Tag Archives: Richmond

Graffiti Makes Great History

Oriel Guthrie and Spencer Davids’s Writers Bench: The Evolution of Melbourne Graffiti and Street Art Culture 1980 – 2011 tells a social history of Melbourne graffiti in a neutral, balanced and insightful manner. In telling the history its answers the question of how Melbourne arrived at this current state of flourishing diversity in graffiti and street art. It is a story that progresses from crude beginnings to the current sophistication and inclusion in art galleries.

The documentary’s title, Writer’s Bench, comes from the congregation of graff writers on the benches at Richmond Railway Station. Graffiti and street art are mass art movements; there are hundreds of artists in Melbourne alone. There are so many artists that to pick favourites is just an exercise of personal taste. And the documentary interviews so many of the artists involved in Melbourne’s graffiti scene. There are so many people interviewed in this documentary that their numbers swelled ACMI’s largest cinema to near capacity for the premier.

The documentary is not just interviews. There are extensive images of Melbourne in the 1980s from the archives of news and artists. There are no trite moments of documentary film making with artists walking around or long panning shots; when there is music there are plenty of relevant images to go with it.

Writer’s Bench neatly edits the many interviews and images to tell a social and art history in three clear chapters: the Sharpies tags and political slogans, the hip-hop graffiti and finally the stencils and street art. Each chapter has a beginning and end that leads on to the next; how hip hop replaced the gang culture with aerosol art and music, how the impact of age, the police and heroin addictions on hip hop generation opened the space for the stencils and street artists.

Many art histories highlight certain artists as stars. In doing this they ignore so many other artists or suggest that they were either helping or hindering the success of the star. Writers Bench does not do this – the artists are presented as people involved in the history and not aesthetic masters. Writers Bench looks at an evolution that responds to the urban environment and not the development of the current style. It does not glorify the artists – it discusses the problems along with the achievements. You can make your own aesthetic and other judgements; Writers Bench documents the history.

For reasons of full disclosure I’m proud to call the co-producer, source, soundtrack and more, Spencer David my friend.


Letting it all Hang Out

On Thursday afternoon I was walking around looking at galleries and the street art in Richmond and Cremorne. Why not they are just on either side of the Richmond train line. Well, Block Projects is further down Stephenson Street than that but there was some street art to keep me amused along the way.

Block Projects had a great exhibition by Richard Grigg. At first I thought have I walked into an exhibition by a group of intellectually challenged individuals. It looked awkward, stumbling and obvious. “It is a very brave exhibition,” Malcolm, from Block Projects told me. It is indeed; he is letting it all hang out, as they would say in the sixties. Grigg’s unconscious is so close to the surface you can see its periscope, conning tower and the wake

I walk around again to appreciate just how much Grigg’s is pushing himself in all directions. There is the crude, the childlike, the doodle-like, comic book, symbolic, text-based, graphomania, and ultra-fine drawings splashed with other stuff. Grigg’s large pencil drawing on paper are excellent, especially the sleeping crocodile being teased by branches and bladders in “tickle, tickle, I will save you” and the pile of dead animals in “after the flood”. It is all wonderfully surreal in an entirely contemporary way.

Across the railway tracks I wandered the back streets looking for galleries and street art – a few good pieces including this magnificent side of a house by Reka. Finally I found Place Gallery amid the many warehouse conversations.

Reka, house wall Richmond

Place Gallery had an exhibition by Glenn Morgan. There are 8 paintings along with 3 of the wood and tin diorama sculptures that are Morgan’s signature work. Morgan is also letting it all hang out with his art; in his large panoramas he shows the turmoil of everyday life in detail with speech balloons. There is a series telling the personal story of his relationship with his uncle.

Glen Morgan is also exhibiting a series of paintings that tell the story of Victoria’s drought. There is including one great, epic history painting, “Global Warming” that shows drought, bushfires and floods. You don’t get many history paintings anymore; they used to be so popular.

