Presenting an alternate outlook on the world, these ten contemporary artists have shaped Melbourne’s art landscape by challenging conventional notions. From those who provide hyper-realistic and whimsical depictions of life to those who dabble in unsettling subjects these are the contemporary artists from Melbourne that you need to know about.
Born in Melbourne in 1958 to German toy-makers, Ron Mueck began his career as a model maker, and puppeteer for children’s televisions shows and films including Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. An austere sculpture of his father’s corpse shrunk to two-thirds the size set the aesthetic of every piece to come. By distorting scale Mueck is able to present a hyper-realistic analysis of the human body as seen in Boy, Mask II, Two Women and Wild Man.
Hailing from the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne Bill Henson is a contemporary art photographer who uses chiaroscuro to shroud his subjects in ambiguity. In 1975 Henson presented his first solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria and has since gone on to exhibit at The Guggenheim, the Venice Biennale, and the Bibliothèque Nationale. In 2008 a series of his images were seized, provoking a national debate on censorship. Henson’s transcendent work is often presented as diptychs and triptychs.
Originally destined for a career in law, Chilean-born Juan Davila decided to pursue his artistic ambitions following the completion of his law studies. In 1974 he held his first solo exhibition at CAL Gallery in Santiago. Later that year Davila moved to Melbourne following an extended period of political turmoil. Consequently, he used his work to comment on colonialism, capitalism, and western political systems as seen in Stupid as a Painter and Sentimental History of Australian Art through obscene imagery and everyday motifs challenging the notion of ‘high art.’
A pioneer of Australian postmodernism, Stieg Persson’s work is identified by the entanglement of arabesques and calligraphic aspects. Working with abstraction Persson engages the written word both in form and meaning. In 2003 Persson became the winner of Bendigo Art Galleries’ inaugural Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize for his piece Middle Management. His work can be seen in leading art galleries throughout Australia.
In the mid-nineties while collecting driftwood John Dahlsen was confronted by the vast amount of plastic debris on the beach. Fascinated with the possibilities that the plastic presented Dahlsen went on to fashion a career as an environmental artist using found objects and plastic bags. In 2000, Dahlsen won the prestigious Wynne Prize for his piece Thong Totem and was also a finalist in 2003 and 2004.
Incorporating sculpture, photography and theatrical mise-en-scène English-born Claire Lambe merges her own personal history with psychological notions of gender and class to bring attention to unsettling aspects of the human condition. Lambe often employs abject sculptural forms to reveal her narrative and construct emotive installations. Recently, the Melbourne-based artist presented the exhibition ‘Mother Holding Something Horrific’ at ACCA.
Born in Ballarat, David Noonan reworks found images sourced from books, magazines, and film stills to craft allusive, fragmented narratives. Noonan experiments with painting, photography, film, print-making, collage and sculpture to breathe life and manipulate subconscious memories. One of his most well-known creations is the short, looping video Owl (2004) in which he uses transferred Super 8 footage to achieve a historical grain.
Sculptor and ceramicist Deborah Halpern’s beloved mosaic characters Angel and Ophelia are permanent fixtures of Melbourne’s city landscape and instantly recognisable to locals. Growing up in Warrandyte into a family full of potters, Deborah Halpern’s future was pre-molded to be one of clay and her whimsical figures illustrate an inclination towards the mischievous. In 2016, Culture Trip was fortunate to interview Deborah.
Born in Montreal, Canada, Callum Morton’s sculptures and scale models investigate the melancholy nature of architecture and the built environment. Morton’s modernist installations often incorporate cinematic and theatrical ploys to relay the personal and social impact of the urban environment. In 2011 Morton’s work became the focus of a survey exhibition at the Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Brook Andrew is a contemporary artist from Sydney who challenges conventional judgments to offer alternative interpretations of colonialism history and identity. Through the use of various mediums such as video, sculpture, photography and immersive installations Andrew provides the viewer with the chance to rediscover concepts in various forms. In 2017, Andrew was awarded the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship. His recent sole exhibition ‘THE RIGHT TO OFFEND IS SACRED’ features the work below which was created through a residency at Musée du quai Branly, Paris.