Thursday, September 25, 2008

Art Deco - Melbourne style

Photo: NGV.I’ll put a girdle round about the earth’ 1933 (detail) Napier Waller. Oil on canvas (triptych) 271.0 x 693.0 cm (overall) National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

The character of the city of Melbourne is defined, to a remarkable degree, by its vernacular architecture rather than by its state or official buildings. (This is one of the reasons why I like it!) Even the World Heritage Site isn't as famous as it could be, while the streetscapes and some suburbs are highly regarded, if not world famous. The architecture of the gold rush era (the 1880s) and Art Deco architecture of the inter-war period are perhaps the most obvious contributors to the city's style, while Federation (1901- ) and modern architecture are also both notable.

This winter's* exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria was Art Deco, 1910 - 1939. We were able to visit with our friend Rich before he and Charlotte returned to the land of the long grey cloud (England), and we took my grandmother for a second visit the other day.

It's a great exhibition, perhaps because it's in a very 'Art Deco' city, perhaps because it has a mixture of 'high' and 'low' art, utilitarian but beautiful objects and industrial design, as well as the usual suspects in the decorative arts. Certainly there were some remarkably cheap-looking objects, for all the world like jelly-baby jewellery, which turned out to be by Cartier. Other items which were aesthetically stunning - and mass-produced in plastic - challenged the norms of 'value' and art. Naturally there was a bitter and reactionary review in the paper pointed out to us by a friend; my guess is the nasty little man (Robert Nelson) wasn't comfortable with a flamboyant accessible people's art. (He makes some good points, but the 'noble antecedents' of Bauhaus are bull.) Whatever whittering critics may say it's a popular exhibition, having been put together by the Victoria & Albert Museum in the UK, and been put on show at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto and two other venues in the USA. However it's not a complete 'import' as in Canada and Australia a great effort was clearly made to include local material, some of which was very rare (such as an Australian collectors' badge from the original Paris Arts Décoratif exhibition).

Photo: NGV. Foyer from the Strand Palace Hotel 1930–31. Oliver Bernard. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

We'd like to bring you more insight to the exhibition, but sadly not only were cameras not allowed, sketchbooks and pencils were banned. (What?! - Bev) Presumably the risks of retro-industrial espionage loomed large. Ironic, particularly as we had seen and photographed at least one item in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum only a month earlier. (Where photography is permitted.)

'Comet' sculpture, this example seen in the Royal Ontario Museum's permanent Art Deco exhibition. Photo: Bev & James.

One very cool thing, however, is the link to the 'Deco Detectives' website where Art Deco buildings could be added by you, the reader, to a world map. And this gives us a chance to spotlight a local item. Just down the road from our home is a fast-food outlet of infamous name. However the building, formerly the United Kingdom Hotel, is stunning. Here's a photo I took the other day:

Photo: James Kightly.

Intriguingly, the rather silly sign on the top wasn't even originally put there by the junk foodery, but by the previous owners, the Carlton and United Brewer, their logo of the entwined CUB on the disc, the pub name going on the block, the whole revolving. Now it no longer revolves.
Photo: State Library of Victoria. United Kingdom Hotel, 199 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill by Fred M. Day, 1964, Image Number: pi001514

This photo from the State Library of Victoria's website shows what it looked like before the CUB and co had started 'branding' it. (And there are a couple of interior shots of the restaurant and a bedroom here as well. An earlier building is shown here on the Picture Victoria website.)

A bit more searching found this stunning night shot, by Dr. Adam Dimech, one of his great range of Melbourne by night shots on Flickr, well worth a look. (His blog page on Patrick Blanc's creation of a Mur Végétale or 'wall of plants' in a Melbourne shopping centre is also worth looking up.)

We have some gems of Art Deco in the city, so this exhibition is well-housed, if unevenly handled, by the NGV. Melboune - Art Deco styled city.


Photo: NGV. Cord 812 Westchester sedan 1937, in front of Burnham Beeches, Victoria. Private collection, Melbourne. Photo courtesy of Brian Scott.

