I want to write about the aesthetics of walls; the supports for the advertising, graffiti, street art, decay and accidental marks in the city. Something about the dirty mix of dividers, partitions and supports that we see all the time, that defines the city but we don’t usually focus on.
What brought the city’s walls into focus for me was a copy of a wall on a wall in the CBD. On a brick wall in the city someone had added cast a section of bricks; I guess it was done by an art student who had read some Baudrillard. It had then been reattached to the matched section of the wall. This simulation was an elegant minimal celebration of a plain brick wall for what it is.
Consider some other walls and surfaces, not just for their suitability as a surface for applying aerosol paint, or glue. In Union Lane some paint had come off a wall in a big acrylic sheet about the size of my hand. It revealed the layers of different coloured aerosol paint was almost half a centimetre thick. Some Melbourne walking tour guides will tear off a bit of peeling paint to show visitors the archeology of Melbourne’s graffiti.
Like the accretion of staples, nails and screws on wooden power-poles, all that remains of posters for lost cats, garage sales and other signs.
The advertising posters at Flinders Street Station, torn off because their contracted time is up, compared to the “décollage” of Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé in France in 1949. The duo exhibited layers of torn advertising posters that they had ripped from the streets as works of art.
The contested values of buffing and art appreciation where selected street art pieces are painted around. Or where graffiti writers leave space to preserve ghost-signs, the old hand-painted advertisements by professional sign-writers.
They make you wonder what forces are operating on the wall. Are they intentional? Or accidental? Or the inevitable entropy of a plumber putting a pipe through a Banksy rat on a wall in Prahran.
Tea and cakes with Snotrag makes for a pleasant afternoon.
The small gallery upstairs at Brunswick Bound bookshop is crowded on Saturday afternoon for the opening of Snotrag’s exhibition “Ear”. Amongst the crowd are the artists HaHa, Junky Projects, Arlene TextaQueen and Pierre Lloga. DJ Tuffy mixing tracks with some radical but relaxed sounds including a Phillip Glass track.
Snotrag is a punk street artist based in Melbourne making art for the street and gallery. She is not only active in decorating the streets of Melbourne and Jogjakarta but organizing and networking (hence the turn out for her exhibition opening). She is involved in the Inter-Location Project building a DIY arts bridge between Melbourne and Jogjakarta.
At the exhibition a large wall painting fills the front wall of the gallery, decorative elements in a frieze runs across the top with two figures in Snotrag’s distinctive style below. There is a wall of black bandanas and t-shirts with images of faces and birds. Her images of birds in drawings and t-shirts would be ordinary were it not for her totemic decorative details. These decorative details that were developed through doodling and looking at architectural details, remind me of elements of calligraphic ornamental borders.
On the other wall are framed mixed media drawings, most impressively her Skull and Dust series. I wish that there were more narrative elements or cheeky intelligence in her drawings, as in her crossed hammer and vibrator drawing – DIY. It is Snotrag’s 2nd exhibition and it looks like she is still developing/expanding her style. The works are all reasonably priced and work was selling quickly at the opening. There is even a painting free for the best cop story and a box to post the stories in.
Talk at the opening was punctuated by “Yeah yeah” from all New Zealand artists; it is like listening to the antipodeans equivalent of Dada (“yeah yeah” in Romanian).
Junko Go’s exhibition at Gallery 101 is “all about… blooming”. This large series of paintings are all botanically named but even without the titles the charcoal drawings of the roses, spider lily, angel trumpet and other flowers are recognizable. However, these are not botanical, still life or paintings of gardens, there is so much more content. There is even more to the titles of these paintings than just a name, they include short meditations. For example: “Red Hot Poker – Push and poke our inner strength. Sometimes, we need courage to take ricks of confronting pain and loss in order to gain a deep and profound experience.”
The pale grounds of the paintings lift the pinks and orange and blacks. It provides a ground, like a page in sketchbook, for the charcoal and pastel marks. And creates a play of subtle shades.
There is an uncommon mix of qualities in Junko Go’s paintings: beautiful and serene but not bland. They are both relaxed and vibrant with details. Calm and fun at the same time. How is all of this possible?
One artist’s ideas can cross-pollinate another artist’s and produce strong progeny. The moment that I saw these paintings I knew that the form of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings had influenced Junko Go. It is a form that doesn’t restrict the contemporary artists but brings together many ways of creating visual images. To both draw and paint. To create images that are abstract, symbolic and representational. Now there are a lot of differences between of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a black American man from NYC and Junko Go, a Japanese woman living in rural Tasmania. And the most obvious difference to point out in their paintings is that Basquiat frequently used a black ground whereas Junko Go uses a white ground. And then there would be different moods, styles and ideas – it really is just the form, the informal way of organizing marks on canvas that they share.
Junko Go was still working on the wall painting of roses in the gallery when I visited on Wednesday afternoon. Wall paintings are becoming more common in all kinds of painter’s exhibitions. Perhaps these ephemeral artworks are another influence that street art has had on the art galleries.
Marcus Bunyan has written a review of this exhibition on Art Blart.
In the main gallery at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces is “The Independence Project” a group exhibition of contemporary Malaysian artists. Artistic contact between Australia and neighbouring countries is not as strong as the influence of the US and Europe. Hopefully this exhibition and Shooshie Sulaiman’s residency at Gertrude will help change this situation.
The materials and techniques in this exhibition very contemporary; there are video projections and installations and videos with installations. Ahmed Fuad Osman has the only oil painting in the exhibition but there also a DVD in part of the series: Recollections of Long Lost Memories.Having visited KL (Kuala Lumpur) and trying to find exhibition spaces I sympathised with Yap Sau Bin’s ‘Mapping KLArtSpace’. This ongoing project uses Google Earth virtual globe software.
I particularly enjoyed Vincent Leong’s ‘Run, Malaysia, Run!’ It reminded me of Rene Clair’s surrealist film; the basic humour of people not dressed for running jogging endlessly works. Leong has added the search for the identity of multi-cultural Malaysia; it is a very relevant work for multi-cultural Australia too, as it searches for its identity.
Some of the art did not travel easily, like Roslisham Ismail’s NEP, collage installation, that required the information about the work to understand impact of the local New Economic Policy. Other works were about understanding another culture, like Wong Hoy Cheong’s ‘Aman Sulukule Canim Sulukule’, video and installation, based on his residency in Istanbul in 2007 where Hoy Cheong worked with Roma people.
Sharon Chin’s ‘How to Talk to Strangers’, DVD and installation, is a conceptual work with heart. Yee I-Lann’s ‘Kerbau’ billboard installation is huge and the Kerbau, water buffalo, on it are big too as they walk over traffic cones. Finally there is Shooshie Sulaiman’s installation using the Malaysian flag to create a bed as she moves between countries. Sulaiman’s last major exhibition was at Documenta 12, 2007 in Kassel, Germany; her experience there is reported by Kean Wong.
In the Front Room of Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces Richard Bell is exhibiting two wall paintings. Wall paintings and wall drawings are where the artist paints or draws directly on the gallery wall knowing that the art will be painted over at the end of the exhibition. Bell’s wall paintings are a colourful combination of patterns, Pollock-like splashes and words. It is hard not to like these paintings they are like American modernism combined in test patches. One painting says “I Am That Shallow” – the other “Australian Art Does Not Exist”.