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Published June 28th 2012
The torrent of art that feeds Lionel's Melbourne can be traced back to its various sources.
The City of Yarra is one such source where art springs eternal, making it one of Australia's most productive arts and cultural precincts. Nowhere else in Melbourne does street art grab you squarely by the shoulders and start a dialogue at every turn and corner more than Fitzroy in the City of Yarra. And no street wears art on its bodice like a Boho Kate Mossy chic statement than Brunswick.
In Yarra, arts and culture is life.
Art is a daily experience nurtured by a deep-rooted community of painters, sculptors and performers who transformed abandoned warehouses and factories in the 1960s into galleries, studios and theatres.
The arts-based trade is an economic spine of the city with numerous commercial galleries, live music venues, dance studios and art organisations. Building on the cultural heritage and festivals tradition stemming from the Brunswick Street Parade of 1984, the thriving arts and entertainment venues is one of the reasons Mayor Geoff Barbour, a fellow resident for more than 30 years, believes makes Yarra an interesting place to live.
Supported by the City of Yarra, art has taken to traffic signal boxes and billboards. Since May 2012, artwork has been lacquered on 4 traffic signal boxes in Richmond, Fitzroy and North Fitzroy with 5 more to be added later this year. Traffic box artwork provides a new metallic canvas for local artists while enhancing the area's artistic flavour.
Flags welcome the visitor / Image courtesy of Rose Street Artists Market
The OUT THERE Billboard Art Program in partnership with 7-Eleven and curated by the Centre for Contemporary Photography has introduced a billboard site on the high traffic area of Otter Street, Collingwood, at the corner of Smith Street, allowing artists to engage and interact with the everyday lives of thousands of pedestrians. The location will host three billboard installations over the course of 2013.
The ubiquitous sense of artistic community and support for local artists is manifested in Yarra's own Rose Street Artists Market (RSAM). There are countless art and crafts markets with handmade or homemade goods scattered around Melbourne but nothing comes close to RSAM, where in typical Yarra style, artistic talent banded together and breathed life into an unused area of Fitzroy.
Entrace to the Market / Image courtesy of Rose Street Artists Market
Tucked in a zoned heritage residential area, the former junkyard is now home to 70 local, emerging, struggling and wannabe artists and designers each weekend. Unlike the stiff upper lip gallery or hefty commission art retail environment, Mr Adam Ferrante, who is himself a graduate in sculpture and fine arts, founded RSAM and created a social space to showcase works, enjoy art for art's sake and retain creative people in Fitzroy. There are no catalogues at the entrance, no numbers on pieces, no note-taking and no dealers. Just unpretentious artists, live entertainment and a gourmet café.
Scene in the Market / Image courtesy of Rose Street Artists Market
This characteristically RSAM community vibe is what draws artists and visitors alike. Every Saturday and Sunday between 11.00am and 5.00pm, all year round, an assortment of artists gather to talk art and display their jewellery, fashion, photography, painting, accessories and everything in between, with changes to the line-up from week to week. Some creative works include dry point etchings by Clare Whitney; ceramics by Barbara van Oost; Anika Cook's printed clothing and accessories; handmade leather bags and wallets by Jarren Borghero; custom-made furniture, fittings, murals and signages by Carey Potter; Calenders, posters and books by Jessie Fairweather; and Christina Jonsson's one-off distinctive handbags.
Collage of art and craft pieces in the Market / Image courtesy of Rose Street Artists Market
RSAM is celebrating 10 years in 2013. Mr Christian Ferrante, RSAM's Marketing Manager, previously from ad agency Y&R shared with me that their greatest challenge was changing people's perception of what products they could find at an arts market. Traditionally, people wouldn't expect for find quality art or design in a market setting. RSAM set about changing that. It was the first market to focus on quality art and design products made by local emerging artisans. Ms Sierra Toner is an excellent example of the efforts of RSAM.
