoonHugs, and Andy Uprock, “… combining grids with everyday materials – milk crates, twine, plastic cups and stickers”. Pointing out that these art works “display their source code, inviting the viewer to copy and remake them.” An invitation many people took up, resulting in a diverse, dynamic and inventive street art scene.

This “open source ethic” of street art in the early 2000s has largely been replaced with closed-source proprietary techniques and locations of the muralists who obscure the grids of their enlargements. These do not invite the viewer to copy; the scale and techniques are too intimidating to try. This is intentional, for there are commercial opportunities that weren’t there for street artists in the early 2000s.

Although the exhibition is small, just one Invader piece, half-a-dozen photographs, a couple of documents, a video, and some wall text, the small booklet accompanying it is a little gem. There is an essay by MacDowall taking you deeper into the subject accompanied by more of his dramatic photographs of street art along with a map of Melbourne locations of Invader’s work. Unlike so many exhibition essays MacDowall’s Off The Grid was an engaging read (all the quotes in this post are from that essay).


Presgrave Place

A place where the art is glued to the wall.

The picture frames glued to the brick wall were the first elements to appear. These had cheap prints of European art in them at first. The prints have long since decayed, but the frames are still on the wall and used by other artists. Over the years, more frames and more original art has been added. Frames now cover much of the wall. It is a story of accumulation because Presgrave Place has never been buffed, unlike the aerosol-covered laneways.

In 2007, the lane and its frames appeared in ABC’s Not Quite Art presented by Marcus Westbury, when Melbourne’s street art scene had been around for about a decade. In 2008 there was also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. (My 2008 blog post on Presgrave Place.)  

Presgrave Place is a remnant of the service lanes of Melbourne, an open-air dead end trapped between several small shopping malls. A few businesses still store their bins around the corner, but it is not an unpleasant place. It is not the easiest place to find as it is off Howey Place, which is off Little Collins Street (opposite David Jones).

At the entrance to the lane, high up on the wall, there is a cast concrete sign, a geometric panel with a sign announcing the Capital Theatre and emulating the crystalline ceiling of the theatre. According to eMelbourne, the Capitol Theatre’s workshop was in Presgrave Place in 1961. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony designed this piece of mid-century modernism. 

Kranky’s art and energy revived the location in 2016. (See my post Presgrave Place Renaissance.) Now, the continued presence of work by the Ninja of Street Art and many other artists keeps it active.

Presgrave Place ranks number 18 in Stephen’s 24 Best Laneways in Melbourne. I would include it in my top 10 street art locations in Melbourne’s CBD. It is the smaller, lesser-known, long-running location for Melbourne Street art, but Presgrave Place rarely disappoints. Few things change in Presgrave Place, not even the street art. The art will be left on the wall until it rots away, adapted into another work, like the original frames glued to its walls.

I have written about many artists in other blog posts: SunfigoPhoenixCalmVKM (Vikki Murray), Mr Dimples, and Facter. Other artists whose work that you might see include Manda Lane, who created all the foliage, pot plants and the wonderful paper-cut cats at the end of the lane. Crisp is the thinking person’s sci-fi fan; if anyone needs a stencil spray-painted Star Wars meme, then Crisp can supply them with added political content. Stencils of birds by Edie Black. Paste-up women by Suki. Jayeff with the smiling eye. Kambeeno’s red, white and black paste-ups… G.T. Sewell, Michael Fikaris, Vinks, Happy … it would would take hours to list them all.

If you have been breathing those aerosol fumes or straining your neck looking at those giant murals for too long, then Presgrave Place is the place to go. It is distinctly different from the aerosol paint and fame of Hosier Lane.


Enjoying the absence of Batman

In the light of the removal of the statue of James Cook in Cooktown earlier this year and the Hobart City Council’s decision to remove the statue of the racist head-hunter and state premier William Crowther earlier this month, I look at the absence of two others. And find out what happens when statues of the city’s founders are removed.

At 433 Collins Street, on a block bounded by Collins, William and Market Streets, and Flinders Lane, amidst Melbourne’s cathedrals of commerce, the gothic revival banks, with their carved stone and stained glass windows, there once stood an icon of modernism. Built in 1964, the National Mutual Building had 20 floors of office space, a retail area and a rooftop restaurant.

