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Tag Archives: pop surrealism

Different Art Crowds

In the middle of January, a few galleries were opening again and one of these was BeinArt Gallery. BeinArt specialises in fantasy, pop-surrealist art; the type of art that makes you wonder why there is never really good Freudian psychiatrist around when you need one? If you are into pop surrealism or the macabre art then BeinArt is the place for you.

“Flesh & Bone” was a group exhibition at at BeinArt. The opening reception had turned into one of those Facebook events with 1.6K interested, 460 going and 1.2K invited. In reality a lot less people came than any of those numbers but, as it was a fine summer evening many goths, punks and other yet unspecified kinds of mutants were in attendance.

The Facebook event promised “entertainment from performance artist, Shamita Sivabalan.” I haven’t seen any body painting in decades.

That evening you could smell the crowd inside BeinArt Gallery from the door. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was a warm smell of humanity; it was about five degrees warmer inside with all the people.

It was a distinctly different crowd inside from the wine drinking contemporary art school crowd, or the beer drinking hetro graffiti and street art crowd. I am not simply proposing that different galleries attract different groups of people; that they are dressed differently, drink and eat differently at exhibition openings. Rather that these are distinctly different groups with different aesthetics and different values.

The high end art market and the contemporary art scenes might attempt to dismiss the crowd at BeinArt Gallery or the street art crowds as simply subcultures. That assumes that they themselves are not a subculture and that the dominant mass aesthetic culture in Australia, where the list of visual artists might be: David Bromley, Ken Done, Pro Hart, etc. the kind of artists who are not even exhibited in the state galleries.

I think that there are several totally different art crowds in Melbourne just as there are different music audiences depending on the genre of music. To imagine that there was only one type of music would be an obvious mistake today but not so a few centuries ago. This is more of an issue for a critic discussing these different genre’s than for the audience or artists.

BeinArt Gallery isn’t the only place in Sparta Place selling original art, a couple of doors along is Santa Clara comic book shop with some original art for sale too; art for the nerd and geeks. Faced with the hyperbole of the art in “Flesh & Bone” the depictions of the urban environment in comic book inspired art appeared both more relevant and restrained.

SpartaPlace caters to a wide mix of tastes: the bust of King Leonidas, the contemporary public art pillars by Louise Lavarack, the mass taste of bridal boutiques, the old Spanish Mission revival architecture along with the graffiti and street art in the parking lot.

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A couple of exhibitions in Brunswick

In Sparta Place there is a new gallery, Beinart Gallery offering “fine art” and “curiosities”. Gallery director, Jon Beinart has been involved with pop surrealism for over a decade, publishing books for several years and collecting a coterie of artists. Beinart says that all the gallery now has a physical presence most of his business is online sales.

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Pop surrealism is the bastard child of Salvador Dali and a Hollywood Blvd hooker. The child grew up in an American tattoo parlour reading underground comics and eating acid like it was candy. Like many of that generation pop surrealism traveled the world, growing bigger, fatter and more popular but is still hanging out in a tattoo parlour reading comic books, or fatter graphic novels.

One side of the shopfront gallery is used for temporary exhibitions, the other side has a selection of diverse works from the stockroom.

The current temporary exhibition is “Transmogrify” a three person exhibition by Ben Howe, Tim Molloy and Jake Hempson.

Howe’s paintings depict the point of disintegration of the head, fracturing or metamorphosing into a tangle of ribbons. I first saw Ben Howe’s work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 but this is first time that I’ve seen a series of his paintings. His current work aren’t stencil works but oil paintings; Howe completed a Masters of Fine Art at RMIT in 2011.

Illustrator and comic artist, Tim Molloy has a series of watercolour paintings of strange characters based on his work for his graphic novel, Mr Unpronounceable and the Infinity of Nightmares.

Digital animator Jake Hempson also makes actual sculptures. In a series of busts that explore alternate anatomy of human heads with a particular focus on the interior surface of the maxilla, the upper jawbone, or replacing the head with an animal skull.