*Note for our northern hemisphere readers - winter in the southern hemisphere runs through the middle of the year - not over Christmas. And this happens every year down here. Amazing, eh? (Cor blimey! - Bev)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why I like dogs

1. Look after your gang. Dogs monitor the pack.
People. They come home, they go out; they just don't get it that the pack needs to stay together. Good job you're there to remind them. You'll also check on any people displaying a worrying tendency to sleep during walk and meal times. After all, if they're ill, you won't get fed and then where would the world be? A good poke with a wet nose should rouse them, and if they don't get up, hop up and join them for a nap together.

2. Be clear about your priorities. Dogs are refreshingly honest.
Ignore the dog who's patently desperate to play chase: oh no, run straight past and beg for liver treats from the human you know carries them. You know that's all you really want. Why be coy about things?

3. Improve your time-keeping: get a dog!
Who needs a clock when you've got a dog to tell you when to get up and feed him, what time to take him out, and when to go to bed? You'll never be late again, because he's slightly earlier every day! Beauty sleep's a cinch when the dog wants to shut the house down at 9PM.

Now, why doesn't everybody follow my few simple rules for living?
- Toby

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chewy, yet chewy

Sometimes the abbreviations don't quite work.

Nice bananas, mate, but the side order of road surfacing was a bit chewy.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Return of the Avro Arrow

Well, sort of. At the model club I occasionally attend, one of the guys who works at a model shop brought in a box of built models that had recently been 'donated' (dumped). Most were of no great interest, and were badly constructed and mostly unpainted, but one caught my eye. It looked like a giant paper 'plane lurking at the bottom of the box.

The Arrow's roll out.

It was a model of the Avro CF-105 Arrow, Canada's great, abandoned aviation achievement.

More intriguingly, it was a kit I'd never heard of before, and going by the engraved positions for the markings, was from the same era as the real thing. All the main bits seemed to be there, and it seemed like a fun thing to waste some time 'restoring' to a more appropriate state. It was going to start with a wash, as it appeared to be covered with dirty marmalade. Then a bit of research to see what I had.

After a bit of interwebby work, I was able to establish that the kit was an Aurora 'fit the box' kit in (about) 1/78 scale. Aurora were obviously counting on good sales as the aircraft went onto a great career... so it wasn't just the Avro employees, and RCAF that were disappointed.

The info (on one of the many Arrow fan websites) on the Aurora kit says:
"Though its price of $1.39 was steep for 1960, many thousands of kits found their way in to modeller's hands.

... the Aurora model still became an instant collector's item when it went out of production. Commanding an average price of $50.00 for an unbuilt kit and as much as $400.00 for an expertly finished model, the Aurora Arrow became one of the most highly desirable kits in the black-market trade that has become part of the plastic model kit collector's headache. The introduction of the Hobbycraft models should bring prices of the Aurora kit back to reasonable levels."

So as usual I've got something that should be valuable - but isn't. Ah well. As I write, I've washed, cleaned and split apart the model (where the old plastic broke and tore in a few places, but was mostly OK) re-cemented it, filled it, sanded it, sanded it, sanded it...

Chopped. Montreal Standard's Weekend Magazine chartered a helicopter and had a photographer take pictures as the planes were dismantled.

I know what they felt like when they trashed the blasted things. However, 'I have plans' for this so the sanding and filling will continue. In the meantime...

The Avro Arrow was just one from the era of real 'paper darts'. There seemed to be a fashion for 'square' aircraft for a while. Here's four that I think fit the theme. Of course, we must remember that there's no fashion in aviation design. Oh, no.

The British equivalent was the BAC TSR-2. Unlike the Arrow (an interceptor) the TSR-2 was a bomber, but was also cancelled and the political saga continues to rumble on as well.

Biggest and most impressive was the North American XB-70 Valkyrie - a Mach 3 superbomber that was so expensive and complex even the US military-industrial complex found it a bit much.

