Friday, October 24, 2008

The amazing Cindy Ray

I've always been quite fascinated by the infamous Cindy Ray who was/is a tattooist and was one of the first female tattooists in Melbourne in the 1960s. I discovered this article and interview with her as one of our artists who featured in the last t-shirt exhibition at Town Hall Gallery created the mural that features in the image above, showing Cindy Ray in her hey day. Marc is also doing an apprenticeship at the tattoo shop.
See below this fascinating article that was in the AGE on December 6, 2007 titled A Life In Pictures.

Talked into her first tattoo at 19, a sideshow attraction by her 20s, a Hall of Famer in her 60s. Maryrose Cuskelly meets local legend Bev Nicholas.
AN INSISTENT buzz, like that of an enraged hornet, drifts out the open door and down the footpath. On a slightly higher pitch, and carried along in its wake, is a strangled shrieking. "I've got a squealer here," is the laconic assessment of the older woman wielding the tattoo needle, the source of the all this kerfuffle. She doesn't pause in her work but continues tracing letters in elaborate script across the lower back of the shrieker, a young woman having her daughters' names etched into her skin for posterity.

In body art circles, Bev Nicholas (until recently known as Bev Robinson) is a legend. She has been described as "the grand old woman of Australian tattooing". Bev was one of the first women in Australia to be heavily tattooed and toured the country as Cindy Ray, "the classy lassie with the tattooed chassis", in the 1960s. That was decades ago. Most of her working life has been spent tattooing others.

In 2005, Bev was inducted into the Lyle Tuttle Tattoo Art Museum's Tattoo Hall of Fame in St Louis, one of only about half a dozen people judged worthy of the honour. Not that she goes in for that sort of stuff much. She was gracious enough to attend her induction but all that attention is not really her cup of tea. "I don't like people making a big fuss of me," she says. Kenny McPharlane, who took over Bev's Moving Pictures Tattoo Studio in Williamstown three years ago, reckons she's probably more famous internationally than she is in Australia. "She's an icon. We get a lot of tattooists from all over the world coming in just to meet her. I think any self-respecting tattooist would know who Bev was."

Bev turned 65 recently and the grandmother of two still works most Sundays at the studio in Williamstown, the suburb where she was born and grew up with her brother and three sisters. She remembers a much different place, where the rifle range was still open and hardly anyone came near the place at the weekend. Her father was an engineer, working for the Myers' Maintenance Department in Footscray. One of his regular duties was installing the city store's famous Christmas window displays.

Bev's not sure what it was that convinced photographer Harry Bartram that she would be up for his money-making scheme, or for that matter, why she let herself be talked into it. He spun the 19-year-old key punch operator a tale of the fortune she could make as a tattooed woman touring the country. Despite the fact that no one in her family had tattoos and that getting tattooed "just wasn't done", she got four on the first night. Her parents were disgusted, although some time later her mother did allow Bev to practice her tattooing on her. "My father hit the roof," Bev recalls, and the little duck tattooed on her mother's arm was hidden forever.

Bev's still self-conscious about her own tattoos, and will cover up if she's out. "I've always got something in the boot of the car with long sleeves no matter how hot it is." She thinks it has a lot to do with her late father's attitudes to tattoos. "He was always saying, 'Put a long sleeved jumper on. Don't let anyone see them'."

Back then, the brazenness of the young women today who casually display their large and elaborate tattoos was unthinkable. "They're gamer than me," Bev says. She admires much of the more contemporary style of tattoo, "If I did decide I was going to get tattoos done again, I wouldn't go for all the coloured stuff. I'd go for the wash work (a style of tattoo that uses only black ink). I think that looks really lovely."

Occasionally Bev will find herself discouraging potential clients from getting tattoos. Like most tattooists she's very reluctant to tattoo anyone's hands, necks or faces and she's always sceptical of anyone who comes into the shop with a pack of friends. "I think, 'Hmm, peer pressure'." If they tell her they've only been thinking about getting a tattoo that day, she tells them to go home and think about it some more.

Bev is now tattooing the squealer's sister, who keeps jerking backwards, making it almost impossible for Bev to finish the outline of the tattoo "That one's a wriggler," Bev says, "every tattooist's nightmare."

"Don't suddenly do that jumping business," she scolds the woman, who complains its worse than getting an injection at the dentist.
"I don't even have injections for fillings," Bev says. "I can't stand that numb feeling."
She applies more anaesthetic gel to the woman's lower back. It takes effect and the woman visibly relaxes, allowing Bev to repair the uneven outline. "Thank God you can fix a stuff up," Bev says out of the corner of her mouth. A bit later she muses, "I wish I'd felt like that when I first got tattooed; I would never have got any."

Yet three weeks ago, Bev did get another tattoo, her first in 17 years. She pulls up the leg of her tracksuit pants to reveal a simple design of just three words above her knee: "My Son Craig", and beneath it the dates of his birth and death. He passed away in July after a long battle with cancer. Bev, who also has an adult daughter named Leah, plans to have a pair of hands added: one reaching up to another reaching down to meet it. "I fell in a heap," she says, recalling her loss, but she continued her regular Sunday tattooing shift at Moving Pictures. "At least it's getting me out of the house one day a week." One weekend, about four weeks ago, Kenny rang ahead with a warning, "Now, don't yell at me when you walk in the shop. There's a surprise down there."

