Tag Archives: mosaics

Time & Tiles

Mirka Mora’s broad brushstrokes and whimsical figures translate well into the medium of mosaic. Wall mosaics were once the popular media for public art in Melbourne and there are some that have aged well, for example, the Flinders Street Station Mural by Mirka Mora, 1986. The mural is on the inside wall at the Yarra river end of the station next to Clock’s Restaurant. The entire wall is not a mosaic, only the central panel is, the decorative upper frieze is painted and the lower border is painted with low-relief outlines. Tiled wall mosaics are expensive undertakings, in materials and time. A single artist cannot be completed a large mosaic without assistants. In creating the Flinders Street Station Mural Mirka Mora was assisted by Nicola McGann, who now works a Victorian company, Tactile Mosaics, and Brandon Scott McFadden, who currently lectures at Box Hill Institute. Mirka Mora also created a mosaic mural at St. Kilda Pier.

Mirka Mora, Flinders Street Station Mural, 1986

detail Flinders St. Station mural

The bronze didactic plaque for the Flinders Street Station Mural refers to the two other major public mosaics in Melbourne: at Newspaper House and the East Hill Fire Station (see my post: The Legend of Harold Freedman). The Flinders Street Station Mural is a typical laughing response by Mirka Mora to the high seriousness of these earlier mosaics.

“Communication” by M. Napier Waller, 1933, is a large wall mosaic on the first floor of the front of Newspaper House in Collins Street. The slogan “I’ll put a girdle round the world” (Shakespeare, Midsummer Nights Dream) that runs across the top of the mosaic is a reference to  the newspapers, The Herald & Weekly Times and not corsetry. Typical for the time the mosaic’s conservative late 19th Century style incorporates a few modern references including a car and train. A copy of newspaper The Herald is directly behind the central trumpet-blowing figure. Although mosaic was made in 1933 it bears the date 3 January 1840 in Roman numerals (“III January MDCCCXXXX) for the founding of The Herald. There are other murals and wall mosaics by Waller at the University of Melbourne and in Melbourne’s CBD including the mosaic “Prometheus”, 1967, Monash House foyer, William St, Melbourne.

M. Napier Waller, “Communication”, 1933

detail of "Communication"

There are other buildings with less artistic and grand mosaics in Melbourne. Near the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth St. Flinders Arcade has is tiled façade. The tiles have the image of a golden sun that a metal skeletal figure of a crowned merman armed with a trident in front of it. There is a hard edge abstract mosaic on the side of the building on the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders St. in Melbourne, a faded folly of high modernism.

Ceramic tile wall mosaics in Melbourne might appear to be a trivial topic in art history. Most have dated badly, none of them are masterpieces but they draw attention to an ignored part of Melbourne. Melbourne used to have a lot more tiles. The outside and inside walls of Melbourne’s pubs were tiled, making it easy to wash the vomit off. There were tiled mosaics sign for shops, still visible in some of the older shops, like the “Buckley and Nunn” sign above David Jones, as well as, higher up above the second floor windows.

Although mosaics are durable they do require some maintenance  – the Flinders Street Station Mural was restored in 1998. But due to their durability wall mosaics will continue in contemporary Melbourne public art such as Pamela Irving recent mosaics at Patterson Station.

The Legend of Harold Freedman

Does anyone else hate the murals around Melbourne? I hate them when they preach, or when they are out-dated community projects sadly painted by school children or some artist similarly out of their depth with such a large project. Most of these murals are band-aid solutions to ugly architecture. And even when they are painted by a competent artist they really need a “use by” or “best before” date stamp on them. The worst of all these murals is on the Eastern Hill Fire Station.

Harold Freedman, The Legend of Fire, 1982, mosaic

Harold Freedman’s mosaic “The Legend of Fire” 1982 covers one wall of the Eastern Hill Fire Brigade’s headquarters in Albert Street, East Melbourne. This huge mosaic mural is 5 floors high and boasts over one million glass mosaic tiles. The image in a conservative, neo-classical style complete with ancient Greek gods would have looked dated in comic books of the time; Freedman had worked as a cartoonist from 1936 – 1938. Uncertain that this didactic mural would be properly understood there is a large bronze plaque providing a detailed explanation for public edification. It was a huge investment in a work of public art two years after the removal of Ron Robertson-Swann’s sculpture “Vault” from the city square.

detail, Harold Freedman, The Legend of Fire

Harold Freedman (1915-1999) specialized in murals depicting the history of a subject like fire for the Fire Station. He painted murals on Australian aviation for the Australian War Memorial, Australian football for Waverly Park, Australian racing for Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne’s transport for the old Spencer Street Station (reinstalled in the new and renamed Southern Cross Station in 2006). Freedman’s enormous history murals incorporated multiple images with a bland illustrative realism that had all the artistry of a textbook, harking to his drawings of procedures for assembling weapons that were used in a training manual in WWII. Freedman’s art is the Australian equivalent of Soviet Realism. The conservative naturalism of Freedman’s murals and their pedantic histories are also an illustration of the conservative and patronizing nature of Australian society at the time.

In 1972 Harold was appointed as the “State Artist of Victoria”, a unique position with no previous or subsequent appointments. It was the only such position in Australia history and one he held for eleven years. I’m not sure how this is connected with the Arts Victoria Act that was also passed in 1972.