In front of it, the modernist architecture continued with a wide forecourt, with steps, concrete paver, and planters. Symbolic of the capitalism of the area, the Melbourne pub-rock band, Painters and Dockers, played “Die Yuppie! Die!” in the plaza. Also in the plaza, symbolic of implicit greed, were two statues celebrating the colonial establishment of Melbourne. The two figures were distanced, for neither were friends: John Batman and William Fawkner.

Gary Foley was decades ahead of the Black Lives Matter when he put the statue of Batman on trial in 1991. Foley and fellow activist Robbie Thorpe put the figure of Batman on trial for his genocide against the Indigenous population of Tasmania, rape, theft and trespass. Of course,  Batman was found guilty, anyone who looks at the evidence would know that, but there was a desperate Australian nationalism that wanted to ignore it.

Its end came in 2012 when a slab smashed onto the forecourt. The ‘experimental’ architecture attaching the skin to the building was failing. The building sat empty, waiting for demolition. The statue of Batman by Stanley Hammond was removed without any bullshit by the site’s developers. The two statues are currently in storage, there are no plans for them, and it is unlikely they will ever return to public view. And for those concerned, Melbourne still has more than enough Batman memorials.

What has been put in place of Batman and Fawkner is more engaging. The seventies were severe, hard-edge geometric. You could sit around the raised garden beds and statues, but it wouldn’t be comfortable. Around the new building, there is a native, drought-resistant garden flowing down the hill. Instead of a bronze figure, there is a bronze fountain in the shape of a Banksia seed pod. A water feature that uses very little water. It wanders playfully between rocks and can be opened and closed with a sluice gate. Nearby a water wall flows down the side of the building.

There has been no evidence of any loss of knowledge of history nor any sanitisation of history. Nor was there any other disaster predictions made about removing statues in recent years because they were uninformed brainfarts from conservative commentators. Instead, it appears that people are enjoying the absence of Batman.


Sime Thornton

I’m sorry to learn that Sime Thornton died earlier this year. A funny guy with humour that didn’t put people down but gave them joy. His cartoons entertained many who saw them on the streets.

He listed his skills on Linkedin as “Taking a pen for a wander. Smashing ideas together like lumps of play-doh. Smashing ideas together like lumps of play-doh. Making innocent bystanders smile. Enlistment officer for Royal Melbourne Flying Monkey Corps.”

I did not have the pleasure of Thornton’s acquaintance, but I was familiar with his insightful and humorous cartoons. A clear and concise line often commented on the street artists around him. Drawn in ink and stuck them up in many of Melbourne’s prime street art locations. Often they are on canvas or wood for greater durability (they will last even longer online). BYST


The Michael Gudinski statue

With one finger, the statue of Michael Gudinski outside the Rod Laver Arena points to the sky. A strange gesture – reminiscent of da Vinci’s John the Baptist. However, unlike da Vinci’s Baptist, Gudinski is not recommending the heavens but looking at the stars; he has promoted many music stars.

The Mushroom Group (aka Mushroom Records) founder Gudinski emphasises the ‘Entertainment’ part of the precinct. The mushrooms on the base signify the Mushroom Group that Gudinski founded. Over the years, many of the bands that he represented played in the arena.

The distinction between “Arts” and “Entertainment” is part of the collective consciousness, divided by the Yarra River and built into the city’s fabric. Like the arts precinct on the Southbank, Both have extensive parklands, trains, and trams. Melbourne’s entertainment district is the sports stadiums, which are regularly used for large stadium concerts, on the north bank of the Yarra River.

When I looked, some real dry stems were amidst the bronze mushrooms. The remains of some flowers. Gudinski is still being mourned a little over a year after his death on 2 March 2021. But what will it mean in a couple of decades? Who will recognise him then? Curiously, Gudinski’s name is in stone and, on a bronze plaque on the back of the plinth that gives more details about his life and words “Forever #1”.  As if there was already some uncertainty of him being recognised.

Why does Melbourne need another statue? Celebrating music in bronze appears pointless. The three-dimensional representations of an abstract experience of organised sound seem to contradict Hegelian aesthetics. Rock now shares the money and influence with high-end culture for some odd memorials. That more of Melbourne’s music heroes are celebrated in bronze statues should be no surprise. In my review of the Mushroom Records exhibition at RMIT Gallery in 2014, I wrote, “rock music always wanted to be part of the establishment.”  