The surprise was a huge mural on the back wall of the studio based on a photo taken of Bev when she was Cindy Ray, "the girl who put the oo in tattoo". It shows a young, pretty blonde woman, a shawl draped modestly around her shoulders with a winged woman tattooed on her upper chest.

Kenny commissioned the mural as a tribute to Bev; a way of paying his respects and to ensure her name and reputation carry on. "It's probably been the highlight of my tattooing career to have met Bev and to have actually worked with her. To buy her studio was just the icing on the cake." There's just one more thing Kenny would like to do. "I have to get a tattoo done by Bev. That's a must."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The C word - Collaboration that is!

I just spent the last 2 days at a NETS symposium with the title "The C word - Curators and Collaboration", or something like that!

It's always nice to get out of the office and catch up with colleagues, many from rural galleries and talk about what we've been doing and what exhibitions we have coming up. In reality most of the work usually happens over coffee or later at the bar, when we come to the realization that we all come across the same situations.

This year's symposium was interesting as we had lots of speakers from the Melbourne International Arts Festival. This is always a great opportunity to hear direct from artists, many who are international that we never get to hear from.

One of the speaker highlights for me was Chris Doyle who has created a film work/projection/installation outside the National Gallery of Victoria. I get what he does, he is a fantastic speaker and I'm familiar with some of his work in New York which helps when you know what people are talking about!

At the end of the second day we went on a bit of a gallery tour to catch up on some of the shows that speakers had spoken about, but also just to take time out to see what's going on. We all get so busy that often we don't get an afternoon to see stuff!

Some of the exhibitions that I saw were:
correspondences: vĂ­ctor erice and abbas kiarostami
which is on at show at ACMI. This would have to be one of the best installed and most poetic and touching exhibitions I've seen at ACMI. I'd definitely suggest catching it before it ends in early November. I loved the way that it had been set up with the gallery space being divided into 2 with one side for each film maker/artist and their collaborative work at the end, so you could enter from either side.

Lynette Wallworth

I then went to the Evolution of Fearlessness by artist Lynette Wallworth, here as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Lynette had spoken at the symposium and her discussion of the work made most of it want to go and see it. It's an interactive piece in a dark room where who are invited to walk up some steps, and put your hand on a small pulse of light. When you do this, a woman emerges from the dark, places her hand on yours and stars into your eyes. Nothing is said, and nothing needs to be said. It's incredibly moving in a way you can't describe. The 11 women's stories are also captured in a book in the room that you can read also. I'm always amazed at this type of interactive works that rely on the viewer to take part for the work to be created - the image of the woman won't appear until you put your hand there, it's just a small pulse of light in a black room - amazing work.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stasi Tapestry in progress

Stasi tapestry in progress

Yes, I finally got my butt back into my weaving after hitting a bit of a hump on this tapestry. I'm weaving it the right way up (the way that you are seeing it) which is quite different for me. Now that I've finally got a good start on the figure, it's all going quite quickly. Other than my fingers getting super sore and bleeding from the rubbing on the warps.

I can't wait to get this one off the loom to start some new works that are in a square format (something that I'm a bit addicted to at the moment). I also need to get this one finished for the Manipulate: Construct exhibition that I'm curating in December. Yikes!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Art Stuff that I'm Following

I realized that I hadn't made a post for close to 2 weeks! When flicking through my diary I realized how crazy the month of October was looking and it's all revolving around a wide range of arty stuff, which is good but mad!

I thought I'd give a bit of a run down on what I've been doing and art stuff I've been following!

Public programs for Ugly, Drunk and Stupid exhibition.

For starters, we held a Melbourne Fringe Festival exhibition at Town Hall Gallery for one week featuring a whole bunch of Melbourne Comic Book artists. The exhibition titled: Ugly, Drunk and Stupid was curated by Jo Waite and Bernard Caleo and was lots of fun. I think one of my favourite activities was the Ugly draw off where everyone was drawing on 'beer coaster shaped' paper. Visit our flickr to see the final results.

I also went and saw one of my all time favourite bands The Futureheads play at the Corner Hotel in Richmond. It was a fantastic evening and I have to say that I haven't had so much fun at a gig for a very, very long time!! I think that I even had sore legs from bopping along way too much!

I've also been organizing our annual Get Into Art day at the gallery which will also include our zine fair. This is all happening on Sunday 26 October from 11am -4pm. A big shout out to the wonderful Candace Petrik who has been a superstar in helping me get it all together - she's a gem!

Also, I'm curating an exhibition which will be held at Town Hall Gallery from 3 - 20 December called Manipulate: Construct. It features 9 tapestry artists (me included!) and will be focusing on contemporary tapestry. Needless to say that this exhibition has been making me VERY busy!! I got my butt into gear and did a whole heap of weaving over the weekend to the point that my fingers were bleeding - again. I'm hoping to have possibly 2 new tapestries to show for the exhibition, without killing myself first! We'll see how that goes, currently I have one tapestry that I showed in Florida earlier this year which has now seemed to have gone missing on it's way back to Australia. Very frustrating as it means I have to weave more! I guess these things do happen though.
I will post images of the tapestry in progress for the show soon also! Maybe when October has finished.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Russian Film Festival kicks off again soon!

It's on again! The annual Russian Film Festival begins at the end of October and will be screening at the Como Palace cinema in Toorak. I always get excited to see what's on and I'm loving their graphics for this year as well.

To see the program go here.

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