Tag Archives: paintings

Art Boutiques

Melbourne has developed a type of small, shop front, commercial art gallery that would best be described as art boutiques. Art boutiques do have temporary exhibitions but their regular stock is their primary focus. Not all of their stock is art but it is significant, in the past they might have been described as ‘gift shops’ but in their latest incarnation the term appears in appropriate for the eccentric stock for sale. Art boutiques do think of themselves in art terms and focus on their art direction. The art for sale is not intended to end up in museums but in the home.

Third Draw Down, in Fitzroy, calls itself the “Museum of Art Souvenirs”. Like all good boutiques, Third Draw Down has a style and design all of its own; the impressive central bench has a series of draws for displaying more of the work. Third Draw Down specializes in affordable art in multiple editions. Especially work on fabric; like t-towels, pillowslips and handkerchiefs. They have a lot of t-towels with prints by artists, a selection of which have been attached to canvas stretcher frames, ready to be hung on a wall as most are purchased as art and not for drying dishes.

When I visited Third Draw Down Kez Hughes (a VCA graduate) has an exhibition of small oil paintings of some of the limited editions works available at Third Draw Down. The still life paintings were displayed above the art works that they depicted.

There are many other art boutiques in Melbourne and I haven’t explored them all (I’m not presenting an exhaustive list of all the art boutiques in Melbourne). They come in a variety of styles and many are not to my taste. Also in Fitzroy, there is Meet Me At Mikes, Charles Smith Gallery and in.cube8r gallery. Charles Smith Gallery, describes itself (in Art Almanac) as a “gift shop” and is one of the oldest of the art boutiques in Melbourne. All of the Fitzroy art boutiques specialize in handmade, Australian-made, art and craft. In the CBD there is Outre Gallery, specializes in multiple editions of low-brow popular art, along with books and magazines on the subject. In Collingwood there is Lucien Midnight that describes itself as “art gallery & other things of your visual and aural pleasure.” In Brunswick there is 696 who specialize in street art influenced art, craft, spray cans, magazines and other stuff.

The growth of these art boutiques implies that there is a new market of art collectors and that the system of patronage for artists is changing. The new art collectors are younger and have less disposable income than the usual art collectors. But they are choosing to buy art and unique craft items rather than mainstream consumer items.

It would be to early to say that the art for the ordinary consumer, long envisioned by the modernists, has finally come of age. These art boutiques are not a mass movement and they thrive their unique merchandise and on not being part of the mainstream.

Landscapes @ Michael Koro

I instantly recognized Adrian Doyle’s paintings the moment that I walked in the door of Michael Koro Gallery. I had seen Doyle’s paintings before on visits to the studio and as his unique style of landscapes, a post-modern cubism, are instantly recognizable. I didn’t know what was on exhibition at Michael Koro Gallery; I was there because wanted to catch up with Doyle and other guys at Blender Studios to talk with them about the Melbourne Stencil Festival. I’d been trying to come to grips with the Stencil Festival webpage and I needed to get away from the computer.

Doyle has been painting hard, his heavy winter clothes and deconstructed-style jacket hang loosely on him as he shows me around his exhibition New Australian Landscapes. Three of the paintings have just been finished – the paint is still wet on them. The exhibition has yet to open, it will open next week, Friday 17th.

I talked with Doyle about all the techniques that he has used on the paintings. There are digital prints on canvas, stencils and aerosol spray-paint, flat paint, think paint, large globs of paint squeezed out of the tube onto the canvas. And this variety paint techniques are unified by Doyle’s vision of suburban landscapes. A suburban landscape that is itself constructed using a variety of techniques and styles. The fragments of the urban and landscapes fit together, overlap, are dissected by black tarmac roads with white dots of lane marking.

It is hard to depict a city in a painting; you can easily become lost in the detail. Cityscapes have been a challenge to artists since the development of cities. The city is only seen in fragments; it is constantly moving and you travel through the city at speed. It is hard to keep your sense of perspective in the city and the study of perspective became important in Western art at the same time when cities became important.