Then there is the MiG 25 'Foxbat' a very practical (if such a thing can exist) Mach 2-3 interceptor. It was designed to catch the Valkyrie - which never entered service...

We don't normally mess about with such silly modern aircraft here, but I thought the theme, of square flat-section aircraft (apart from pencil noses) was interesting. Of course there's the ridiculous as well. This item was spotted outside the Headquarters of the RAAF Museum.

It's actually a piece of local installation art, not a random Australian Defence project, but I don't think I'll try and model that... (Note the accurately 'crumpled' nose.)


Tough times in Texas

Mudfight in the Waiting Room. (Galveston Rail Museum photo.)

As most people are well aware, due to the global media, Hurricane Ike made quite a mess of the Texas coast last week, causing huge amounts of devastation, and death and injury throughout the western Atlantic area. While not as terrible in human terms as the devastation in the Bahamas, Haiti and Cuba are, there were other effects as well. Thanks to the global community nature of the internet, I was also made very aware of the damage to the Lone Star Flight Museum of Galveston. While the museum staff are understandably 'shaken and frazzled' thankfully they all survived. They were able to fly out most of the airworthy aircraft, but unfortunately many had to stay, including their Hawker Hurricane which was missing its wing and tail, which were awaiting repair. A Hurricane hit by a Hurricane is a rare (and sad) event.

The Lone Star Flight Museum's Tiger Moth and Consolidated PBY is their formerly spick and span hangar. (LSFM Photo.)

However, I was also directed to the website of the Galveston Rail Museum, where they had these tragic, yet surreal photographs, which I had to share.

Calling for help? (Galveston Rail Museum photo.)

Here's wishing the people of Galveston (and all those others) the best of luck with their clean-up and recovery operations.

Galveston Rail Museum website.
Lone Star Flight Museum website.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Meet Me at Mikes: Make The Most Of Your Time Here - The Beckoning of Lovely

Hi folks, 

A windy, grey morning and I stumbled across this really gorgeous video on one of my favourite blogs. It's creative and cool, fun and fabulous - have a look!

Meet Me at Mikes: Make The Most Of Your Time Here - The Beckoning of Lovely

The project can be found at this website: 


PS. And while I'm at it, have you seen this? How to Make a Button, by Miranda July. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Felt penguin waddles in from the mail box...


Look who found his way to our house:

After my recent post about the wonderful creations I'd found on the Woolpets site and their Flickr group, can you just imagine my delight when a parcel arrived from the States with this little kit inside?

I immediately sat down and started jabbing away at the felt to make this penguin. Thanks, Jennifer! Little did she know about the "penguin thing" in this house, so the gift was even more appropriate. The kit consisted of a large hunk of furry wool fibres, two needles, and instructions. It turned out to be pretty easy, and I'll be reviewing the kit for my crafty friends over at Taccolina.

Now James suggests I make penguins for re-enactments: "Ben Hur" as acted entirely by felted penguins; "Titanic" and "The Nutcracker" as vamped/danced entirely by felted penguins....



Monday, September 8, 2008

Ringing a head

[NB: This post has been edited, updated and generally told to shape up and fly right - JDK, 9 Sept 08.]

You might think from our travels so far that most of the art we saw was very old - renaissance at least - but that wasn't the case. Some of it was new - so new that when we saw it it wasn't even finished!

Ken at his bench.

One of the most interesting evenings we spent was with Ken and Colleen Vickerson in Toronto. Among both of their many talents, Ken's a metalsmith*, and their house is full of fascinating stuff. A delicious dinner evening was rounded off with a go on a Theremin. (It's that instrument that does the ooo eee ooo noises in the '50s Sci Fi movies... We were rubbish at it, but it's curiously addictive.)

Above: Ken Vickerson's self portrait.

However, Ken was brave enough to show us his workshop where he was working on a set of rings which were portraits of his family. (I'm only sorry I didn't take a photo of Ken in his workshop - but Ken kindly has sent us one to fill the gap.) The most famous version of this idea is the Profilo Continuo of Mussolini by Bertelli. See the previous blog post here for the story.