The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) was not so impressed with the art of Harold Freedman. There is only one work of his in the NGV’s collection: “Liberator interior”
(c. 1940-1947) gouache and watercolour (38.0 x 32.0 cm) presented by the Royal Australian Air Force in 1947 and not currently on exhibition. However, this is also an indication of how unrepresentative the NGV’s collection is of Australian art history. And how the NGV massages and manipulates its exhibition of Australian art to create a false impression of the history. This raises the further question of should the NGV’s collection represent Australian art history or only contain works that “enhance the collection”?

Public Art on Brunswick St.

This is a survey of the public art along Brunswick St. in Fitzroy. Brunswick St. Fitzroy is the alternative cultural centre of Melbourne. It became established as an alternate cultural centre in the mid-1980s with galleries, pubs with bands, bookshops and moderately priced restaurants. Recognizing Brunswick St. Fitzroy as a cultural centre and using Federal Govt. money in 1992 a number works of public art were added along the street. There are a number of sidewalk mosaics, mosaic covered chairs and the odd statue.

Browen Gray - Matryoshka Dolls

Browen Gray - Matryoshka Dolls

The Russian Matryoshka Dolls sculpture by Bronwen Gray in the garden of the housing commission flats were the first public sculpture that I can remember seeing in the area. (Actually they were made 2001/2. See postscript.) They add a bright bit of colour and fun to an otherwise gloomy area.

Mosaics appear to be a popular choice for public art along Brunswick St. There are two mosaic murals on the sides of the public housing commission blocks (90 and 140 Brunswick St). And several mosaics laid into sidewalk. Many of the sidewalk mosaics are in now in bad repair, with many missing tiles, especially Simon Normand’s “Gondwanaland”. There doesn’t seem to be any plan to maintain these works of public art.

Simon Normand - Gondwanaland (in need of repair)

Simon Normand - Gondwanaland (in need of repair)

These ceramic works are influenced by the art of Mirka Mora both in the choice of materials and the symbolist imagery in a naïve style with bright colours. This is especially evident in the images in Christine Parks’ untitled mosaic (1992) and Giuseppe Roneri’s 3 mosaic benches (1992). There are two on the corner of Victoria St. and one on the corner of Westgarth St. These sculptural benches are popular with the many people walking and socializing along the street. There is another bench near Leicester St. made of wood and iron cut in a floral pattern with the words “Shine On Me” on the centre of the back. The bench is one of three pieces made by Bronwyn Snow and installed in 1992 (please see Bronwyn’s Snow’s comment for more information on the pieces).

Giuseppe Roneri - Victoria St. bench

Giuseppe Roneri - Victoria St. bench

Although it was paid for in 1992 with the same Federal Government fund along with most of the other art that I have mentioned, Peter Corlett statue ‘Mr Poetry’ was not completed until 1993. When Peter Corlett made the statue it was not memorial, it has now become one, with the addition of another larger bronze plaque dedicated to the model Adrian Rawlins (1939-2001).

At Kerr St. there is a weird sculptural thing of uncertain origins (probably part of the 1992 funding but the bronze plaque has gone from the sidewalk). It looks like the child gothic revival and funk, made of iron and rough concrete (with more mosaic elements) with a copper UFO on top.

Another sculptural oddity are the two metal bicycle rakes on Westgarth St. with a tricycle and a reference to the penny farthing welded into their frames.

Flowers Vasette

Flowers Vasette

A unique sculptural feature of Brunswick St art the decorative excentric sculptural signs above many of the shops add a boho look to the 19th century eclectic stye architecture. “Heading Out Hair & Beauty” has a large mosaic head in profile with a single glass earring. “Flowers Vasette” has a range of sculptural elements along its roofline including bees and giant flowers. There is an angel holding a tray above “Sweet Temptations” At a picture framers there is a giant frame, a giant plate above a restaurant and an eccentric dragons above Polyester Books and Polyster Records.

Polyster Records

Polyster Records

Postscript: email from Bronwen Grey

“Hi Mark, I created the sculptures in 2001/02. I had been working at Atherton gardens as the artists in residence for about six months, working with the tenants on a series of mosaic murals. (the 2 murals that are located on the buildings 90 and 140 brunswick st)The housing estates can be such harsh places and I started to ask myself why is it so hard for people to nurture each other here? to see themselves as a family, to take care of each other.

I also wanted to create a sculpture that spoke not only to the residents but to the surrounding community, to remind them about the humanness of the estate and to encourage them to find a way to include the estate into their landscape.

The idea of Babushka seemed fitting, to create structures that worked against the angular and masculine feel of the buildings, and that worked on a scale that was human and not overwhelming. Although not intentional the structures also turned out to be the exact size of my own three girls at that time, so they hold personal meaning for me as a mother, to remind me what nurturing is for me.

Again not intentional, the 3 structures, each of which is repeated but on a smaller scale, were installed at the time when the estate turned 30 years old. It seems fitting that at this time, in some of the flats we now have 3 generations of families living together, so there are times when I ask myself what over the 3 generations has changed.

I love the fact that I often see children playing on the dolls, that they are sturdy and strong enough to support the play, and that I have seen tours of Japanese tourists stop to have their photos taken with them – on a site that just a few years earlier was known as one of the roughest and most dangerous parts of the estate!

It was my great pleasure to work with the residents for a period of 3 years, so see them embrace their creativity and to include me as part of their family.”

– Bron (15/6/02)

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