There was an earlier phase of mural painting in Melbourne before the current aerosol art. Influenced by the Mexican muralists rather than any hip hop elements. They took a far more social, historical, and educational approach. One of the most important of these is the 44.27 metres long Northcote Koori Mural (aka the Aboriginal Mural, the St Georges Road Mural).
Designed by Megan Evans in 1985 with an additional three metres designed by Gary Saunders in 2013, to bring its history of Indigenous Australia up to date. The mural now faces St Georges Road in Thornbury, backing onto the Sir Douglas Nicholls Sporting Complex. It was initially on a wall opposite the Northcote Town Hall on High Street it was and moved to its current location in 1992. In 2013 it was dismantled and replaced with a refreshed, digital version, printed on vinyl.
Painted by Megan Evans, Ray Thomas (Gunnai/Barlijan), Ian Johnson, Millie Yarran (Noongar), Les Griggs (Gunditjmara/Kerup Marra), Elaine Trott and along with Aboriginal, African and European volunteers. Megan Evans would work with several of these artists again on other public art projects. She worked with Ray Thomas on Another View Walking Trail for the City of Melbourne in 1995. Later Ray Thomas painted the Northcote Civic Square Mural and was one of the artists who carved a pole for Scar – A Stolen Vision in Enterprise Park along the Yarra River.
For three years, Evans was painting a mural a year in the Northcote area. These murals are based on research, interviews, and consultation with local people that she undertook before starting the design. In 1986 Evans and Eve Glenn completed the Women’s Mural: Bomboniere to Barbed Wire on the wall Gas & Fuel Office on Smith Street, Fitzroy. Capped by the notorious graffiti writer Nost in 2016, the wall was demolished in 2019. The mural can still be viewed as a digital version online. And, in 1987 Evans painted Northcote Youth Mural, with Les Griggs and Marina Baker.
All of Evans original murals are gone due to land sales and building demolitions. Darebin Council has opted for digital preservation for all of these murals. For more on preserving and conserving murals, see my post on the conservation of street art.
A couple of thoughts about Nost’s massive tag/bomb capping all the tags and bombs that had accumulated along lower section of the 30 year old Smith Street feminist mural. I haven’t been out to see or photograph the wall, I doubt that I will ever have time for that and I trust that others already have digitised it documenting it for history.
Tagging on this massive scale becomes a kind of buffing. The amount of block colour covering the wall makes it essentially buffing. This makes Nost in this case a kind of grey ghost, the anonymous men who in response to graffiti and street art unofficially buff walls.
Towards the end of the Fitzroy Flasher’s post there is a critique of Megan Evans and Eve Glenn’s original mural. Arguing “a faded, neglected and in my humble opinion, outdated public mural” that need to be refreshed. Fitzroy Flasher’s points out that the original mural is “poorly painted”, that “the perspective is wrong, shadows not true to where they should fall” and that it was not as good as the work of Adnate or Kaffeine.
Fitzroy Flasher’s critique demonstrates the different priorities between graffiti and the Melbourne muralists of the 1980s. Clearly there differences in aesthetics, perspective, subject, politics and the work’s place in history between the muralists and graffiti writers. It would be good to examine these differences but that would mean going over the history of Mexican muralists, Union banners and I don’t have the time to go into all of that right now.
Expectations of progress on the part of the mural artists have not been fulfilled by the last 30 years of history, consider domestic violence or the gender pay gap. On the other hand graffiti writers, like Nost expect their fame to be instant and temporary rather than historical. The fresh novelty in graffiti and street art demands that the viewers, to some extent, forget the past. Popular culture, from television series to popular politics, assumes an ephemeral state of memory.
With the pyramid sculptures in High Street, Northcote being removed due to safety concerns I thought that I look at health and safety issue with public sculpture.
Just 8-days after they it was installed Darebin City Council decided to remove the Syrinx Environmental sculpture. The location of this spiky series of metal pyramids in the centre medium strip of High Street was the chief concern.
In 2008 Manningham councillors voted unanimously to remove “Sidle” (2007) by Melbourne-based architect/artist partnership, Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo from Carawatha Reserve in Doncaster. The reason was not aesthetic but concerns about the safety of children climbing on it; the sculpture was very tempting as it was constructed from multiple metal children’s playground slides albeit with longer legs and arranged in a waveform.
Macleod and Bellemo, Shoal Fly By, Docklands, 2011
Cat Macleod and Michael Bellemo have also had health and safety problems with another of their sculpture, “Shoal Fly By” at the Docklands. For years temporary fencing has surrounded it but this was not due to the sculpture but the old “zero weight bearing” dock that it was installed on. The Docklands commissioning process does state that the sculpture must “be safe for people to touch and move around without any public liability issues”; it did not state that the location for the installation of the sculpture would be.
Anthony Pryor, The Legend, MCG
Orange bollards around each of the three steel pillars surround Anthony Pryor’s dynamic steel sculpture “The Legend”, 1991, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. These were not part of the original work but something had to be done for health and safety reasons – just one of the perils of not having a plinth. Another peril of not having a plinth is that a car can crash into the sculpture – this hasn’t happened in Melbourne yet but it has happened elsewhere in the world.
The locations of these sculptures in the urban environment and the possible interactions of cars, children, motorcycles and bicycles are the major health and safety issues.
I went to Northcote to see Advanced Vandalism by Johnny Duel at Kick Gallery. Duel an aerosol artist who started out doing graffiti in the 1980s have moved on to commissioned pieces has now moved into the gallery. His hard edge abstract forms are a mix between wildstyle aerosol art and modern abstract art. In the exhibition Duel’s style is expressed in both 2D works and 3D sculptures, not an uncommon practice for street artists exhibiting in galleries.
Kick Gallery was one of the few galleries open in Northcote when I visited. Vanguard Gallery on the opposite side of High Street has closed and looks like it is having a garage sale and Synergy looked like it was between shows. Kerala, further north on High Street, is a relatively new and not listed in Art Almanac, “art and photography gallery”. It is a well-lite, white cube shop-front gallery with a group show of contemporary flower photography on when I visited.
When I returned home from my visit to Northcote galleries I emailed Eugene von Nagy who ran Vanguard Gallery to find out why it had closed and if he wanted to make a comment for my blog. Eugene von Nagy kindly replied: “Vanguard Gallery was a great experience for me, a great learning experience, a lot of work and a real pleasure too. “
“Although my personal art production suffered because the gallery took the lions share of my time, the entire gallery for me was like a giant art project in itself.”
“I really enjoyed opening it from scratch and improving the facilities and decor as I developed my skills as a curator and manager.”
“One of the best sides of running the gallery was that I met a great deal of interesting people at all levels in the arts industry. I also enjoyed engaging with radio and print media to promote various events, and working with the local arts community to create the annual ‘Northern Exposure’ arts festival.”
“I plan to continue the gallery website and develop it in a more personal way to reflect changes in my career. Eventually I will sort and post a larger collection of photos from the many exhibitions and events held throughout the life of the gallery. “ And explained that he had to close the gallery as he is “moving to Brisbane to paint full time while my wife finishes her studies at UQ.”
The Northcote arts scene will miss Eugene von Nagy’s energy and Vanguard Gallery.