Melbourne’s hidden masterpieces
02 January 2017
Melbourne hasn’t always been synonymous with great public art. That’s not to say it wasn’t there, but in recent years there’s been an international focus on Melbourne thanks to the thriving street art scene. The artworks that don’t get as much attention are those that are easily missed; hidden down alleyways, high above shop fronts, or so much a part of the city’s fabric they’re often overlooked.
We’ve shortlisted some of our favourites and tracked down artists and experts to shed light on the lesser-known public artworks, most of them situated right on the T&G Building’s doorstep.
Man Made by Will Coles, Hosier Lane
We don’t encourage it, but if you tried to pull Will Coles’ Man Made off the wall, you’d have a tough time. Tucked away down Hosier Lane, directly behind the T&G Building, Man Made is stuck tight with Megapoxy – serious glue that’s pretty much the strongest for the job.
The glove-shaped object, cast in cement, is easy to miss. Dirty and faded, it could be mistaken for discarded rubbish.
“My work is mostly glued down to be found. Some is more hidden than others, in the hope it will last five or ten years. The older the town, the scabbier its backstreets, the better to glue down my stuff in,” Coles says. “They’re made to be part of their surroundings and, if left alone, will grow old with it.”
Larry La Trobe by Pamela Irving, City Square
Larry La Trobe is an unassuming life-sized bronze dog that often goes unnoticed. Originally conceived as a series of dogs cocking their legs and waiting at the lights on Swanston St, Larry was the only one commissioned.
For a statue, Larry’s had a colourful past. Jackhammered and stolen from his original spot in 1995, a media campaign ensued but to no avail. “There was even a giant Moomba Float created to try to entice him out of hiding,” says Larry’s creator, Pamela Irving.
Luckily for Larry he was recast and moved to his more upmarket (and hopefully permanent) address on Collins St, two blocks down from the T&G Building. “I like that he is just standing there, randomly looking out as if looking for somewhere else to go to,” Irving says.
Image credit: Pamela Irving
“I’ll put a girdle round about the Earth” by Napier Waller, Newspaper House, 243 Collins Street
Commissioned by Keith Murdoch, Napier Waller’s mosaic on Newspaper House is considered one of the most outstanding pieces of public art in Australia. Retired NGV curator, Terence Lane agrees, “It’s such an extraordinary, exceptional thing and it gives me delight every time I walk down Collins Street.”
As a family friend of the Wallers, Lane has unrivalled insight. Innovative potter, Klytie Pate, was Waller’s studio assistant while the mural was prepared for installation and he told her she had to mind the fire throughout the night so that it didn’t go out and so the panels didn’t get too damp. It kind of brought the artwork to life for me.”
Waller is often characterised as an artist who lived in the past, but Lane disagrees, “He was really most interested in modern life and that’s what that mural is about.”
Lane continues to be the mural’s guardian angel, stopping it from being hidden by tree branches by petitioning the council.
Napier Waller is a significant personality to the T&G Building, as well. In 1928, when the building was first built, Waller completed a mural, entitled Better Than to Squander Life’s Gifts is to Conserve Them and Ensure a Fearless Future, which still sits above the inner doorway at the original Collins St entrance.
The mural pictures an old man, two women and a young boy in an orchard, with another figure in the background tending the land and watching the sheep.
Freddy Grant is an arts professional and writer based in Melbourne. He is the PR & Communications Manager for bluethumb, Australia’s largest art marketplace, connecting collectors, art lovers and interior designers with an unprecedented community of emerging and established local artists. All other images provided by Freddy Grant.