On arrival, I had to sign in to the gallery to assist contact tracing. No Vacancy lived up to its name and was the one art gallery that was open in the city. I didn’t know who was exhibiting as they were still typing up the room sheet (subsequently I have learnt that it was Lineaments by Lana Erneste, Sophie Sun, and Mollie Wilson).
All the galleries on Flinders Lane were all closed. Anna Schwartz had an exhibition of John Nixon, but it wasn’t open to the public. The public, institutional art galleries like the NGV and RMIT are still closed.
The best work that I saw was the #thelittlelibarian, and it wasn’t in an art gallery but in Hosier Lane. It looked like the work of Tinky because of the combination of HO scale miniatures with antiques. “If I was Snow White you’d never be able to poison me with an apple; you’d have to use an eclair.”
This is Hosier Lane like you have never seen it before. Almost empty of people except for a few homeless people meeting up after the long lockdown and relaxing in the sunny weather. There was the smell of aerosol paint in the air, but it wasn’t an artist spraying walls just the manager of Bar Tini painting the bases for small tables.
I wanted to see if much street art and graffiti had occurred during or immediately after the lockdown. Although there were some of the usual graffiti and street art in Hosier Lane, there were also some strange works, outside of the standard, conventional street art and graffiti techniques. Evidence of a greater variety of people participating in street art. And the political agenda was loud and proud: issues of homelessness, “black lives matter”, “horse racing kills” and hero worship of Premier Andrews.
Elsewhere in the city, it looked like Ash Keating, or someone else had taken a paint-filled fire extinguisher to that wall in Chinatown. Below a park is being built on the empty site, instead of using it as a parking lot.
I think that I was a bit too eager; that Thursday, one day after Melbourne’s long lockdown lifted to allow businesses to open. It was too soon for most commercial art galleries. However, after months of lockdown, I was keen to get out of Coburg and return to my pre-lockdown Thursday routine of going to have a look at art in the city and writing this kind of blog post.
I saw a few exhibitions this week that united art, architecture and fashion: “Transitions” at No Vacancy and the combination of Denise Wray’s “Compartments” and Jake Preval’s “Costumes for the Ark” at the George Paton Gallery. This seems an odd remark because I rarely see exhibitions that unite art, architecture and fashion and yet what is the difference between them?
“Transitions” by Make Shift Concepts: Armando Chant, Donna Sgro and Oliver Solente is part of the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s cultural program. “At first glance it will look like just a video and some sculptures.” Oliver Solente (from the exhibition paper.) It did look like that but the suspended dresses and video of the dress worn on the catwalk reminded me that this was a fashion exhibition. The suspended dresses were not hung to suggest a human form but hung to show potentials in their architectural form, much like the angular architectural forms of the sculptures.
It was these angular architectural forms that reminded me of the structure of the masks in Jake Preval’s “Costumes for the Ark”. Preveal’s exhibition isn’t in the fashion festival’s cultural program but it should be, it is like the queer alternative. The exhibition is basically a series of photographs of queer couples wearing only black underpants and Preveal’s cardboard masks. The architecture of the couple’s bodies as they posed together is what made the photographs. Love the scattered black underwear around the room, suggesting that the couples from the photographs had stripped off their costumes and left the ark.
Denise Wray’s “Compartments” definitely united art, architecture and fashion. If art and architecture is about filling or not filling a space than Wray’s four works did that, with stitched zips, acrylic on canvas, polyester twine and leather strips. It looked like Wray gone mad after reading too much Greenberg and books on Duchamp and had raided a leather garment factory’s bins to make ‘art’. I liked it is ironic in punk deconstructionist way.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a big fashion, design or architecture fan; it is too cool for me. I want passionately engage – this why I’m very interested in sculpture and I enjoy writing about it. It is odd because sculpture and architecture are so similar – it is often difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends – visually it is often difficult to distinguish them, they might be indistinguishable. But what is the difference between sculpture and architectural or fashion forms? Function appears to be too simple an explanation as sculptures are also functional (see my post on the Uses of Public Art). Given that I can’t clearly distinguish between sculpture and architecture I don’t know why I feel differently about them.
The difference between sculpture and architectural forms is not an insubstantial issue and can have legal, as well as, aesthetic implications. The Copyright Website reports that in the case of Leicester vs. Warner Bros. the Los Angeles “district court found that the towers (Andrew Leicester’s sculpture Zanja Madre), although containing artistic elements, were actually part of the architectural work of the building.”
At the City Library (air conditioned refuge in the January heat) there is “Urban Scrawl” by Kaff-eine, Precious Little, Tigtab and Blacklodge. They are street artists who are not working with aerosol. There are collaborations between all of the artists in various combinations giving the exhibition a real group feel. (Arty Graffarti has a review of the exhibition and lots of photos – I didn’t bring my camera.)
Kaff-eine up-cycling in Coburg
I’d first encounter Kaff-eine’s work up-cycling (decorating discarded objects on the street) on a mattress during the annual Moreland hard rubbish collection. I first thought of Kaff-eine as yet another Ghostpatrol wannabe with drawings of children. But after seeing this exhibition I’m more impressed; Kaff-eine’s images are stronger than Ghostpatrol with more illustrative technique.