It struck me looking at Glen Morgan exhibition and considering Richard Grigg’s exhibition that Glenn Morgan doesn’t appear to be such an outsider artist anymore. It is not that Morgan’s art has changed the world has caught up with him. On the streets and in the galleries the artists are letting it all hang out.


WTF Corner

On the corner Punt Road and Bridge Road in Richmond there is a small park area officially called “Urban Art Area”. Nobody was using it when I was there. I’m not sure who would use it in the area – it might be all right to sit on the bench and eat lunch if you worked in the area but I doubt it. “Everywhere, there and here” comments on this park “(the angry looking sculptures aside) yet I have only seen one person ever actually sitting in the site.” Beside the busy Punt Road the little park is multi-level area and contains three sculptures.

It is the site of the former Richmond Cable Tramway Engine House that was demolished in 1991; Melbourne had several independently operating cable tramway companies prior to the current electric tramway system in the early 20th Century. The site is heritage listed for what that is worth.

Of the 3 sculptures: one sculptor appears to have disappeared, another works in a completely different direction and one has gone on to produce more significant works of public sculpture in a very different style. These are the results of this shotgun approach to public art collecting.

Anton Hasell, “Yarra Thylacine”, 1995, bronze

There was no information on site of name of one the sculptures – a dog, a bridge and a boat with the words “Yarra” and “Acheron” on its bow and prow. It is Anton Hasell’s “Running Red Tiger”, 1995, bronze; what appears to be a dog is meant to be an extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial and the tiger also references the Richmond football team. Anton Hasell (Dr Anton Hasell of the Australian Bell Pty Ltd) has gone on to produce many commemorative bells notably the Australian Bell for the Australian Centenary in 2001 and HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime commissioned by Darwin City Council. Stlg48 wrote a blog post about Anton Hasell’s exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2010.

Mary Perrott Stimson, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, bronze

Mary Perrott Stimson’s large figurative bronze sculpture, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, stands out against one wall. Although intended as a friendly statement the sculpture does not help the corner. Mary Perrott Stimson has created another public statue, “Reading the News”, 2001, located in Wagga Wagga but I have not been able to find out anything else about this artist.

Adrian Mauriks “Opus 15”, 1995, steel

The most successful sculpture on the corner is Adrian Mauriks’ “Opus 15”, 1995, of cut steel. This surreal sculpture contains a view onto the back lane and is the only sculpture to refer to the local environment. Adrian Mauriks now mainly works on in white painted epoxy resin and stainless steel and there are examples of his work at Chadstone Shopping Centre, Docklands New Quay Precinct, Bundoora Park, and Deakin University’s Burwood Campus. There is also an earlier work of his in marble in the lawn section of Sprinvale Cemetery. Amongst his early works is a “Homage to Jean Arp” 1972, plaster, showing the Dada/Surreal influence in his work.

This little corner in Richmond demonstrates that landscaping and erecting sculptures is not sufficient to revitalize an urban space.


Submarine Psycho Nursery

I had seen the all white relief prints before in a group show of prints at Jenny Port Gallery but I hadn’t thought much of them. I’ve seen a lot of all white art. The prints appeared to be a thoughtless but playful print gesture; the white relief prints of Rorschach test patterns pressed into thick white paper made the content entirely the responsibility of the viewer. When I saw them again at Jenny Port Gallery’s “Summer Salon” along with the mobile “Submarine Psycho Nursery” – I took note of the artist’s name – Simon Perry.

Simon Perry is the creator of “The Public Purse” in the Bourke St. Mall, “Rolled Path” in Brunswick and “Threaded Field” at the <insert corporate logo here> stadium. He is a non-figurative sculptor who has received multiple commissions for public sculptures – a unique position in Melbourne. Perry has no recognizable style or medium to advertise his identity but his art always contains a sense of play.

Perry’s mobile, “Submarine Psycho Nursery” consists of lazar-cut aluminium in the shape of Rorschach’s blogs hanging over a pair of child-sized flippers cast in bronze. The relief prints were made from these aluminium versions of the symmetrical paper folded inkblots that now hung from the arms of the mobile. In this sculpture Perry is riffing on ideas about the unconscious; combination of the Rorschach blogs, references to childhood and undersea exploration. It is a very balanced, amusing and attractive unconscious for a psycho nursery.

