Tag Archives: Trades Hall

Van Rudd at Work

“I wanted to be a conservative painter but something…” Van Rudd pauses, searching for the best way to explain his life and the world. Van Rudd, the nephew of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is a politically engaged socialist artist who installs provocative street art sculptures, exhibits the stolen forks of the ultra-rich and parts of exploded vehicles from Afghanistan.


I wondered what he had been up to since he ran for parliament against Julia Gillard in 2010. As it turns out he is painting a mural the Trades Hall carpark.

It is hard to believe that Van was ever a conservative painter but he was shows me some photos of his early paintings, they are very good but conservative in style. In his late-teens he was painting plein air Impressionist paintings of Brisbane. He then shows me some cool paintings that he did of exploding figures in stylish lounge rooms; paintings that looked like a mix between Geoffrey Smart, James Gleeson and Brett Whitely. He tried the fine art and contemporary art audience and he didn’t get the response was looking for, so he went in search of a different audience.


Now his audience is not into contemporary art or street art. Now his audience is the union member who has no interest or time for following artists on Instagram or buying art in galleries. It is the person in the street or someone looking at the news. Van sees himself as a propagandist, even though he freely admits that the power of art is minimal compared to economic power. His art is there to support and illustrate the message.

Considering Van’s diverse art practice, from illustrating a children’s book to street art installations, I wanted to know what he did with most of your time as an artist? Did he work in a studio? He doesn’t really have one. When he is not an artist his hobby is indoor football. He also goes to a lot of left wing meetings because he finds that is a condensed way of doing research and getting information.

The carpark walls at Trades Hall are covered in graffiti and Van has had to buff back two large concrete sections. The graffiti in the carpark is a mix of the most basic tagging, by writers like Pork and Nost, along with political slogans: “Unions are part of the detention industry.”

The large mural that he is painting in Trades Hall carpark is just at its outline stage. Van says wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

Work progresses slowly, especially with me asking questions. Van with a paintbrush is not as fast as the street artists with their spray cans. He is critical of what he calls the “proletarianisation” and the “hyper-exploitation of street art.” The artist as sole trader has no protection, from exploitation and hazardous conditions especially the street artists working at heights. He tells me that has recently got his CFMEU white card for working on elevated work platforms; scissor-lifts, booms lifts, etc. Not that he is going to be working at height with this mural. He puts on a fume mask to protect against both the paint and car exhaust fumes and gets back to painting.


A Day and a Ball

Diagonally opposite Melbourne’s Trades Hall is the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” completed in 1903. In 1856 stonemasons at Melbourne University were among the first in Australia to achieve an eight-hour working day. The stonemasons had the industrial muscle to achieve these working conditions as Melbourne was in the middle of a building boom and before modern steel construction techniques stonemasons were required for major buildings. There is some doubt if the English sculptor and monument builder, Percival Ball was commissioned to design the “Eight Hour Day Memorial”. There is no doubt the bulk of the work on the monument was done by stonemasons working an 8-hour day.

Percival Ball appears to be a hardworking 19th Century sculptor on the search for commissions. He had a studio in Collins Street East; it is the artists studios on this street, rather than the later addition of the trees, that is the reason that Melbournians traditionally referring to the east end of Collins Street as the “Paris end”. The unfortunate man probably spent a lot of his time in meetings with committees for one monument or the other. If Ball did have a hand in the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” he had retuned to London and died before it was completed in 1903. Ball died of heart failure due to asthma and bronchitis on 4 April 1900.

Percival Ball received a number of commissions for sculpture in Melbourne. In 1886-87 Ball completed James Gilbert’s statue of Sir Redmond Barry, in front of State Library. The statue had been partially made in England but Ball had to complete it and supervising its mounting it on the plinth and other finishing details. Ball created the statue for the memorial to businessman and philanthropist, Francis Ormond. This memorial took five years to complete 1892-1897 before it was erect at the Working Men’s College (now RMIT). So the completion of the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” after Ball’s death would not have excluded him from being the sculptor. From a conservative judge to a memorial to progressive working conditions Ball does appear not interested in the politics of the memorial he wanted commissions, as a result Ball mostly sculpted portrait busts.

The“Eight Hour Day Memorial” is a triumphal obelisk composed of stone pedestal, granite column surmounted with 888 and bronze globe with gold leaf  . The 888 stands for 8 hours of labor, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of relaxation for a balanced 24 hour day. In case this symbolism was lost on the public around globe there is the inscription that reads: ‘Labour, Recreation, Peace’. The globe symbolizes the global aspirations for the labour movement. It is a monument, not to a person but to the ideal work-life balance.

Originally the “Eight Hour Day Memorial” was located near Parliament House in Gordon Reserve, Spring Street and the route 8-hour march passed by it. After two decade the march and the monument were too much for conservative members of the parliament who urged its relocation. And in 1923 it was moved to its present location, on the corner of Russell St. and Victoria Parade, appropriately near Trades Hall.

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