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At Tinning Street presents there is a tour de’force of paper cutting by Japanese artist, Akiko Nagino. Nagino explained that has only been in Melbourne for a few years and was amazed at how many people have come to see her “Cutting Nature” exhibition. It is obvious. It was also obvious when she was a finalist in the Victorian Craft Awards in 2015

Her designs are of butterflies, patterns and decay. There are lower edges that are dripping, distorted or melting, there are broken chains, all perfectly cut out of paper.

The cut paper is a substitute for clothes or jewellery; there are two butterfly patterned kimonos, a giant necklace, a handkerchief and several shawls. In some of the works the paper has been treated and coloured with iron and copper finishes.

Large scale hand cut paper pieces are complimented with dry embossed prints of the cut paper pieces. The subtle white on white of embossed paper balancing the high contrast of the cut paper piece.

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Pop Surrealism in Melbourne

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are filled with a passionate intensity.”

W.B. Yeats – The Second Coming

Fantastic, visionary and surreal elements have always been present in art; these strange attractors will always have artists and collectors. It exists in a cluster of other strange attractors: the exotic, the primitive, the macabre, and the comic…

What ever it is a fantastic publishing opportunity for books and magazines, prints and posters – and the galleries that sell them. Several Melbourne people have published fantastic art: in the past, Art Visionary magazine and currently, BeinArt Publishing. Melbourne has two galleries that specialize in this art: the established city gallery, Outré Gallery and, the Brunswick gallery, 696 Ink.

Outré Gallery is a commercial boutique gallery on Elizabeth St. in the Melbourne that exhibits artists like Shag, Mark Ryden and “other pop, lowbrow, street and alternative art”, according to their entry in Art Almanac. They also have a branch in Sydney. Outré Gallery is focused on American lowbrow and street art along with more than books, prints and vinyl toys. The last time that I was in Outré Gallery I saw a painted porcelain hand-grenade and other porcelain products from Laibach.

696 Ink (see my review of their opening) is a smaller gallery and although it also exhibits internationally known pop-surreal artists. There was a Robert Wilson painting on the wall when I was last in there and a young artist from the eastern suburbs was in to see a single painting by an artist that he admired. 696 Ink specializes in local artists and more affordable art. It also distributes the books of Jon Beinart, who also has a hand in the management of the gallery. BeinArt Publishing started with glossy full colour book of fantastic art, Metamorphosis, since then it has published Metamorphosis 2 and two other monographs on the work of individual fantastic artists.

Art Visionary, “Australian & International Journal of Fantastic & Visionary Art”, was an irregular publication from Melbourne, starting in 1997 and continued for 3 issues. Damian Michaels, an American artist and art collector who migrated to the suburbs of Melbourne in 1995, edited it. Art Visionary focused too much on the Viennese School of Fantastic Art, like H.R.Giger, and Wolfgang Grasse. Issue 1 started with a colour cover and black and white inside but the number of colour pages grew in later issues. There was a modest amount of advertising in the magazine from galleries from around the world including Outré Gallery.

Both Damian Michaels and Jon Beinart operate as publishers, collectors and dealers. They organize exhibitions of the artists that they represent; Jon Beinart has had exhibitions at Brunswick Arts and the old, 696. In 2001 Damian Michaels curated Fantastic Art, an exhibition mostly from his own collection of fantastic art from around the world, at Orange Regional Gallery. Later this exhibition toured Ballarat Gallery and other regional galleries. On the 23rd of July 2004 I was at the opening of the Fantastic Art exhibition at Ballarat Gallery. About a hundred other people braved the heavy rain and icy Ballarat winter weather to see because of the variety of contemporary fantastic art. There were works by Tom McKee (US), Erik Heyninck (Belgium), Alex Grey (US), H.R. Giger (Switzerland), Ernst Fuchs (Austria), Paul Freeman (Australia) and many other artists from around the world.

