Melbourne: The place to be
aris, London, New York. Debatably the three biggest art capitals in the world, they dominate from fine art to fashion week. Art lovers make their pilgrimage in the millions to worship the internationally renowned pieces, but as of now they will be making a slight detour (10,000 miles) past the Equator to ‘The place to be’ Melbourne, Australia.
Whilst it is an initial shock for art lovers when they hear the words ‘Melbourne Art Scene’, the coastal capital is a dark horse when it comes to groundbreaking art. After being voted the best city to live in for six consecutive years, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Melbourne is making its presence known within the art community. The EIU’s Global Liveability Ranking has found Melbourne to be the ‘most liveable’ place in the world, so it’s no wonder the 100-year-old, contemporary city is enforcing its stake amongst the art greats.
Taking a walk from Flinders Street station down beside the Yarra river, you get the sense of the city’s divide. The city is distinctly separated from the urban graffiti streets of Hosier Lane to the palm tree embellished walkways of St Kilda, by the river. The Yarra separates these two artistic divides accentuating Melbourne’s love of contrast. When it
comes to art, photography, fashion or the dramatic changes in weather, Melbourne does not hold back.
It is clear upon leaving Flinders Street station, that Melbourne’s art fuels its identity. Flinders will most likely be your first greeting from Melbourne and being one of the oldest buildings in the city, the European-inspired architecture reverberates throughout the heart of the city; the baseline of its rich character being The National Gallery.
The National Gallery is a great place to get a well-rounded taste of what Australia has to offer the art world. NGV International as it’s known to locals is based on St. Kilda road, overlooking the Yarra. The gallery proudly houses an extensive collection from Europe, Asia, America, and the Oceania. Exhibitions are popular with tourists and art enthusiasts, housing a variety of media from various internationally renowned artists, everything from Henry Talbot to Degas. Being a short tram ride from Flinders station you’ll be glad to hear the gallery is open all year round (excluding Christmas Day) and is one of the few free attractions in the city, making it a must for any visitor.
Whilst the National Gallery is good at offering a skimmed over vision into the art world, the Ian Potter Centre offers tourists the opportunity to delve deeper into Australian art. The centre, although part of the National Gallery, stands independently watching over Federation Square, a great tourist attraction. Deeming itself ‘The home
The EIU’s Global Liveability Ranking has found Melbourne to be the ‘most liveable’ place in the world, so it’s no wonder the 100-year-old, contemporary city is enforcing its stake amongst the art greats
of Australian art’ the centre exhibits Indigenous and non-Indigenous art from the colonial period to the present day. Its mosaic architecture dominates Federation Square making it the first thing you see upon arriving into the city, whilst its rich history will keep you there.
If you want to gain a middle ground where the city meets the landscape Mars Gallery is your peacemaker. The gallery which was established in 2004 by director Andy Dinan specialises in exhibiting, promoting and building the careers of contemporary Australian artists. Situated on the outskirts of the city, boarding St. Kilda this highend pristine white gallery houses some of the most up and coming artists Australia has developed.
From a variety of styles, influences and backgrounds, Mars offers a more intimate look at Australian culture, with the exhibition nights giving you the chance to hear from the artists itself. When Australian artist, Damien Shen, exhibited his work, On the Fabric of the Ngarrindjeri Body – Volume II, the reception was electric and I’m sure it is the first of many successful national exhibitions of his career. The gallery prides itself on not only its close relationship with talented artists but also using its revolutionary reputation to launch some more controversial art fundraisers, such as the legalisation of marijuana whilst raising money for the arts. Dinan has created an LA atmosphere in the middle of Melbourne, which is not only liberating but also enlightening. We can’t wait for more.
Whilst ‘Gotham city’, as it’s dubbed by the locals, is great to explore, who doesn’t love to escape to the country once in a while. McClelland Park is a breathtaking sculpture park based in 16 hectares of the bush, finished with landscaped gardens in the Langwarrin region on the Mornington Peninsula. Approximately 40 minutes outside of the city, you forget the hustle of the city and begin to appreciate the natural world in one of the most unique landscapes this planet has to offer. Established in 1971 the Sculpture Park is the national focus as it is Australia’s leading sculpture park, housing a collection of over 100 outdoor pieces of both national and international significance. With a
long tradition of innovation and success, it is no wonder that internationally renowned artist Sonia Payes was granted a 4-month solo exhibition, consuming not one but two galleries McClelland has to offer.
After being compared to Bill Henson, Sonia Payes stormed to success after purchasing a 3d printer and superimposing her daughter's head into a small hand-sized figure. Her natural talent for art later led her to duplicate and enlarge the sculpture which now stands proudly at 24 feet. Recently, Payes’ pieces have explored surrealism, with haunting portraits and landscapes that hide many layers of meaning, with things inverted, overlaid, obscured and left unseen. Working with multimedia animations and 3D installations is a new aspect of her practice that provides the unlimited potential to explore the largely environmental themes of destruction, apocalypse and renewal of our future. Whilst McClelland as she confirmed, is her favourite place to visit, her work has also been exhibited at many different galleries throughout Australia as well as the National Australia Bank as well as private collections.