I didn’t know Kaff-eine was a woman until I read about it in the exhibition information pages. I’d assumed that Kaff-eine was man because most street artists are. The gender of the artist can make a difference to the art – imagine if you discovered that Debs was really a man. Then curvy female characters that Debs sprays would have a completely different meaning. (See my post about the panel discussion on Gender & Street Art at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 09.)
Precious Little has her poetry printed with an old fashion Dymo label maker, photographs, wall paste-ups and two framed drawings. Some of her poems interact with Kaff-eine’s illustrations. I have seen her work in Hosier Lane and elsewhere but the variety of her other work is impressive.
Tigtab and Blacklodge’s fantastic light painting photography are shot with a very slow shutter and moving lights. In the experienced hands of Tigtab and Blacklodge it proves to be a great dynamic way of photographing graffiti; although Tibtab’s light stencils of cranes, dragonflies, turtles and butterflies verge on kitsch. (I think that I saw their work before and some of the toys that they use to create these photographs in “Urban Intervention” in Sweet Streets 2010.)
On the subject of streets and photography I saw “Around Winston Street” at No Vacancy Gallery in the Atrium at Federation Square. “Around Winston Street” is street photography capturing the life on the streets in Shepparton by Serana Hunt. Hunt lives around there and this means that her photographs have a familiar view of the people of Shepparton. Her best photographs are of local characters on the streets. The photographs are mostly in black and white (old school street photography, keeping it real). The exhibition was funded through Pozible Crowdfunding Creativity.
A bunch of white paper arrows hang from the white gallery wall, the delicate cut paper creating the veins of their feathers, their thin shafts and arrowheads. Cut paper forms art noueveau patterns and fantastic images of dogs with monasteries on their backs.
Miso “Paper Birch”
Notable Melbourne street-artist Miso specializes in paper cutting and paste-ups. Her current exhibition at No Vacancy Project Gallery features some fine paper cuts along with images made from the patterns of holes from needle pricks.
Miso’s paper cutting is a reversal of the stencil cutting techniques of many of Melbourne street artists. Instead of using cutting to create a stencil the cut paper is the image. Both Miso and US artist, Swoon have taken paper cutting up a level both in the scale and the artistry of their work.
The techniques of cutting paper tends to be overlooked, relegated to a folk art from another time, the silhouette cutter working their trade on the cusp of photography. Overlooking the old hands of Matisse as he cut colored paper to make works like the Blue Nude towards the end of his life. Overlooking also the hands of Hans Christian Andersen and William S. Burroughs as they cut up paper. (Cut-Outs and Cut-Ups, ed. Hendel Teicher, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2008) Hans Christian Anderson was a master at traditional folded paper cutting. Andersen used his delicate paper cutting technique as an adjunct to his story telling; keeping his audience’s attention as they watched his large hands delicately cut paper as he told his story and unfolding the completed paper at the end. William Burroughs used Brion Gysin ‘s “cut-up” technique in both in writing and visual art. Burroughs also used it to create stencils for spray paint.
The installation of Miso’s exhibition “Les Lumières” is impressive; the small No Vacancy Project Gallery at the Atrium, Federation Square has been lined with white painted bits from old houses, windows, doors and boards. At the far end of the gallery on a white wall of boards the neon sign “Les Lumières” glows. Impressive though the installation is I’m not convinced by the aesthetic connection between the paper-cuts, the installation and the artist’s statement about the future of cities. The work on paper do not connect with the old doors and windows, with the exception of the figures of “Ellen” 1 & 2 that bracket an old arch sash window. And, as much as I like the idea of urban gardens, I didn’t see how the plants connected with the exhibition, apart from visual relief from all the white. But this does detract from the smoking hot quality of Miso’s cut paper.
On a cold and wet Thursday night in Melbourne a large crowd of people quickly fills No Vacancy gallery at the QV. It is the opening of Ghostpatrol’s first solo exhibition in Melbourne “warp points and seed vault save points”. Amongst the crowd of people there are many men with beards, one of them, a young man with a beard, neck length hair and hooded jacket is Ghostpatrol.
Ghostpatrol first came to the public’s attention on Melbourne’s streets. His particular aesthetic and illustration style making him stand out from the rest of Melbourne’s street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s illustration style meant that he also rode the wave of illustrations that rolled into Melbourne’s galleries in recent years. His coloured ink drawings of children in animal costumes are not realistic; they have the style of children’s book illustrations. His figures are engaging because they are engaged in mysterious activities.
Ghostpatrol’s particular aesthetic of childhood imagination, like the book “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. It is the aesthetic of the tree house, cubby houses, reading books by electric torch light in a tent made of blankets. It is full of the magic and make-believe of childhood exploration. Ghostpatrol’s style and aesthetic translates well into a variety of media from drawings, paste-ups, street art, textiles, video, paper cuts and installations. It is an escapist aesthetic that is retreating into childhood games, even the exhibition title, “Warp points and seed vault save points”, sounds like a video game.
