Tag Archives: Vali Myers

Bohemian Melbourne

Looking at the Bohemian Melbourne exhibition at the State Library of Victoria brought several ideas that I had been thinking about into sharper focus. “Artist, rebel, hippie, hipster?” reads the subtitle of the exhibition, given that I have been some kind of bohemian in Melbourne for all my adult life and that I have encountered some of the subjects of this exhibition, I have a lot of thoughts and there are several hyperlinks to previous blog post.

Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building, Liz Ham, 1997

Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building, Liz Ham, 1997

Firstly, it is not necessary to be a bohemian to be an artist and I pity to fool that thinks that it is sufficient.

Whatever a bohemian is, it is definitely a biographical genre, frequently autobiographical, and often exists in a multimedia format, even before the idea of multimedia. It is a story about a person who is outside of conventional society.

In Richard Miller’s book Bohemia, the Protculture, Then and Now (Nelson-Hall, 1977, Chicago) Miller distinguishes between the wealth and the poverty models of bohemian life exemplified by Doyenné and Murger respectively. He also distinguishes between bohemians on the basis of class background and political attitudes, something that Bohemian Melbourne neglected to emphasise, mixing and right wing bohemians, Percy Grainger being the epitome of a right wing radical. (See my post on the Grainger Museum.)

I believe that understanding bohemians would be helped with a better understanding of demographics and the sociology of different sizes of populations. For if x% of the population are bohemians and the population of a city is 100,000 will bohemian behaviour change when it is 1,000,000? Will it change again when the population reaches 5,000,000?

Bohemian Melbourne reminded me that art styles are in reality clubs, exclusive groups based not so much on a logic of stylistic similarity but membership. Melbourne’s early art history was established around clubs. Some like Buonarotti Club, The Cannibal Club, Savages Club were bohemian. Others like, Stray Leaves, the Victorian Academy of Arts and the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria were not. The first of these was the Victoria Fine Arts Society established in 1853, it last four years until 1857. In 1874 the Victorian Artists Society was established and still continues today (see my post on Zombie Artists).

Like most gangs these clubs defend their members and their territory, be that territory intellectual, as in Surrealism or geographic, as in the Cabal of Naples. Artist colonies, residences or even restaurants, like Montsalvat or Heide, can be the nexus of the group’s activities. (see my post on Montsalvat)

In part, artist clubs replaced the artists workshops, the guilds and apprenticeships in trying to answered the question of who qualifies to be a called an artist. Membership of these clubs takes various forms but it is essential that other members of the club recognise each other as members of the club. Non-members are excluded from being authentic. For example, being an Australian Aboriginal artist is not dependent on ancestry but on being recognised as Aboriginal by the local aboriginal community. Likewise, if you are not known to paint illegal pieces on buildings or trains without permission then you will not be recognised as a graffiti writer by other graffiti artists.

The reduction of clubs in society in general as an aspect of Australian society, is reflected in the art world. Sure the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria and the Victorian Artists Club still exist, like antique reminders of the past. The reduced numbers and lack of influence is one reason why there are no clearly identifiable art styles in contemporary art. (See my post Happy 70th Anniversary CAS)

The most important arts clubs that still exist in Melbourne are in the form street art crews. Street art and graffiti are movements rather than styles, a movement is where multiple similar clubs/crews/organisations/etc exist. Movements are larger than clubs and are not defined by the artists/members but by historians.

I could go on about artistic lifestyles and living a bohemian life on social security payments but I will save that for future blog posts.

Gloves, Locks and Vali Myers

I walked around the city enjoying the spring sunshine after the rain and looking at a few small exhibitions. It looks nothing like Xmas even though they are putting up Xmas trees and other decorations around Melbourne. There is a large red Santa Mail Box in the City Square. Now that the drought is over some of Melbourne’s fountains are flowing again; the John Mockridge Fountain in the City Square is one of them. Melbourne once had fountains in its gardens and scattered around the city but during the drought they were shut off and only the NGV’s famous water wall remained flowing.

On the ground floor “artspace” at Victoria University Peter Burke is exhibiting graphite, enamel and charcoal drawings of 18 of the 55 gloves that he has found on his way to work and back. Each drawing is documented in a stamped format with the date, time and location of the glove: “Green + blue gardening glove, Saturday 10/7/10 11:35am Swanston St. Melbourne.” There are wool, leather and rubber gloves, generally singular although there is one pair. The detailed drawings of the lost gloves have an anthropomorphic quality and a concern with the wabi-sabi elements of wear. “Lost Property: Gloves” combines the conceptual, art/life/game elements of Peter Burke’s art with the fine traditional drawings.

“Unlocked – Abus photography award” at No Vacancy is an exhibition by second year RMIT photography students for a prize from Abus, a German padlock company. So most of the photographs looked liked glossy advertising photographs for their product but a few rose above this, like Hannah Schlesinger’s “Secure the Sacred”. Giles Crook won the $2000 prize and Don Dang won the people’s choice.

There is a small exhibition of visionary art by the late, eccentric bohemian, Vali Myers on exhibition at Outré Gallery. Myers’ obsessive technique of lines and dots are some kind of substitute for quality and artistic development. Along with her art there is a vitrine of her journals, jewellery and other mementos of her life, including the last pen nib that she used. I remember visiting Vali Myers studio in the Nicholas Building in the late 90s. Her single large room on the 7th floor was a combination between a sitting room, studio and sales room. The original art is NFS (Not For Sale) but the prints are. Most of the prints are giclee prints produced by the Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust after her death.

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