The six portraits were made by the lost wax casting method, explained here, and there's a video from the V&A here on the topic. It is a process that goes back to prehistory, and is still a common and efficient way of making castings today: that's not something you can say about many technological, heat and chemistry processes apart from, perhaps, cooking.

Above: portrait of Ken's sister, Laura.

Ken was cutting the profiles out of a special wax blank that looked like nothing more than plastic plumbers' piping. He was doing this on a jeweller's lathe, having created profiles of each person from photographs, converted (and scaled) to look like Victorian silhouettes.

Taking these silhouettes, he then cut light alloy outlines of them, which were then used to cut the wax on the lathe. (I hope I'm getting this right, Ken?)

Above: portrait of Ken's father, Donald.

After he'd cut what was a wax version of the proposed silver ring, he put it into a mould with sprue runners for the wax, and then the metal, to run out. This is done by heating the mould (also known as a flask) in a kiln to remove the wax and to bring it to casting temperature. The metal is then heated in a crucible and urged into the mould cavity with the use of centrifugal force, or in this case by vacuum pressure (not a Hoover!).

Above: portrait of Ken's mother, Victoria

After casting the flask is quenched while still hot in a bucket of water to remove the plaster (also know as investment) and the casting has the sprues removed. The spare metal can be used again, even if the mould can't; one of the advantages of the process, and then the casting is then cleaned up.

Above: portrait of Ken's sister Jill.

Although he'd not made or cast the final versions, Ken had a couple of earlier versions he was a able to show us, but was not yet happy with.

Above: portrait of Ken's brother, Sandy.

But after we'd returned to Australia, Ken very kindly sent us these photos of the final set of rings. There's something about the reflection and profile, and the inability to 'catch' a full-face view of the subject that makes these portraits rather spooky, I think.

Ken told us about the display, seen here:

"The case is lined with a plum coloured Japanese paper with birch ply backgrounds for the rings, I needed these to provide some contrast or the profiles couldn't be 'read'."

Here they all are with reflections.

Each strip of reflection looks like a repeat of the profile, again, but slightly distorted, flattened. There could also be something of the First Nations' totem pole if they were all piled up, but with ancestors looking in all directions - not a comfortable thought for the descendants! As rings, they act something like those illustrations which resolve into a clear picture once you know what it is, but are just incomprehensible before. Oh, and they are designed to fit the right fingers, too.

Ken adds: "The last ones were shot on a piece of non glare glass, which contrary to its name, does produce an interesting reflection - giving the pieces that totemic quality you alluded to when you were visiting."
More of Ken's work can be seen here on his own website, and here at the CCCA Artists website. Go on, have a look. The 'Swords into Ploughshares' series was how Ken and I originally met, and involved Herman Goering, paper birds, two-ten hour drives with a unique soundtrack, a minister and two countries as well as the largest event of its kind in the world - but that's a story for another day. Thanks to Ken for sharing this project with us.


* I called him a silversmith, but Ken corrected me on this, quite rightly: "I am more accurately referred to as a 'Metalsmith' a silversmith makes primarily: hollowware, flatware and works for the table, though I have done work of this sort I would hesitate to make the claim. My work is primarily goldsmithing (jewellery) with a smattering of silversmithing, blacksmithing and sculptural metalwork." So now you know what the differences are too.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Little People

Hi folks,

I've been enjoying James' posts about the 360 portraits, but I just have to share something I've found online that astounds and delights me.

It's called the Little People project, and it's the brainchild of a London artist. He makes tiny figures and sets them up in the streets of London as montages, photographs them, and then leaves them to 'fend for themselves', as he puts it on his website.

Here are just a couple of images - visit his website/blog to see a huge variety of close-up and full-scene shots, in London and Norway. They're surreal and entertaining.