In Doyle’s paintings the familiar suburban landscapes are made slightly unfamiliar, where are these castles, mountains and Ferris wheels? Combining images with other elements like a diagram or a map – there is no specific point of view to the paintings. It looks like Australian suburbia, the parked cars and mowed lawns of suburbia. The large expanses of bright flat colors at the top of the canvas, the sky, and at the bottom, the land or sea, holds the paintings together. In the largest painting a children’s adventure playground stands isolated in a color field, removed from the rest of the landscape, like a child’s version of the city.

Australian suburbia is an important subject for contemporary Australian art because it is the common experience of most Australian’s who live in the outer suburbs of the vast capital cities. Seen from the air, Melbourne and Sydney are very large cities, the suburban sprawl out to the horizon. It appears limitless and flat, full of endless suburban houses. Adrain Doyle’s New Australian Landscapes depict this reality with cool chaos.

Fractals @ Platform & Sutton

The beauty of fractal geometry is that it is naturally beautiful, as well as mathematical interesting. So it has a lot of appeal to artists, as well as, mathematicians and weather forecasters. Amongst the many artists currently attracted to fractal geometry is Brett Colquhoun, exhibiting at Sutton Gallery, and many of the artists exhibiting this May at Platform.

Colquhoun is an established Melbourne artist with a long had an interest in science and symbols. In his current exhibition at Sutton Gallery Colquhoun uses the fractal geometry of bifurcation is present in cracks, lighting and roots in a series of black and grey canvases. The field of paint on the surface becomes a surface to compare lighting and roots or simply to crack. Colquhoun’s flat paint appears methodical and cool. There are also paintings in the exhibition that explore the more complex fractal geometry in magnetic fields or flames but they don’t work as well.

At Platform New Zealand artist, Kate McIntyre’s Growth, uses cracks and roots as well, but they don’t work as well as Colquhoun’s. This is because the square roots are made from cubes of drawing paper and the cracks are made from chrome vinyl. This surreal installation plays with its location beneath Flinders Street and imagining the strange roots of the city.

In the Vitrine is a Brisbane-based textile artist Sue-Ching Lascelles installation I’m Lichen You a Lot. Lascelles uses multiple pieces of colored felt to create an artificial surface with the fractal beauty of a lichen-covered surface. It is a simple idea that has been beautifully executed.

There are fractals in the illustrations of the branching tree heads in the prints of Ness Flett’s A Pictorial Essay of Devolution. And there are natural fractals in the cracks of the brunt logs and grevillia leaves of Matt Shaw’s third underground garden. Shaw’s underground gardens are Melbourne’s smallest and most unusual and they are works of art. Shaw’s garden is the simplest, eloquent and life affirming of all the recent artistic references to Black Saturday bushfires that I have yet seen. Now that I’m looking for fractals I am seeing them everywhere.

Mute Relics & Bedevilled Creatures

Mute Relics & Bedevilled Creatures, at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick is a response to ‘Reconcilation Week’ or NAIDOC Week.  It is a fun and thought-provoking exhibition. It is a strange kind of fun, like laughter, even if the laughter is bit bitter and crazy, it is still a laugh in the post-colonial wake of genocide.

It is important that aboriginal and non-aboriginal artists are part of this exhibition. There is an exchange in the references, appropriation and subversion of European or Australian images and materials. As in, Julie Gough’s “Ransom” where antlers are hung with giant beads of Tasmanian coal, or the inclusion of brown glass by John Duggan in his display of stone tools. Everyone owns the history.

Sam Leech’s future fauna are beautiful paintings of strange hybrid creatures, speculating on the future evolution of Australian fauna, like an albino kangaroos with antlers. Sharon West and Gary Smith have also created strange hybrid creatures; Smith’s “Flabbit”, a flying rabbit, is a wonder of taxidermy. In a reference to Duchamp the shadow of the flabbit in its cage is projected across the red surface of Smith’s triptych of paintings.

