Tag Archives: Pentridge Village

Posts on prison art

Painted in February 1961 by an inmate of Pentridge Prison who signed his name J. G. Cust. Earlier this year, I was sent these photographs by a man whose father had been a warden at Pentridge in the 1960s. We know nothing else but hope to find out more. Please comment if you have any information.

I live close to the stone walls of the former Pentridge prison. I was living there when it was still operational. So my interest in this area is partly due to proximity (the rehabilitation of this former 19th-century prison is another story). I’m interested in art outside of the mainstream, from alternate exhibition spaces to graffiti.

The politics of prison art has three parts. Firstly, who is incarcerated? In Australia, Indigenous people are disproportionately incarcerated. What is the purpose of incarceration, and what is the purpose of art? Is it therapy, education, recreation, job training, or culture? These definitions are political and, in a prison, become structural and institutional.

Finally, there is the issue of who should profit from the art or literature created by prisoners. This final question only worries shallow vengeful politicians (of which there are many in Australia) who cannot separate the crime from the incarcerated person.

In this state, the Torch provides art training and the opportunity for sales to Indigenous people who are incarcerated and post-incarceration. I have been writing about their annual Confined exhibitions and other exhibitions organised by the Torch.

Here are all my posts on the art of the incarcerated (I must try to keep this up dated).

Prison Art @ Pentridge

Pentridge – more on prison art

Teaching Art in Prison memories from Chris Dyson

The life and art of Ronald Bull

Confined 8 2017

Yannae Wirrate Weelam and prison art

Confine 9 2018

No Turning Back at Deakin Downtown Gallery

Confined 10

Confined 11

Confined 12

Banj Banj/nawnta at the Counihan Gallery

Confined 13

Thelma Beeton

Abstracts at Divisions Gallery

‘Inner Hum’ is a group exhibition at Divisions Gallery of painterly abstracts by Belinda Wiltshire, Karen Hew-Yin Eriksen, and Charlotte Ivey. All three artists enjoy paint, working it in different ways.

Belinda Wiltshire, Traveling Friend, 2020

Painter and ceramicist Wiltshire is showing a series of five large works with tiny little details in one place, In Travelling Friend two tiny children lean in for a kiss in a yellow dot on a vast blue canvas. They are displayed in a circle, perhaps thinking of the work hanging of the Rothko chapel.

Three paintings on glass by Charlotte Ivey

Ivey’s small paintings are compositions in a subdued palette of reds and browns that pay attention to their linen, boards and glass supports. 

Hew-Yin Eriksen, There the threshold, 2021

Hew-Yin Eriksen pushes phthalo green paint around into great curves and arcs. Stepping out of the abstract into materialism, she has included one, Sublime Light Now! with an LED fan.

Divisions Gallery is the new gallery in Pentridge Village. It is located alongside the small history interpretation centre on the second floor of the shopping mall. The gallery has a stockroom, a lot of windows and a balcony with views of a stone nineteenth-century prison block. There are three old prison wall spikes at the gallery desk set in an old piece of bluestone from the former Pentridge Prison.

In Pentridge Village, the aesthetics of carceral torture and a panopticon are decorative features. The panopticon no longer exists. The foundations were unearthed in 2014. This brutal modern prison was the first experiment in reforming prisoners. It had the opposite effect, but the architectural form was quickly adopted for schools and military barracks. A must-see for fans of Foucault and extreme irony. 

There hasn’t been a gallery of any kind or any exhibitions in Coburg for years. Now there is Divisions Gallery and an exhibition space at Schoolhouse Studios in the old Coles supermarket. (These were the kind of posts that this blog was built on. I haven’t been doing enough local exhibitions. A sort of horizon scanning before the artist becomes known to the mainstream.)

I have participated and observed the arts in Moreland for three decades, mainly in the area of visual arts but also music and literature. Since 2008 I have written 84 blog posts about the visual arts in Moreland. Writing about visual arts has informed me about the variety of local art practices, from street art to contemporary. It is important to write about local culture, the emerging and the marginalised, rather than what everyone else is writing and talking about.

View from Divisions Gallery

Pentridge – more on prison art

At the bottom of a box of old books, mostly about Africa that my parents brought over to my house I found Denton Prout and Fred Feely, 50 Years Hard, the story of Pentridge Gaol from 1850 to 1900 (Rigby Limited,1967, Adelaide).

It was an enjoyable read although not entirely focused on Pentridge Prison, there is a lot of other details about the Melbourne colony. Sometimes the book lost focus but I wasn’t bored, there is a dramatic short story about a night ride from Geelong to Melbourne that was indirectly connected to Pentridge. Towards the end there is a bit of an examination of nineteenth century penal theory and practice but the book is more about historical story telling than any overall thesis.

There were also a few more anecdotal details about William Stanford, the convict who carved the granite fountain in Gordon Reserve (above Parliament Station) including speculations on who was the model for the boy. However, amongst all these details the authors fail to mention, the crucial detail that Stanford had been an apprentice stonemason before immigrating to Australia.

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

“Stanford was allowed the use of a shed for his work. The magistrate also supplied him with a kit of tools, and when the artist wanted a model for the eagles which were to ornament the rim of the fountain , he arranged for a stuffed eagle hawk to be sent to Pentridge from Bendigo. Mr Paton also came to Stanford’s aid when he wanted a child to act as model for the nude figure forming the finial of the work – a youth holding up a basket of flowers. Stanford, it is said, made many request to the warders to allow one of their children to pose for the nude, although the warders were willing their womenfolk had other views.” (p.139-40)

The vast site of the old Pentridge prison continues to be rehabilitated and redeveloped into a housing estate. However, apart from the residential development and a few eateries there is little going on in the area. I notice that people keep on searching for ghosts in the grounds of Pentridge prison but it appears rather soulless in the daylight. The old carved granite bluestones retain character but the development appears lifeless. Stone work was a major feature of Pentridge’s prison regime in the early years of the prison, some of it perhaps carved with William Stanford himself.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 1

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 2

Walking around Pentridge Village, as it is now called, I thought that I had finally found the preserved mural by the aboriginal artist, Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) that I heard about. Like Stanford, Bull already had already studied painting before being sent to prison. In 1960 (or 1962 or 1964) Elliot Bull painted the mural with ordinary house paint in “F” Division. (See my post on Prison Art @ Pentridge.) Although Bull’s mural at Pentridge is his most important surviving artwork (S. Kleinert, ‘‘‘Blood from a Stone”: Ronald Bull’s Mural in Pentridge Prison’, Australian Journal of Art, 14, no 2, 1999, p 93).

I was wrong Bull is not the artist responsible for this painting. The unnamed artist  in a yet unnamed lane, between Pentridge Blvd and Sentry Lane. Now I think that it might have come from the Jika Jika Division exercise yard, as it has steel reinforcing bars embedded in the concrete. There was nothing about its history and it probably adds less to the lane than it did to the prison yard.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 3Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 4


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