There are problems with pop surrealism and its relatives; they are not innocent in its appropriation by advertising and the mass media as Hakim Bey argues (Hakim Bey TAZ Automedia 1991 p.79). It has become the most commercial of all types of art with mass edition prints and other products marketed at a variety of price levels. What else is the purpose of this art? Is it just to look strange and impressive in reproduction in books and magazines?


Top Arts @ NGV

The Top Arts VCE 2009 exhibition has more variety than regular exhibitions at the NGV, Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Sure there are examples of all media that are regularly exhibitions at the NGV: painting, photography, prints, sculpture and video art. But there is also lots of art that is not normally exhibited at the NGV. Illustrations, especially illustrations from literary sources like Nina Waldron’s “Lord of the Flies” that powerfully evokes William Golding’s novel, are rarely shown. Comic books, like Harry Hay’s “Rover and the captains” are also rarely seen on exhibition at the NGV. Pop-surrealist paintings, like those of Michelle Molinari, are a genre that the NGV curators would normally avoid.

The Top Arts exhibition forces these media and genres into the NGV. It is a democratic election that brings art into the gallery based on quality rather than curatorial fashion. The variety of art on exhibition maybe one of the reasons for the popularity of this annual exhibition; Tops Arts last year had more than 100,000 people attending the exhibition (from the NGV media kit). It is one reason why I have seen the Top Arts exhibition in previous years.

I went to the NGV media preview for the exhibition. At least this exhibition fits with the main focus of my blog – to review artists that are off the mainstream critical map. This is the 16th year of Top Arts exhibition at the NGV. The exhibition features 80 works by 57 of the best students who completed Art or Studio Arts as part of their VCE, Victorian Certificate of Education (I’m cribbing again from the NGV’s media kit).

I did get to speak to some of the artists at the media preview; they were all wearing nametags and were standing by their art to be interviewed and photographed by the media pack. I talked with André Bricknell who is exploring abstract painting: he said his style has already developed from the Basquiat inspired painting on exhibition. His painting demonstrated that he enjoyed the unconscious revelry of painting. Ryan Mitchell told me that his prints, with their calm and elegant images, were possible due to his art teacher’s interaction with the students at Portland Secondary College rather than good printing facilities at the school.

If you enjoy variety in an art exhibition then you will enjoy this exhibition. If you normally don’t like a lot of the art on exhibition at the NGV you will find something that you will like at Top Arts.


696 Ink Opening

I thought that I was going to the opening of a tattoo parlor with a few paintings on the wall. The sinks for the tattoo parlor part have yet to be installed so the only ink was on a few drawings – it was just a gallery opening.

696 Ink is a new gallery in the same location on Sydney Road as 696. To the casual observer it may not even look like a new gallery. Some of the same artists are on the wall. The front gallery is still hung salon style although the larger paintings make it look less crowded. Amongst the hundreds of people at the opening was Melika, one of the previous 696 gallery directors. “In a few years there will be another couple of display cases and more art on the wall.” She predicted. The change in direction is subtle from a street-influenced art, illustration and craft direction to hardcore pop surrealism.

Pop surrealism is the bastard child of Salvador Dali and a Hollywood hooker. The child grew up in an American tattoo parlor reading underground comics and eating acid like it was candy. Like many of that generation pop surrealism traveled the world, growing bigger, fatter and more popular but is still hanging out in a tattoo parlor reading comic books, or fatter graphic novels.

There are some good examples of the variety of pop surrealism, from comic book style to super realist, on exhibition from the 20 artists on exhibition at the group show opening of 696 Ink. The sculpture on exhibition is particularly powerful. Mark Powell’s cabinet diorama looks like a scene from Wm Burrough’s Naked Lunch. And Isabel Peppard, who has worked with Patricia Piccinini, has a humanoid larval form developing in a skeletal womb.

696 Ink is being run: Meg Woodsworth, Jason Jacenko (the tattooist in the trio) and Jon Beinart. Jon Beinart has been publishing books about pop surrealist artists for several years and collecting a coterie of artists, the beinArt Surreal Art Collective. Monthly shows of artists are planned for the second back gallery room, with the next show by Karl Persson (see my review of his previous exhibition at 696).


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