Describing her success as being enabled through ‘Technology catching up with her imagination’. Payes has truly defied expectations after enrolling at the university in her 30’s and has now been named in the top 10 best Australian photographers by The Culture Trip. However, with such an intimate relationship between Payes and Australia, she has confirmed her international exposure will not limit her exhibitions in and throughout Melbourne, so watch this space. McClelland embodies the beauty of sculpting and public art within a gallery format, and with entry by donations, this gallery is a must to visit whilst in Melbourne.
Like all country getaways, one is welcomed back to the city with the warm vibrancy that is Blender Studios. Like coming home after a long journey of self-discovery, Blender is the flame guiding you back. Their studio houses 28 artists’ workshops which artists exhibit from, and they recently doubled their available space by moving to a warehouse located at the Harbour Town docklands. Here they also have the ‘Blender backyard’, a large open courtyard which they use for workshops and outdoor painting.
Founded by internationally renowned artist Adrian Doyle the studios house the city’s most infamous urban artists. Doyle is the Pied Piper of the graffiti scene, leading the way for innovation
and controversy; over his notorious ‘blue nursery’ exhibition in Rutledge Lane that saw to the graffiti work there being wiped clean, or rather in Doyle’s words ‘painted over in blue’.
The studio has a laid-back atmosphere and is the perfect place for aspiring artists and curious tourists as they hold weekly art classes where you can learn from the best. As well as art classes for the public the warehouse is home to the Graffiti walking tours. Set up by Doyle in recent years, tourists can now book guided tours of the graffiti, learning about urban culture in the most immersive way possible.
“Don’t be scared” says Marcus Encel one of the artists at Blender. “The art classes are great and people are friendly.” Encel moved to Blender Studios three years ago after struggling to become established within the art community, something that many non-gallery artists have experienced due to lack of funding and government backing. Starting out as a drawer in fine art, Encel went on to own his own jewellery business before developing his unique line style with spray paint. The tours will take you deep down the cornucopia of lanes that are Hosier and Rutledge Lane as well as Blender Lane where Encel has revolutionised the area by painting on the ground. As well as this he is subtly changing Collingwood through his own urban beautification methods by drawing Japanese demons around the town specifically on run-down buildings.
Encel criticised Melbourne’s ‘art greats’ for not being authentic and representative of the art community “I’m always about the idea and not the medium, that’s my trip, my theory is that a lot of artists got beaten up as kids and therefore they don’t get it, I’m not about money, I don’t think a lot of urban artists are.” This may have been the case for street artists in Melbourne, however, when asked about where Melbourne’s artistic future lies, a more depressive side is unveiled about ‘the place to be’.
Enforcing Encel’s vision of Melbourne’s flourishing art scene, Encel explained: “Even though the government are raping the art scene, I think it might be good for it, I think the art scene at the minute is filled with these artists who
aren’t real, they’re not original, I just think that is crap. To me art is about passionate people with forward ideas, it’s not about writing for a brief or government funding.”
Encel, as many urban artists did, described government funding as ‘cancer on the art scene’, as they perceive many up and coming artists to not be original. “I think what’s good about the art scene is that it’s very dark and insular, it’s hard to find secret word of mouth scenes but there are lots of underground art scenes popping up at the moment, so my hope is that the government funding will kill off the dead wood,” Encel states.
Blender Studios started off underground but is becoming more mainstream through word of mouth. The very beauty of Melbourne is that there is so much innovation going on in the city, especially in art and fashion; and if you’re interested in both, Encel assures us Preston Zielery, a unique fashion house in the heart of the city, is your utopia and one of his personal recommendations. Whilst most galleries that you discover in Melbourne are successful, Blender has established itself in its own right. Which is why they got it wrong. Victoria is not the place to be: Blender Studio is.
It is the city’s effortlessly urban streets, their infusion of culture and the stunning scenery of St. Kilda that will ingrain its unique landscape into your memory: making it not the trip of a lifetime, but the trip to start a lifetime.
Above: The Yarra River divides the city of Melbourne
Left, clockwise from top: A gallery at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV); A Blender Studio tour (Image: Matto Lucas); Entrance foyer of the NGV with Ichwan Noor’s Beetle sphere; Tattersalls Lane; Entrance to The Ian Potter Centre, (Image: Peter Connolly, CC BY-SA 2.0). (All images, unless specified, Robert Blackburn, Visit Victoria)
Above: Sculpture by Sonya Payes at McClelland Park Right, top: Hosier Lane, Right, middle: Marcus Encel’s studio Right, bottom: Blender Studios
Above: Aerial view of Melbourne with the Royal Exhibition Centre in the foregound (Image: @ lensaloft / Tourism Australia); Left: The Royal Arcade (Image: Robert Blackburn, Visit Victoria)