Inside Ghostpatrol's tent
In the gallery Ghostpatrol has made a large tent. Inside the tent there is a pile of cushions, made of fabric printed with his figures, on a rug before a triangular, like a psychedelic altarpiece of framed drawings, paper cuts, a video and objet trouvés. It is like many bedrooms in shared houses that I’ve known. There is a wall painting and a few other works outside the tent; Ghostpatrol told me that he set the exhibition up early last week and spent part of this week sewing and drawing in the warp point tent. The found objects, like a brass paper knife with a monkey handle set on a triangle of wood, pinecones and plants growing in a book. These objects are not for sale, except for “Two approaching”, the bundle of sticks with two tiny figures painted in the cut surfaces of two of the sticks. As in other exhibitions Ghostpatrol is creating the exhibition as an installation to leave the exhibition visitor with an experience. It seemed like the gallery was only a third full of works by Ghostpatrol, including the objet trouvés (found objects), like a contemporary scatter style exhibition. It leaves me wanting more.
Ghostpatrol's installation style
I asked Ghostpatrol why he hadn’t had a solo show before? Ghostpatrol replied that he’d actually had his first solo show in Adelaide earlier this year, but that the real reason was that he enjoyed the experience of collaborating in group exhibitions too much because working with other people improves his techniques. I also asked Ghostpatrol about translating his work into textiles. He told me that he had fun doing the textiles and breaking away from his usual techniques. (See Invurt for a longer recent interview with Ghostpatrol.)
The last show that I saw at No Vacancy was the “Wooden Foundation”. “Wooden Foundation” a fun group show of artists painting on wooden supports. Some of the wood is new but there are plenty of recycled supports Twoon even painting the underside of a card table. In this and many of the work the bare wooden support is fashionably visible in unpainted areas. Bonsi had created an attractive series of birds, with bare wooden support. Nails had a series of totem poles in different colors hanging from the ceiling. Bonsai, OH54, Nails, Twoon, who call themselves the “Wooden Foundation” describe it as “a small creative family with roots deep in illustration and hand drawn typography. We work individually and as a group to make things for your tired eyes.”
Illustration is blooming in Melbourne. There is a new respect for illustration in our graphic orientated world of computers and computer games. And comic books, graphic novels and manga have propelled the interest in illustration for both the audience and the artists. These new illustrators are popular with devoted, young audience of collectors who find their work attractive and affordable.
Illustration briefly converged with Melbourne’s bourgeoning street art scene, with artists like Ghostpatrol and Miso and galleries like Per Square Metre, 696, Gorker and No Vacancy. The convergence of illustration and street art added techniques to the illustrators and to the mix on the street. Street art is trending to more illustrations, moving from simple comic book characters through to the current billboard naturalism of movie characters. And street art added street cred to the illustrators.
Arty illustrations are fashionable and many galleries are exhibiting them. Yesterday I saw illustration art on exhibit at Brood Box and in Platform’s exhibition windows of Majorca Building where there is Carmel Seymour, “I Often Feel Strangers are Controlling My Thoughts”. Then I saw the Lin Onus exhibition of masterful illustrative prints at the Counihan Gallery.
The subject of many of these illustrations is fantasy, but not the swords and sorcery kind, but the whimsical fantasy of children’s illustrated books. But these illustrations are not illustrations of any text but illustration as art. It is if they are the maquettes for yet un-printed illustrations to yet unwritten text. They have yet to be mass-produced; these are originals work on exhibition (although No Vacancy and others have produced some limited edition books). But I wish that more of Melbourne’s emerging illustrators would actually illustrate existent texts or write their own book.
No Comply is a touring exhibition of decorated skateboard decks featuring local and international artists. It is currently on at No Vacancy Gallery, Red Cape Lane in the QV centre, Melbourne.(Red Cape Lane takes its name from the very large red awning with white spots that hangs over this street level path through the QV shopping centre.) Next month the exhibition will be moving to Sydney.
The “ply” in No Comply refers to the shaped and moulded plywood that forms the deck of a skateboard. For decades skateboards have been decorated but the decks on show at No Comply are too elaborate, too beautiful or modified to have wheels fitted to them and used. These decks are just works of art. And as a skateboard deck is long and narrow many of the artists used 2 or 3 decks to create a bigger picture.
The exhibition is “produced” (rather than curated?) by the NiceProduce Team, Alex, Karl and Stuart. And appears to has been very well produced, the exhibition has been well hung with didactic panels on each artist. But there is more to producing an exhibition than simply to hang it. Appropriate sponsorship must be found, promotion and advertising organized, artwork transported, and more – a production. The entrepreneurial spirit of these producers, like the NiceProduce Team makes Melbourne’s street art a strong and dynamic scene.
A curatorial effort seems to have been made for this exhibition. There is a good selection of artists. There is a good balance in the styles of artists from the lowbrow illustration to contemporary art, from elegant designs to old school hip-hop. There are so many excellent works in this exhibition, so many significant local and international street artists, that it is difficult to make comments on particular works without ignoring others of equal quality.