Montsalvat – Melbourne’s hidden gem

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Montsalvat artist colony in Melbourne, Australia.

I had all but forgotten about Montsalvat until I was invited there on my recent trip to Melbourne. Australian artist Rick Amor’s description of Montsalvat as ‘a fantasy of beards, berets, sturdy women, big stews and free love’ is in line with my own recollection of  Montsalvat as a back-to-the-land, hippy enclave miles outside Melbourne’s city center.

Today, tourists and locals are beating a well-worn path to this quaint artist colony founded by artist Justus Jörgensen in 1934.

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Original buildings made from locally sourced materials in the ‘pise de terre’ tradition

Monsalvat is Australia’s oldest artists’ community, ‘set amid unique grounds and buildings, a place where art is made, taught, exhibited, performed and celebrated’ (Montsalvat website). It still houses working artists but caters to the public equally well as a wedding venue, a lovely spot for a family picnic or a day’s outing to soak up the unique grounds.

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Ceramicist Tim Clarkson at work in his studio
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Picnicking on the grounds at Montsalvat

Montsalvat founder, Justus Jörgensen, was born in Melbourne in 1893 of Norwegian ancestry. He originally qualified as an architect, but after spending several years in Europe visiting the great museums with his wife, he took up painting as a profession. He developed a keen interest in Impressionism and eventually went on to exhibit at the Paris salons.

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When he returned to Australia in 1928 he set up a school of painting. However his views on art differed radically from those of his peers. Jörgensen became increasingly hostile to the commercial aspects of painting and mistrusted the input of both critics and public. His desire to experiment with all aspects of creative pursuit led him to establish Montsalvat, and his legacy lives on to this day providing inspiration to artists as well as art appreciators.

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Artist David Shrigley lets it all hang out.

David Shrigley Life and Life Drawing
David Shrigley Life and Life Drawing

Ever since the Charlie Hebdo incident, there has been an ongoing global dialogue about freedom of expression in the arts and literature. I saw an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria that featured an artist who probably never heard of the words self censorship. David Shrigley’s humorous and deliberately crude drawings paper the walls of his exhibition Life and Life Drawing.

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The Glasgow-based artist has a serious case of visual diarrhea. His drawings just seem to spew out of him. No second guessing, no deliberation and certainly no thought to ‘good taste’. However I enjoyed this show tremendously – it was refreshing to see an artist who does not take life, or himself, too seriously.

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But seriously – we need a little fun and light in our increasingly dark world. The Shrigley exhibit also contained a large space set up as a life drawing class, complete with easels and chairs, newsprint paper and charcoal, and a central nude model. Only the model was a fabricated cartoonish, larger-than- life male model peeing into a bucket. I couldn’t resist having a go at capturing the moment:

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So sharpen your pencils, lighten up and let yourselves express freely, liberally. Throw caution to the wind. And if anyone objects, you know what Shrigley would say about that….

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I’d love to hear what you think of this art, and if you think this is art at all, or art that belongs in a major national gallery?

MY NEXT BLOG POST WILL BE FROM FRANCE WHERE I WILL BE SPENDING A MONTH AT AN ARTIST RESIDENCY IN DINAN, BRITTANY. A BIENTOT! WHO KNOWS WHAT CREATIVE URGES WILL COME MY WAY…

Don’t know what to wear on New Year’s Eve?

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The countdown to New Year’s Eve has begun and you still haven’t decided on a suitable outfit. You want to stand out, look amazing, spectacular and unforgettable. There’s one designer who can guarantee that your entrance will make heads turn and jaws drop: Jean-Paul Gaultier, French designer extraordinaire. If the price tag for one of his outrageous, superbly crafted and innovative designs is over your budget, head off to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne for some inspiration. The NGV is the only Australian venue to host the international traveling exhibition of over 140 Jean Paul Gaultier garments. What an extravaganza!

My trip Down Under fortunately coincided with this ground-breaking exhibition. Talk about interactive – this exhibition positively brings the models alive with animated human faces projected right onto the mannequins’ faces, resulting in talking, singing models that appear to be humanoid robotic hybrids. 

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It’s almost creepy. I was admiring one of Gaultier’s earlier designs using the iconic French blue-and-white marine stripes when the cute sailor mannequin looked me straight in the eye and winked with a devilish smile on his lips!

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Gaultier himself appeared on the face on one of the models, explaining in a sexy French-accented voice that his inspiration is rooted in his belief in gender equality, in being able to express who you are – that includes all facets of one’s personality. He believes in illusion and in turning expectations upside down – men wearing long dresses, dresses worn back the front or the naked body displayed on the outside of the garment. At age 62, the designer appears to have broken all conventions, so the mind boggles at what he has yet to create.

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The four large galleries housing his creations were thematically varied – one of the galleries was fashioned like a Parisian catwalk surrounded by graffiti-riddled walls while another resembled Amsterdam’s red light district. The guy is a genius – he has expanded the realm of fashion beyond the stratosphere. His work is drenched in fetishist sexual innuendo. Using all manner of embellishment – feathers, fur, sequins, embossed metals and tulle, his designs are a melange of cultural icons and gender-bending references. 

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I think he is incapable of producing anything that is even mildly mundane or pedestrian – even silverware finds its way into his designs:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHe has dressed the likes of Beyonce, Madonna and Nicole Kidman, and his haute couture is paraded on red carpets around the world. But us ordinary folks can take his lead by expressing our individuality. So dive into your closets (and your partners’ closets) and see what unlikely pairings to ring in the new year with a personal stlyle that spells ‘THIS IS ME’. Above all, have fun and have a Happy New Year!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFor more information on the exhibition:http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/jeanpaulgaultier/overview.

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Riddle of the day: How can you be up when you’re down?

Another trip to Melbourne, Australia just reinforced how exciting, cultured and cosmopolitan the city has become. And obviously the word is out because my sources tell me that 2000 people move to Melbourne every week. With the city so much in demand there seems little prospect  that the cost of living will drop anytime soon – I believe it is currently rated as the third most expensive city in the world!

I went to check out the the National Gallery of Victoria and was met by a giant rabbit. Sigh…the contemporary art world pulls the wool over our eyes once again. At least it should have been a kangaroo! The gallery was

National Gallery of Victoria

holding some impressive exhibitions, my favorite being The Naked Face, a collection of self-portraits taking us on a  ‘journey through the history of the human face.’ I attended a fascinating symposium on the subject which featured presentations by participating artists, and a range of lectures by professors in multi-disciplinary fields. Recognize the portrait below…??

In the picture....

I also visited a drawing session with a live model in my role as feature columnist for The Great Nude.tv. It has been quite a while since I drew from the model and it was an uplifting experience. Note to self: more of the same!

Drawing session in progress

                                    But it wasn’t all art, art, art. I also checked out the local food markets, hung out at a street festival, biked along the beach, had the best coffee in the Southern Hemisphere and did yoga with my niece and nephew!

                Answer to the riddle : When you’re Down Under 🙂