Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung
Roses at the Cottage

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Melbourne Mosaics

Now I know Melbourne isn’t Ravenna  - the Italian city absolutely dripping with THE MOST stunning mosaics. My absolute favourite is the intimate Mausoleum Galla Placidia where I've found myself on two occasions having what I call a ‘spontaneous cry’ – always a pretty good indication of something so beautiful that touches me in surprising and unexpected ways. I don’t believe anything could beat it  - when it comes to mosaics.
A ceiling to die for! Mosaics cover the entire mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna - it is 'ravishing'!
But Melbourne has some wonderful mosaic gems dotted around the city. I love public art and it's often found in surprising places. It's a matter of keeping your eyes open! Waiting at the traffic lights I happend to gaze at the entrance of a very, very plain office block/apartment building on the edge of the city but it was the door surrounds that caught my eye! What a difference they made and added a splash of colour to a very grey building (on a very grey day). I wonder how many of the people walking through the doors actually see – or take time to look at them! Let alone the 1000's of commuters that pass by each day.
What a difference a door makes in busy City Road
The eccentric artist of French origin Mirka Mora - can claim at 85+ to be one of our National Living Treasures. I've written about her in a previous post (here) but it's her quirky mosaics lining the walls of the Flinders Street Station that I always stop to enjoy en route along St Kilda Road to the Arts Centre Precinct. They can be a bit hard to find but just look for the ghastly sandwich board adertising in front of it (is there no respect!) It is on St Kilda Road right next to the Yarra River. It’s worth a look! Most people are too busy to even 'see'. Oh and while we are talking of Mirka - she has a current exhibition at the marvellous Heide Gallery (see older post here)
Mirka being Mirka!
A Mirka Koala (painted I hasten to add!)
Just across the Yarra River on the wall of the Arts Centre is the Wirth Bros Circus Mosaic (see earlier post here)
They fly through the air with the greatest of ease

Although it doesn’t appeal to me I am fascinated by the huge Legend of Fire mosaic at the Eastern Hill Fire station in Albert Street, East Melbourne. Harold Freedman (the State artist of Victoria from 1972 – 1923) created it in 1982 (I didn’t even know we had a State artist!) It took more than a year to complete and comprises more than 1 million mosaic glass tiles. It’s truly a masterpiece. I wonder how many of you have driven right past it a million times and not noticed?!
The Legend of Fire - what an appropriate location at the Eastern Hill Fire Station
And then there is the marvellous one on the facade of the Heritage Listed art deco Newspaper House at 247 Collins Street. It was designed by Napier Waller in 1932 and was home to the Herald and Weekly Times. Perhaps the most 'revealing' thing about this is the quotation "I'll put a girdle around the earth". Well that has certainly come true - Rupert (Murdoch) is certainly trying to put a very tight girdle around the news and media worldwide!  
Be careful what you wish for ...
I've mentioned in a recent post the floor of the glorious Block Arcade. Mosaics are lovely to walk on
How many people actually look down or stop and look.....
I’m sure there are many public mosaics that I don’t know about. One that I haven't seen but which is on my 'to do list' is another Napier Waller mosaic in the foyer of 15 William Street in the city. 
The William Street mosaic looks like a mosaic-must (littleaugury.blogspot.com)
Do you have a one that’s a hidden gem?If you're interested there is a marvellous list of 62 to explore on this link

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A hidden gem in the Block Arcade

Now everyone knows and loves the heritage shopping Block Arcade which was built between 1891 and 1893. It was modelled on Milan's grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele - and it has stood the test of time magnificently.
The gorgeous Block Arcade
The building was originally a bulk grain store and was sold in 1837 for the princely sum of 18 pounds! (The building was recently sold for around $100 million!) In 1889 it was taken over by George and George, Silk Mercers and General Drapers before a spectacular fire burnt the building to the ground! The new owners The City Property Company erected the current building in 1893. The famed department store Georges moved up to the 'Paris end' of Collins Street until its closure in 1995 (as far away as possible from their original site!). 
Uplifting elegance
Running between Collins Street and Little Collins Street it has an air of gracefulness which is sadly missing once you step into the city streets and laneways. It has a timelessness about it while wandering over the magnificent mosaic floor and gazing up at the glass canopy. 
Detail of the mosaic floor
The shopkeepers and tenants seem to be 'from another era'. There's always a queue for a sweet treat at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms which had its beginnings in the Arcade in 1893 as the Victorian Ladies Work Association before moving to it's current location in 1907! The move prompted a name change to The Hopetoun Tea Rooms - named after Lady Hopetoun the wife of seventh Earl of Hopetoun (1860-1908) who was Australia's first Governor General. (Lady Hopetoun also had a ferry named after her!) 

Not a calorie in sight at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms!
And then of course there is Haigh's Chocolates - being an Adelaide 'girl' myself I couldn't fail to mention this icon of indulgence. 
No calories here either!
But it's the hidden gem on Collins Street that most don't know about. So I'll let you into the secret. Go into the shop on the corner of 282 Collins Street and the Arcade - currently leased to Crabtree and Evelyn - and look up! You'll see cherubs, clouds and much, much, more. The magnificent hand painted ceiling dates back to 1907 when it was the Singer Sewing Machine shop! 
The 1907 Singer Sewing Machine ceiling mural
Interestingly when I photographed it one morning en route to a meeting, I happened to pass it again on my return and the pedestrian in front of me stopped for a few seconds, peered in the window and looked up to the cherubs and clouds. I suspect he does that little ritual every time he passes. I know I do!