There is a lot of variety in rest of the “Summer Salon” exhibition. Amongst the prints, ceramics, photographs and paintings there are post-minimalist sculptures by Lucy Irvine and Carmel Wallace. And following the trend for illustrative work there are Jazmina Cininas wolf girl print series or Sarah Gully’s drawings of hirsute girls and animals – more disturbing images for a psycho nursery.


Meet the Forsters

At Anita Traverso Gallery there were two solo sculpture exhibitions by husband and wife, Hendrik and Kerryn Forster. In Gallery 1 there was Kerryn Forster’s “Found + Fabricated II” and, in Gallery 2, there was Hendrik Forster’s “Domus”. The game of identifying the artist’s gender from their art is too easy with these two sculptors.

Kerryn Forster’s sculptures have a lyrical surrealism and the objects and the found wooded branches used in them have been delicately treated. In “The Offer” a delicately carved arm and hand reach out from the end of a poplar tree branch.  There are lots of trees in the sculptures of Kerryn Forster; there is a tree house, trees with birds with rusted washers for heads. There are contrasting textures and emotions in her sculpture, the smooth waxed wood and the rough found objects, hope and sorrow. Her work is informed by Surrealist sculpture, like Giacometti, Miro and Ernst, but also other sculptures, like an early Christo piece of a stack of 44-gallon drums.

Kerryn Forster’s use of rusted metal objects for bases for her sculpture is the only obvious similarity with her husband’s sculptures which also shows a love of rust. It is less obvious that both of them are jewellers; Hendrik Forster is notably for his design of the Helpmann Trophy for live performance in Australia.

Hendrik Forster’s iron sculptures have a beautiful patina. The oxidizing agent has been splashed on creating various effects, dappled, running down from the roofs in streaks, dripping on the walls. The series of twelve sculptures are formal exploration of architectural forms of the domus (or “house” for you plebeians who don’t savvy Latin). Actually not all the sculptures are of houses there are also churches and factories with sawtooth roofs. The architectural forms have been simplified, there are no doors, windows or other details – these are not models of buildings but sculptures about the space that buildings occupy. Only on the roof of “Himmel Street Houses” there is the repeated pattern of bombers, a reference to Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief (Picador, 2008).

The Forsters live in East Gippsland and were, coincidentally, visiting the gallery at the same time that I was there. They were checking on the exhibition at the halfway point and I got a chance to speak with Hendrik Forster about his wife’s sculpture. He told me about searching through rural junk shops for the found materials and the aura of reused materials.


Albert Street Galleries in August

I had to go to East Richmond on Friday to check the Sweet Streets PO box (formerly the Melbourne Stencil Festival but it is much more than just stencil art now). The snail mail PO box is necessary for legal and administrative reasons but we don’t get much mail.

While I was in East Richmond I had a look at the galleries on Albert St. There are always a lot to see at the Albert Street galleries. I saw “Five Ringed Circus” by photojournalist, Michael Coyne at Anita Traverso Gallery. “Five Ringed Circus” is a series of portraits marking the 10-year anniversary of the Sydney Olympics. Jenny Port Gallery was showing “Pressing Matters – Melbourne printmaking”. This group exhibition has a variety of printing techniques by a variety of Melbourne artists. The standout works of the show were the lycanthropy inspired reduction linocuts by Jazmina Cinnas. At John Buckley Gallery there were exhibitions by Hilarie Mais and Hamish Carr but the post-minimalist optical effects that both artists were engaged in really didn’t grabbed my attention.

On Friday there were several people in Sophie Gannon Gallery, more than I’ve seen in there before during the day. I haven’t reviewed Sophie Gannon Gallery in the past as it has always appears to have exhibitions of their stock rather than exhibitions of individual artists (I don’t often write about their exhibitions as reviewing stock exhibitions is uninspiring). I always enjoy seeing the latest Michael Zavros painting in this gallery, it is fantasy art for those who like good contemporary painting. This time I managed to see the second last day of a fantastic exhibition, Nightmare’s Plutonian Shore by Julia de Ville. Read the reviews of the exhibition by Marcus BunyanMelbourne Jeweler and many others. I should add that there was also work by sculptor Aly Aitken in the exhibition that fitted into the macabre taxidermy theme (I last reviewed her exhibition at Platform in October 2009).