The freedom of artistic expression, heightened conversation around art and an inspiring landscape of historic buildings and galleries all combined to attract budding artist, Sierra Toner, to relocate from Wollongong to Melbourne but RSAM helped her to get a leg in the door. As someone new to Melbourne, trying to reach out to the artist community and art fans is an overwhelming task due to the variety of avenues available. Sierra explained that the best rite of passage was getting face time with more experienced artists and RSAM provided the best learning experience for her, both in terms of exhibiting and engaging the long-standing local artists there. She harvested the collective wisdom of starting small with cafes and markets, and leveraging social media and websites to launch her name and brand.
Sierra Toner and her art on grass / Image courtesy of Sierra Toner
Notwithstanding RSAM's congenial art environment, being a budding artist is no walk in the park even in the Best Place for Art. It is a struggle to get one's name recognised and the financial return at day's end is minimal but the love of art keeps this mother of a nine-month old going. Despite having to trade her dreams of studying art for a full-time job in workplace training and accessing and information technology, it hasn't stopped Sierra from creating pieces of abstract styles characterised by old postage stamps, large text, loads of texture and bright colours and self-funding exhibitions at the Whithouse Gallery Shellharbour, Wollongong Catholic Care Art show, local cafés and arts markets. So determined in her pursuit of art that she relocated to Melbourne in December 2011 to absorb the inspiration of Australia's art capital and develop a career in art.
Sierra Toner's autumn collection / Image courtesy of Sierra Toner
Her commitment to her art is also the result of support from loving parents who have always encouraged her to pick up the paint brush, and an understanding husband who is also an inspiration for her current collection of bold works that inject life into derelict musical instruments. Her husband Andrew Toner is a well-known guitar virtuoso whose music has taken her around Australia and exposed her to musicians like Tommy Emmanuel, Christian Marsh, Mark Melhuish and Paul Robert Burton. In saving the abandoned instruments, she has created statement pieces that now embellish the walls of homes, office and cafes. In some admirable way, Sierra is undertaking the artist journey not only for herself but also for her mum, whose daily responsibility to her family and children curtailed her art career. And she is helping to spread that love of art to others by making quality pieces of creativity and interpretation very affordable through her use of recycled materials which comes at a lower cost. Sierra is now working on her Spring collection in Mid-September featuring larger pieces like a snare drum for a side table, extra-large canvas abstract pieces and a collection of Moroccan inspired recycled chairs for dining.
Scene in the Market / Image courtesy of Rose Street Artists Market
When visiting RSAM, you need to look, ask and then look again. Some folks will come prepared with specific requirements but a degree of spontaneity works wonders. The artisans in RSAM are a friendly lot and many are more than eager to chat about their artistic creations. I'm always interested to find out more about how the artists' work were made, if any of their works were included in any exhibitions or own any prizes and how they value their work. Christian loves all the reusing and repurposing of old into new which is really taking off in RSAM. Lately he has seen old suitcases turned into iPod speakers and car parts into art deco style lamps. You name it, someone is doing it!
Take a trip to Rose Street Artists Market this weekend
Another redeeming feature of the social space in RSAM is that it allows you to take some time out from the browsing and ponder your choices over a cup of coffee or bubbly. I find this interlude useful at times especially when considering pieces that require space or would complement other articles in your wardrobe or home, unless all the alcoholic effervescence has already gone to your head.
With the range of art and prices available, you're sure to find something you like within your budget. Some of the merchants are even willing to offer reservations for an agreed amount of time and payment terms. As Christian remarked, RSAM has also been the launching pad for many great works and their artisans who have gone on to forge businesses of their own. You never know when one of the pieces you purchased will become a big name in the future.
Art remains the social fabric of Yarra, a municipality which continues to boast the highest percentage of artists, performers and musicians as residents among surrounding municipalities and provides a rare environment for artists to thrive. With the collective efforts of art supporters like Adam and Christian, and artists like Sierra and the many others at RSAM, the rose waters of Yarra's fountain will continue to nourish more parched artists.