You may want to take a free Behind the scenes of the Block guided tour (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1pm - meet outside the Hopetoun Tea Rooms)

Exit the Arcade either into Elizabeth Street or via one of Melbourne's iconic laneways en route to Little Collins Street.
The laneway through to Little Collins - early morning
What a contrast - the corner of Little Collins - UGH!
Did you know about the Singer Sewing Machine ceiling? Are you going to include it in your ritual when you're passing?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Schaller Studios in Richmond AND Bendigo!

In April I wrote about some interesting Richmond gates (see post here) at 208 Lennox Street. At the time I was fortunate to meet Mark Schaller, the owner of the 'faded-glory property' and creator of the gates. As I admitted at the time I hadn't heard of him. (Where have I been?!) He kindly invited me into his amazing art studio and I have to say I was 'gobsmacked' - not only to think I hadn't heard of him, but to think he had been 'just around the corner' for many years beavering away creating.
The Schaller Studio in Richmond - canvasses stacked awaiting his touch
Since that first visit he has had one of the famed Art Hotels named after him. He has now joined the illustrious Olsen, Blackman and Cullen Hotels with the new Schaller Studios now open in Bendigo. On the first visit Mark was unpacking loads of stretched canvases - little did I know what for. The studio was - how can I say - a mess of cardboard, canvases and much more. In amongst my excitement to photograph not only the studio but his bright paintings not a word was mentioned about the forthcoming Schaller Studios. 
Mark unpacking a serious 'stack' of canvasses
There's a lot happening in the studio attached to the 'drinking house'
Every surface inside and out has a work-in-progress
At that time he took me through the 1880's hotel's main drinking 'salon' to the working studio attached. I was 'beside myself' with excitement at all that was going on. In my haste I left my camera cover and so decided to pop back the next day to retrieve it. I stepped into another world. I was in a transformed space - with the renowned photographer Earl Carter and producer/writer Annemarie Kiely setting up for a photoshoot for Vogue Living (you will find a copy of the May/June issue in the Cottage  - pages 112 - 119) Wow what a difference a day makes! It was fantastic. The colours of his paintings were just popping off the walls - it was a wondrous transformation.
The day before the Vogue Living shoot
What a transformation - on the day of the shoot (photographed from the pages of Vogue Living)

Canvases ready to go, works in progress, finished works (Vogue Living)
And to think all of this came about when I stopped to photograph a great set of gates - which he had of course created! So if you are visiting Bendigo why not stay at the Schaller Studios in Bendigo - see a taste here.  
Fun, quirky, bright and breezy - right in the heart of the Bendigo Arts Prescinct

He has been busy, he's even painted an historic Bendigo tram
There are not many artists who have a hotel/studio named after them - or who have painted a tram! Mark Schaller - a colourful and prodigious artist with a working studio in Richmond and a studio in Bendigo!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The remarkable Inge King - and more!

Recently I joined a small after-hours-tour to see an exhibition of our 'national living treasure' - the 98 year old Melbourne sculptor Inge King at the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia) at Federation Square. What an opportune time to visit as it was the night before the Winter Solstice - 22 June. The main foyer of the NGVA features her newest works - Cellestial - which were created in 2011. This remarkable woman - who was born in Berlin and migrated to Australia in 1951 has changed the way we see public spaces not only in Melbourne but world-wide.
Beautifully spaced throughout the ground floor - spinning on their axes


The polished finish makes you want to stroke them (allowed!)
We spent a special hour with the curator of the exhibition who had been taught by Inge's husband Grahame who is also featured in the joint exhibition. He was an artist and master printmaker in his own right.
Grahame King - Solstice 1973
I loved one of the stories of Inge's beginnings with welding. Grahame apparantly swapped one of his paintings with their neighbour who had a welder for sale ensuring Inge could begin another stage of her sculpting. And what a stage that became. It was the start of her welding herself into our lives with some amazing and familiar icons in this city.

She works from marquets - rather than drawing - and you can see why.
The Black Sun marquets - from little things (right) big things grow - and that's before the final sculpture

Her early welded sculptures were rougher around the edges that her later works (I thought this looked like suitcases!)

Simple and strong
One of my favourites - and perhaps most recognisable - is 'Forward Surge' a massive sculpture on the lawn between the Arts Centre and the Concert Hall. She loves that it is climbed upon - although she recognises that the powers-that-be hate having to repaint it continuously! It was chosen by the architect of the Arts Centre - Roy Grounds and Eric Westbrook the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. They chose well.
Forward Surge - so well known - between the Arts Centre and the Concert Hall - but just look at those hideous apartments
 Many years ago I travelled on a tour of Italy and France where our tour guide was Judith Trimble who was a lecturer in architecture at Deakin University. She wrote a wonderful book about Inge King and it is now in the Cottage 'library' for you to peruse. If I recall it was the 'expansion' of a thesis she had done. I've lost touch with Judy but I recommend a quiet few moments to come to grips with the output of this amazing artist.
Amulet bracelet - 1960

The exhibition is free and ends on 31 August - I encourage you to stop by. It begins on the ground floor as the Celestial sculptures are so heavy they couldn't go upstairs. As it was they needed to be spaced carefully to ensure the floor didn't collapse. You will find her work on 3 floors of the gallery - so work your way up!

Afterwards I wandered into Fed Square where their winter programme The Light in Winter was still in full swing (sadly the instillations have now been removed) There were some lovely instillations and this is my favourite.
On a cold and clear winter's night - Radiant Lines by Asif Khan lights up the night
Keep an eye out next year for Federation Square's annual winter programme The Light in Winter. It is directed by a former Melbourne Festival of Arts Director - the renowned Robyn Archer.