He's got a show at Cosh Gallery at the moment, and there's a book! Fantastic. (My birthday is coming up... ahem)


Monday, September 1, 2008

Il Duce in the round

We had some fascinating conversations with people while we were travelling. Meeting up with some of our artist friends and colleagues invariably led to interesting discussions and new ideas. Here's a preamble by way of introduction to one of them. (And believe me, it's a corker.)

Profilo Continuo (Testa di Mussolini) sculpture, terracotta with black glaze, 1933, by Renato Giuseppe Bertelli, 1890 - 1974. [IMW Cat No.:IWM ART LD 5975, Department of Art]

One of the more unusual items in the Imperial War Museum's (IWM) art collection is this head of Mussolini. Supposedly showing the omnipotence of il Duce, it is a fascinating piece, hearkening back to the Roman god Janus (most appropriate for a two-faced charlatan like Mussolini) but intended to show the gaze of the god-machine Mussolini looking in all directions. But it also has a disconcerting effect of not quite being able to get a decent view of the face - just the profile. Almost the exact opposite of 'the eyes follow you around the room' trick used in painting.

The IWM says here:
'Profilo Continuo' was made in 1933, or Year Eleven of the new era, dating from Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922. At least two other terracotta copies of the head exist but it is not known how many were made. The Museum also owns two smaller versions.
Bertelli had also become interested in Futurist ideas and the theories of F T Marinetti during the 1920s and the head embodies their passion for machines, speed and power. The image is very much in keeping with Mussolini's own self-publicity of the time which falsely presented him in the role of technological and cultural pioneer.

(Actually Mussolini was a technological pioneer, and of course we cannot look at Fascist art without awareness of its context overwhelming any possible merit, but we'll return to that another time.)

I wasn't aware of other versions until researching this, but I was interested to see this version in the American Wolfsonian collection.

Sculpture, Profilo contino del Duce (Continuous profile of Mussolini), 1933. Renato Bertelli (Italian, 1900–74) Florence. Later manufactured by Ditta Effeffe, Milan, with Mussolini’s approval, patent no. 1073. Bronzed terra-cotta, 11 x 9" 84.6.4.

It looks a lot more pugnaciously bull-headed than the black version, I think. On the other hand, the relentless modernity of the IWM's black version is undercut by Bertelli's signature in a very humanist cursive script. Go on, have another look. What do you think?

And I also tripped over this one. It takes the concept of Il Duce to the destruction of fascism: as the sculptor, Julian Voss Andreae, says on his website "After completion the sculpure [sic] slowly fell apart while on display in the gallery. The image shown was not staged - the broken off piece lies on the floor the way it fell."

Yes, yes, very good, but technically poor, I think. Like too much contemporary art, it's a pity that it fails on the getting the basics right - here the 'portrait' aspect, unless someone's got a very funny shaped head.

Another update is here, more ostensibly political, and featuring George W Bush. Christopher Fahey explains the story on his website:

"The above work is an astounding wedding gift from my close friend the artist Julian Laverdiere." He adds: "It is a parody of the fascist/futurist artist Renato Bertelli’s Head of Mussolini, this time re-imagined with our very own Decider in the place of Il Duce.

Where the original was intended to glorify Mussolini as the all-seeing central hub of Italian power, Julian’s refiguring seems a more accurate use of the spinning metaphor, with the leader’s head spinning helplessly as events all around him slip out of control faster than he can think."

Hmmm. On the other hand, it's one time Bush has looked sharper (around the edges) than a fascist dictator.

It seems that this round-head idea is a bit of a one trick-pony, and while original, can't seem to move on. Certainly the limited number of successful imitators who've become moderately known on the web indicate this. But then, there's always something surprising. So what's this got to do with anything? Well check back in a few days, and all will be revealed.


Oh, and PS: Incidentally, Mussolini DIDN'T make the trains run on time. It's a myth. See Snopes. Publicity's a funny thing; handle it right, and long after you and your mistress have been hung upside down on meathooks, some of your reputation will still get an undeserved boost. Also, did you notice the different dates given for Bertelli's birth by the IWM and Wolfsonian? Any offers on the correct one?

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