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Susan Shulman: Notes from Down Under, Part 2

Guest blogger Susan Shulman continues her tour of art sites during a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia. Part 1 here.

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National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Visiting the National Gallery was my first exposure to the depth and beauty of Aboriginal art. I went into rooms filled with mesmerizing iconography and colours. These spaces of beauty lured me into their dreamlike worlds. The first things that I noticed were the shields, symbolizing various aspects of the power of respected ancestors.

Photo: Susan Shulman.

In the beginning, the indigenous people adorned themselves, their shields, and the sand around them. They painted their “Dreamings.” The arc and circle shapes, designs, and tones of all the paintings evoke excitement on a very primal level of purity of expression. The dots are said to signify the sacred ceremonies of men. There were many great paintings, but taking photos was prohibited because of the sacredness of the imagery. These works were created instinctually, with minimal art supplies and paint colours. The artists created magnificent works full of symbolism and brilliance, each one with their own unique way of storytelling.

I also realized that even though I was looking at the Papunya Tula "dot art" paintings" hanging vertically on the walls, they were created while sitting on the ground with the canvas in front on the same plane.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was one of the artists whose use of white dotting created layers to soften areas and create dimensions of colours. Another great artist was Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi. There was a sign above Charlie’s work at the exhibition that said :”If I don't paint this story some whitefella might come and steal my country.” He was outspoken and quite aware of how his art was being exploited. My spirit resonated with the instinctual energy spewing out from these unique artists.

Next door at the National Gallery Studio, skateboards were displayed on the walls like the shields I had just seen. I felt like I crossed generations, yet was looking at the extension of more tribal art.

Photo: Susan Shulman.

Before me were decks with similar sizes and shapes evoking the modernity of a new warrior: the skateboarder. Art from over fifty of Australia’s best as well as upcoming artists were represented at the exhibition. Brilliant graphic designs and colours exploded off these wooden canvases, full of vibrant imagery. Encased in glass were a 1979 Powell Peralta “Ray Bones” Rodriguez with the iconic skull and sword,while boldly juxtaposed next to it stood the 1991 Mark Gonzales “Blind” deck parodying the imagery of the first board.

Sticky Institute and Zine Fair

I was told about a great gallery that specializes in zines and gingerly entered the Degraves Subway to find the most amazing gallery stocked full of zines of all kinds. I had just entered the underground world of the underground zines! It was a warm and welcoming place, full of people drawing and photocopying. Creation was everywhere. I gave them my Kalicorp Art Mysteries and was told about the annual zine fair, that takes place as part of Festival of the Photocopier at Melbourne Town Hall.

The fair must have had over 100 zine sellers of all kinds. There were so many ingenious zines at every table. I met so many gifted artists. The strangest part was I noticed some Fluxus art on a table and proceeded to get a better look. I said to the artist: “Are you a Fluxus artist, do I know you?” and then we realized I had friended him on Facebook before I left for Melbourne. It was so great to meet David Dellafiora, a really cool artist. What was even funnier was that we both had art at the Fluxfest in Chicago in February and here we both were in Melbourne. This surreal meeting was sort like my whole trip.

Next to him was an interesting artist named GJ Smith. I walked around the fair and then returned to chat with GJ. He had the most amazing book on his art called “No Frills Art.” I spent quite a lot of time being educated on the different aspects of graffiti and how Melbourne has gained notoriety in street art. In fact I had just been to Hosier Lane to see some of the street art and met some of the skilled artists earlier. Glen (aka No Frills) gave me a fast track into paste ups, stencils, straying, stickers, tees, badges, zines and books which of course he is a pro on. He said that he uses his art as a political platform and tries to bridge the gap between all art worlds. Glen writes in his book:
“No Frills Art is art at street level. However, one could argue that I am not totally submerged in the hardcore street art scene. I feel that my work crosses over into the realms and at times is heavily influenced by its aesthetics. Another common trait my work shares with Street Art is that the artwork is about being inclusive for the audience, while also being an integrated part of culture designed to create a dialogue or trigger a thought as opposed to simply selling art to decorate private walls.” 
A few days later, I found out via Glen’s blog that his mom had passed away a week earlier from cancer, and her last request to him was that he draw on her coffin. I cannot describe how that touched me. There he was, chatting with me, giving me all his time, discussing his thoughts on the art world, when this awful event had happened.

Photo: GJ Smith.

Inspired by Glen’s example, I got the courage to try my own hand at street art. So I went later and did my own paste up on Hosier lane with my Kali piece and felt liberated, like I had joined the underground community. There is a hierarchy in the lane so I carefully placed my piece where I hoped it would live a bit longer. (Ironically while I was doing it, tourists were taking photos of me thinking I was some street artist from Melbourne.) So a little piece of my art was left behind in Australia.


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