It must have been a tight schedule for the Meridian Sculpture Foundry in Fitzroy team to complete the statue, remembering that making a bronze statue is a team effort. The figure was made by Darien Pullen, Meridian’s senior mould maker and wax technician. The casting and coloured patination on the surface of the bronze statue is the work of others. Peter Morley, the founder of Meridian, has created different patinas to make Gudinski’s overcoat darker than his body. This is achieved by gently blow-torching a cocktail of chemicals sprayed onto the sculpture’s surface.

After Louis Laumen’s sculpture of Molly Meldrum, I’d heard that the next music star in the line for the memorial sculpture was Micheal Hutchins. Laumen’s staid portrait of Meldrum in his cowboy hat holding one of his dogs and his other hand with a thumbs up is the least rocking of Melbourne’s rock tributes. There are also laneway tributes to Bon Scott of AC/DC and Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls and a shrine to Elvis in the Melbourne General Cemetery.  

Darien Pullen, Michael Gudinski, 2022

Melbourne Street Art notes

Some notes about Melbourne’s street art:

Should Melbourne’s street art-covered lanes receive heritage protection? There has been no action yet, but the calls for protection are getting louder. However, how do you protect ephemeral art that thrived on neglected urban walls from change and redevelopment? 

There is a fun collection of images of cats at the far end of Presgrave Place. There is washing hanging on the lines of electric lights above the lane and with some of the best stencils and sculptural street art

What is a lost form?  

A Series of sculptures, including unauthorised interventions

B Stack of three cubes with a globe one quarter sunk into a top corner

C Just some more Melbourne street art

D All of the above

Yes, they have been around for a while, and I love the sticker “Your form?” reply to them on the wall of Rutledge (off Hosier Lane).

Dan Worth, Mask Emoji

I saw a carving of a mask emoji in Hosier Lane that reminded me of the work of Dan Worth in his Social Hieroglyphics exhibition. Worth informed me that his carved stone mask emoji was “installed it on the 15th of march 2020 and coincidentally later that day we got a state of emergency announcement about going into lockdown.”  

Shout out to Phoenix, VKM and Kasper. Thanks to all the street artists for keeping Melbourne weird, even the silly people following that South Australian trend for sticking googly eyes. 


Animal (the exhibition)

Bruce Armstrong’s eagle (Bunjil) is known across Naarm/Melbourne, his carved beasts that guarded the entrance to the NGV in the 1990s. There are more of his eagles at the entrance to Hyatt Hotel.

Bruce Armstrong at & Gallery

I came to see the works by Bruce Armstrong, but there is more to the “Animal” exhibition than just his beasts. “Animal” is an exhibition of work by nine established and mid-career artists, including Bruce Armstrong, depicting a variety of animals in a variety of media. & Gallery is a commercial contemporary art gallery located in the Atrium in Fed Square opposite the NGV, where previously there was a glass-art gallery (as well as, a branch in Sorrento).

In the exhibition, Armstrong’s smaller bronze edition of the Hyatt Eagles and NGV guardians, along with other small sculptures, paintings and works on paper. Armstrong carves the image of an animal in two dimensions in the same way he carves wood. Rough-hewn lines cutting through space, rendered in pastel, ink and shellac on paper. Cutting to what is necessary to represent a cat curled up.

However, Jenny Crompton’s wire crochet sea life, hanging in the gallery’s window, first caught my eye. The intricate white painted wire strange bodies bedecked with resin jewels looked alien and life-like. And yet, like, us, they have a body with mirror symmetry, a top and bottom.

On entering the gallery, Emily Valentine Bullock’s chimerical dogs with wings and feathers held my attention. These magical creatures combine contemporary art, jewellery and taxidermy, for Bullock is a jeweller who specialises in working with feathers. What kind of world would it be with flying dogs?

There are also ceramic sculptures of dogs and cats by Lynne Bechaervaise. Anna Glynn’s paintings of dream-like-cloud horses are influenced by Chinese painting. Cash Brown’s oil painted copies of animals from details of old master paintings.

Susan Reddrop’s beautiful and natural sea-life in cast lead crystal, Susan Crookes paintings of dogs and Mark Cuthbertson’s cast concrete bears and sinister rabbit. Cuthbertson’s rough economic forms are the closest in style to Armstrong’s animals.

What would it be like to be another animal, especially a seahorse, a jellyfish or lobster? Non-human animals and fantastic mutant creatures feature prominently in contemporary art. They are no longer symbols like a lion nor a possession like a horse or a cow. The animal is the other with life, values, and preconceptions different to our own. Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand him” in his posthumous Philosophical Investigations (II 190).


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