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
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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).
“Margaret Francis Ellen Baskerville (1861-1930) was an artist, educator and Victoria’s first professional female sculptor. During her 50-year career she produced several notable works including the Alexandra War Memorial, Maryborough War Memorial, the Edith Cavell Memorial, the James Cuming, Footscray and the Ernest Wood Memorial Plaque, St Paul’s Cathedral. Margaret’s studio from where she created her sculptures was located in close vicinity to this lane.”
I was surprised to see the panel because, apart from a sculpture nerd like myself, would have even heard of Margaret Baskerville? Who else would care about an obscure turn of last century sculptor? The plaque is the work of the Victorian Women’s Trust, UEM Sunrise, a member of UEM Group, and Probuild. It is part of the art washing around the Aura tower construction site in the middle of the city.
It was on a wall in a lane so new that Google maps has not yet included it. It is on the north side of La Trobe Street, near the intersection of Swanston Street. The lane is part of a pedestrian detour over four times longer than the blocked footpath that has lasted many months. And this morsel of art history is to somehow ameliorate this inconvenience.
I am interested in Baskerville only because of her public sculpture. I didn’t know about the studio that plaque refers to or even how many studios Margaret Baskerville had in Melbourne over her career? When I last looked into it, I found that she had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914, and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Baskerville’s studio then was behind Assembly Hall in Collins Street; obviously, she had another studio near La Trobe Street at another time.
Maybe it was when she received her first public commission for the Thomas Bent statue. Tommy Bent was the kind of crooked politician and state premier that Australia is famous for, who corruptly enriched himself through public office. The kind who needs a larger-than-life statue to be impressive enough compared to their shortcomings. Originally, it stood at the Nepean Highway and Bay Street intersection in Brighton; it was moved to Bay Street in the 1970s.
Aside from being the first public commission given to a female sculptor in Victoria, the Bent statue is the first bronze sculpture in Australia to be welded together with an oxy-acetylene jet from cast pieces (before that, statues were riveted together). In the case of the Bent statue, there were over sixty pieces. Not that Baskerville did the welding or the casting (or the stone caving in later projects), her role in the project was to sculpt the clay model.
Baskerville found that Victoria’s first professional female sculptor was not always a disadvantage. She received the commission for the Maryborough War Memorial because the committee raising the money were all women and favoured giving the commission to a woman. And by the time she received her final commission for the Nurse Edith Cavell Memorial, she was not the only professional female sculptor in the state. By then, Ola Cohn was also at work.
Looking down on an entire laneway painted blue from the pavement to the third storey. Pieces in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane don’t last very long before they are tagged or painted over. Getting photographs of fresh street art is an art in itself, requiring dedication and a commitment to following social media.
Lou Chamberlin Burn City – Melbourne’s Painted Streets (Hardie Grant Travel, 2017)
Books of photographs are an established part of the street art scene, and publishing about street art is a crowded scene. And Melbourne based writer and photographer Chamberlin has created several books on street art: Urban Scrawl: Street Art Text in the City (Hardie Grant 2019), Street art international (Explore Australia Publishing 2016), Street Art: Australia (Explore Australia Publishing 2015), Street Art: Melbourne (Explore Australia Publishing 2013), Street art: Rio (Blurb Creative Publishing, 2012), and Street art: Melbourne (Blurb Creative Publishing, 2012). She provides more text than Land of Sunshine but less than most books; chapter introductions and then a paragraph here and there with a bit more information about one or two of the artist.
Burn City is organised into chapters by content: face, fauna, abstraction (and there is a surprising amount of abstract work, an antidote to all the aerosol realism). Then there is the artist’s intention to create an illustrative storytelling style. Or to raise social and political issues (politicians are as proud of their representations in street art as they are of political cartoons). And finally, two chapters on the structure of the street art in the streetscape, one with images of painting whole buildings and pavements, bins, and traffic signal boxes. And the other looks at the same wall with new paint; this final chapter emphasises the ephemeral aspect of street art, justifying the photographic record of what once was.
It is worth pointing out that this is a travel photo book about an attractive aspect of a place at the intersection of art and travel. The spectacle of urban murals as a tourist attraction, a destination to visit, something to see and photograph. And although the foreword is written by David Hurlston, the Senior Curator of Australian Art at the NGV, he does write about the geographic spread of Melbourne’s street art and how it reaches walls and silos in regional Victoria.
I’m checking out the craft market in part of one of the sheds of Victoria Market, looking for a few gifts. So I have to go and see the graffiti in Lovelands. Loveland’s was a mass of lanes off Franklin Street, and it was one of the best places in the city for street art and graffiti. I last saw its aerosol covered walls back in July 2021, just before Melbourne went into its long final lockdown, and there was construction going on.
There has been a lot of construction in the area, and so much has changed. Memories from the late 90s of having lunch with Stephan Schutt, Juan Ford and the Looksmart editorial team at the Mercat.
After the crowds of the market, it is almost empty. A trio of women take photographs of each other at the entrance to the little parking lot.
Recent street signs designated that it has become Kulinbulok Lane and Kulinbulok Place. New places created in the ever-expanding apartment building boom in Melbourne.
Melbourne doesn’t have many squares because its original designers believed that they would promote democracy. Now there is this odd little square at Kulinbulok Place. It was empty, but it looked like a discreet place to drink. But what are they expected to them to do with the empties? What it needs is a bottle recycling bin. Aside from bike racks and seats, there are no other amenities.
It doesn’t look like there has been any fresh graffiti or street art since I was last here.
Around the corner is another fading location for street art. Blender Lane used to house Blender Studios (now located in West Melbourne). There is still a construction site down the end, and it, too, is looking a bit old, and GT Sewell’s dragon/clown has been damaged. It is empty, apart from a couple of construction workers leaving the site. Memories of it packed with people after an exhibition opening or a far better craft market than was offered at Victoria Market.
Like Lovelands, very little has changed in the lane in the last year, but someone had added some surreal framed works like they do in Presgrave Lane. “I believe”, “I wonder”, and lots of eyes. But if my eyes want to see any fresh work, I will have to go elsewhere.
What is the future for these two lanes? I don’t have crystal balls, so I don’t know. Presgrave Place became disused for a couple of years only to start again, largely due to the efforts of Kranky. Reviving them would only take a couple of artists.