There are no shortage of spectacular works in this exhibition amongst them Kate Rohde’s 3 neo-rocco cabinets on gold tables, complete with exquisite levels of kitsch details, displaying fake displays of animal, vegetable and mineral specimens.  The highlight of the exhibition for me was seeing more paintings and dioramas by Sharon West. West is also one of the curators of the exhibition and has written an extensive essay on the exhibition for the catalogue. Her paintings especially the richly detailed interior of the Australian museum of megafauna summed up the exhibition and included Smith’s flabbit amongst the exhibits depicted.

Lurking behind this exhibition appears to be a strawman argument, a bogeyman of museums, a conservative dragon with a hoard. It is very different from the current museums and exhibition practice. It is also ironic for art that refers to and partially relies on the gallery institution for its viability. The installation and display of collections is played with through out the exhibition. Like, Denise Higgins “What Remains” that employs the aesthetics of clinical scientific minimalism, storage and labelling. And, especially, in Lyndon Ormond-Parker’s exhibition of historic texts in a vitrine.

Ralph Appelbaum, head of the world’s largest museum and exhibit design firm, said in the Guardian Weekly (01/6/09): “Museums are essentially ethical constructs.”  Taxonomies, categories and collections are all ethical constructs that prescribe values to the order that they create. (Read: Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger) Even what we cannot classify, the “bedevilled creatures” of the exhibition, is itself classified. This may be for the purpose of exclusion and taboo or, in the case of this exhibition, a celebration of unique qualities.

Deconstructed Books

Back in 2006 when I started blogging I was seeing a lot of art made from old books. And there is still a lot of it around; in this entry I will mention four Melbourne artists making art made from books.

Art made from old books has become a new genre. It emerged from Duchamp’s experiment Unhappy Readymade (1919), a geometry book destroyed by the Parisian weather, and has been repeated with variation until it become a genre. In recent years old books have been stacked, folded and cut into new works of art. Art made from books is return of literature as the subject for art, not in the form of illustrations, as it was in the 19th century, but as deconstructed books. The 19th century virtue of saving printed matter has become a vice in the 21st century. There are too many books, too many redundant books, too many ordinary books, too many books to save. Legal deposit libraries that try to collect all printed matter, like State Library of Victoria, are growing exponentially. Where the content of the book is unloved the love of books is being transferred to a love of the material that makes books.

There are many ways in which books are turned into art but generally the book is destroyed in the process. I saw a good sculpture from made from a book without damaging the book, “Evil” (2005) by Peter Madden at Gertrude Contemporary Art. The book, a small dictionary, was held together with 3 G-claps and all these illustrations of snakes were curling out from between the pages. A little knowledge, and it is “The Little Oxford English Dictionary”, is a dangerous thing.

Rosie Miller cuts the book’s pages free from binding and rebinds them into the curve of a wave. Rosie Miller exhibited her unbound curved sculptural books in a wood cabinet with shelves, in April 2009 at Platform. I also saw her “Untitled” (2008) wave of paper at Lindberg Gallery earlier in the year. It is ironic that Miller who studied printmaking at the VCA is now making sculpture from printed matter.

Katherine Hattam used paper pasted with the title and dedication pages of Penguin paperbacks as the support for a series of still life paintings. Some of the books in these still life images have the collaged real spines of real paperbacks. I saw her painting “The Divided Self” (2006) and other paintings at Australian Galleries.

“In Memorium” (2008) by Samantha Harris a book forms plinth for a small scene made from paper and twigs. The twigs are wrapped in ribbons of paper cut from book pages. Harris’s scenes are literary in that they recreate the way we construct stories about our own home.

Exhibitions on Smith St.

There are a few rental space galleries on Smith St. But, as I found, often the better art on Smith St. isn’t in the galleries but alternative exhibition spaces in cafes and shops.