There have been some changes amongst the Albert Street galleries, in Richmond. It is a change in commercial gallery practice that has become common in Melbourne – the separate stock room exhibition space. Normally gallery stock rooms are just that a room of stock; perhaps equipped with hanging racks or with paintings stacked against the walls. Now stock rooms have become exhibition spaces. There is the new JBG1 at #1 Albert St., a space formerly occupied by Alison Kelly Gallery that specialized in aboriginal art. Open stock rooms are becoming common in Melbourne’s commercial galleries; JBG1 is much smaller than the Australia Gallery stock room in Derby St. Collingwood. Karen Woodbury Gallery has a stockroom upstairs with a relaxed sitting room atmosphere, an alternative to their white cube gallery space. Shifted Gallery and Studios, the one artist run initiative on the block also appears to have closed. On the subject of changes to galleries, there is now a gallery within a gallery at Jenny Port Gallery, with the back gallery now called Ladner & Fell Gallery.


Sam Jinks – Sense & Sensational

Hyperrealist sculpture has become part of contemporary art in a way that hyperrealist painting has failed. Contemporary hyperrealism is sensational. It is the contemporary art waxwork museum. It is both a popular and a booming media. There are many Australian artists doing hyperrealist sculptures Martine Corompt, Sam Jinks, Ron Mueck and Patricia Piccinini.  Ron Mueck’s exhibition at the NGV earlier this year was very popular and was defined as “hot” by Melbourne Hot or Not. Patricia Piccinini has grown more popular since she moved from digital images to hyperrealist sculpture (her hyperrealist sculptures are manufactured by Sam Jinks).

I saw Sam Jinks exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Jinks has been exhibiting around Melbourne for the last decade but this is the first time that I’ve seen his work. There are only four sculptures on exhibition but they are all sensational. Not all of the sculptures in this exhibition are hyperrealist – there are two shrouded figures in the exhibition that are not hyperrealist. These figures are part of a symbolist fantasy, a contemporary gothic memento mori; continuing Jinks reputation for spooky sculpture.

There are a lot of sensory aspects to Jinks sculpture in this exhibition. His “Woman and child” 2010, shows an old woman in long nightgown holding a very young baby. The woman’s eyes are closed and the baby’s eyes are just open. It is about the sensation of life and life perceiving sensations. The sculpture is almost a quote from David Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding; for Hume all perceptions are derived either from sensation (“outward sentiment” in Hume’s words), depicted by the baby’s open eyes, or from reflection (“inward sentiment”), represented by the woman’s closed eyes.

Jinks’ sculpture of two entwining snails is also about sensations. It is also very beautiful in an alien way. The greatly enlarged surface of the skin of the monopods is beautifully rendered and their baroque entwining forms make this clearly art rather than a didactic model.

The sculptures are sensational; it is startling to look at the baby’s face in “Woman and child” and find open eyes. It is sensational to see giant hyper-real snails or the shrouded figures with their draped skeletal forms.

Why has hyperrealist sculpture become so popular? (Whereas hyperrealist painting has not had a similar revival in popularity.) It is 33 years after Paul Thek’s celebrated but hyperrealist sculpture “The Tomb – Death of a Hippie”. In 1967 hyperrealism was seen at the time as part of Pop Art but contemporary hyperrealism has nothing to do with Pop Art. Sixties hyperrealism was probably mislabeled by the media, unsure how to classify this kind of art they lumped it in with all the new art. The contemporary generation of artists is more appreciative of the sensational aspects of hyperrealist sculpture. The science fiction and comic book aspects of these contemporary sculptures have been embraced. And the quality of these sculptures has also improved sensationally since Thek’s painted plaster cast.


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