Sekure D’s Daylight Hallucinations is an exhibition of custom sneakers, skateboard decks and paintings on canvas at Hogan Gallery. There are 27 colourful Nike and Globe sneakers, 3 decks and Sekure D’s robot illustrations. These are hardly ‘daylight hallucinations’; the work is competent but unimpressive. I have seen more psychedelic images in Greer Honeywill’s current exhibition at Flinders Lane Gallery. Sekure D’s whimsical paintings are full of arty drips and splatters. His cyclopedia robots play at pop culture references, or simply play. This is lowbrow illustration fun but nothing to get excited about.

Collingwood Gallery has an exhibition of Alan Gemmell’s naïve-style landscapes; the red center of Australia features prominently. And the best that I can say about Gemmell’s paintings is that they are not over priced.

Further down Smith St. at 69 Smith St. there is an even more horrible exhibition. I thought that Ronnie Woods had the monopoly on overblown paintings of Keith Richards. But as if there weren’t enough of them the ground floor of 69 Smith St. was full of more by Hans Erftemeyer. Erftemeyer seem to take Ronnie Woods’s art as an inspiration. If only it wasn’t all Keith Richards I might have been able to endure more than a glance.

The Sculpture Garden at the back of 69 Smith St. was in use again with work by various members of the gallery in blocks of Hebel stone. I helped build the sculpture garden and it is good to see that it was getting some use. Upstairs there was a group exhibition of art by members of the gallery; 69 Smith St. is an artist run gallery. This exhibition, with its red, yellow and green theme, had more variety and originality than anything that I had seen so far on Smith St.

The best art that I saw on my walk down Smith St. in Collingwood was not in an art gallery. It was in Smart Alec’s, a men’s hat shop. If 50s retro sci-fi robots and rocket ships are your style then you must see the objet d’art of Graeme Shaw. Graeme Shaw’s sculptures of rocket ships are made of found metal materials, retro chrome and brassware that perfectly suit their style. There is even a ray gun by Shaw behind the counter.

Graeme Shaw rocket ship

Graeme Shaw rocket ship

Street Artists on Exhibition

There are currently a few exhibitions around Melbourne with new work from some notable street artists.

Two notable Melbourne street artists are exhibiting at Platform: Tom Sevil (AKA Civil) and Marc de Jong (AKA marcsta). Tom Civil is exhibiting large illustrations of populations at war and peace in paint and marker pen on paper. These new stick-figure illustrations bare no resemblance to his old stencil art images. Except, in the underlying theme of human political, civil relationships and in the clarity of Civil’s communication. I have not seen Civil’s work for a while because I have not been looking in the right places, his illustrations are widely published and he has even been doing stencils on the Channel 10 TV show Guerrilla Gardeners. Marc de Jong is exhibiting a large series of parody public signs in green and white reflective signs and the illuminated “Exist” sign. Although this parody of civic communication and the well-ordered society with word play has been done many times before de Jong makes it fun and fresh with the use of local slang into play with: “She’ll Be Rite”.

At Famous When Dead there is a solo exhibition by Sydney street artist George Hambov (AKA ApeSeven) – House of the Wind Blown Clouds. This body of work has been exhibited twice before in Sydney but this my first sight of it.

Hambov’s paintings play with dynamic superhero robotic forms as art. The paintings have evidence of being handmade: drips, brush strokes, splatters and the surface built up on old Japanese newspaper stuck to canvas. And the images are as much formal explorations of design as illustration. The exhibition is like panels for a vast, never to be written comic book. The story of the robot anti-hero “3 of 5” and the alchemy that occurs it is exposed to ethereal power is the usual mix of the mythological science fiction or the unknown magic of superheroes. There is a wall painting and another little side part of the exhibition are three painted hipflask bottles, the “Katalyst” for the story, a technical achievement with the right paints and hairdryer George Hambov explained to me at the Friday night exhibition opening.

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