The Colours of Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso just oozes colour, in both housing and street art, even on a cloudy day. A collection of dozens of steep hills around a port, each cerro (hillside) is effectively a barrio (suburb) strewn with haphazard and squashed-in buildings clinging to the hillside. It was once a rich port city, but that was a long time ago and it now has a general air of dishevelment. In the absence of money, the people of Valparaiso have turned to whatever paint colours they can scrounge to paint what are often just particle board and tin dwellings.

A few Cerro still have a working ascensor (funicular) to help with the very steep hills, but the majority have now fallen into disrepair, so everyone gets to work their glutes on the stairs, usually multicoloured as well of course. Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre are the two most touristy, renovated, and probably safest areas of the city, although thefts and mugging are still a risk. It’s a beautifully grungy place, which Unesco agrees with, giving it world heritage status in 2003.

And Valparaiso’s arty soul is not restricted to the buildings, the walls and stairs are alive with wonderful colourful street art as well.


Removing background crowds from photos

Taking photos in popular public locations is complicated by that very thing – popularity. There are a lot of other people there to walk into my shot, or stand right in front of my raised camera to take their selfie. Every year I look forward to the stunning Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in Bondi, it is a photographer’s paradise, beautiful art in front of beautiful views. Plus forty thousand other people on the path at the same time as me. Many of them with children who will look great in front of, or on, every sculpture for a photo.

To make it look like I’m the only person there takes a lot of patience. I line up what I want and wait for 5, 10, 15 minutes for that split second break in the crowd. I look for vantage points, get low, get close, get high, get a long telephoto, crop in, wait, wait, wait. Or I incorporate them into the photo, if it adds to the composition.

So today I am celebrating the crowds, with these photos of what the Sculpture Walk really looks like, with all these marvellous people  getting out in the sun and enjoying the very same art as me.

Stunning Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi

The annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition is on again

This is one of my favourite times of the year, as spring is turning into summer and the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk hosts over one hundred stunning sculptures. With a backdrop of beautiful beaches, and ocean all the way to the horizon, it’s no surprise that hundreds of thousands of people visit it over 18 days each year in late October/early November. You should too.

Gallery of the sculptures.

Street Art of Shoreditch, London

I have always thought that one of the classic signs of the gentrification of a previously run-down urban area is the commercialisation of graffiti. When there is as much quality street art as there is tagging, and when local businesses hire street artists to do their branding, then I’m fairly sure I am in a trendy area with edge (and good cafes). Which usually makes for a fun and interesting urban streetscape. Shoreditch is a great example, I love walking the streets here, checking out the creativity of the street art as well as the hipster score of the bars and cafes.

Street art and Trains, Shoreditch, London
Street art and Trains, Shoreditch, London

great place to park a train?

Scary! Shoreditch, London
Scary! Shoreditch, London

The local businesses definitely embrace and commercialise the grit and grunge successfully.

To transition from grunge to upmarket, I wander down the street to the beautiful architecture of Spitalfields market. Originally the site of the leading fresh fruit and vegetable market in London, it keep expanding for 309 years until finally being forced out into a new location in 1991 (New Spitalfields Market, 23 Sherrin Road, Leyton, London, E10 5SQ).

Meanwhile Old SpitalFields Market (Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6AA, Liverpool St tube) has developed into a 7-day a week upmarket arts and crafts market, particularly good for jewellery and hipster clothing, in the heart of the banking district of London.
The appropriate finish for this transition to trendy mass market Shoreditch is surely to pull up a seat at Jamie Oliver’s Canteen in Spitalfields- I recommend a home made pie washed down with artisanal cider.



Make tracks to Tasmania’s Magnificent MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)

I had to rewrite this opening sentence three times, as I tried (and failed) to remove the excessive hyperbole that kept coming out of my head and off my keyboard. And then I thought “bugger it, I love MONA, there’s no point trying to pretend I am impartial here”. So instead I am writing an open letter to David Walsh.

Dear David.

Thank you for MONA. It may have only been open since the start of this year, but you sure have gotten our attention – and apparently visits from about 250,000 of us so far! Let’s face it, when was the last time someone in Australia, someone who has variously been labelled “art collector, gambler, entrepreneur, and Hobart’s infamous son”, do something this breathtaking? I love your MONA, it’s a testament to the power of one person’s passion and vision. This is clearly not an idea that came from a committee.

And it’s not just the art. It’s the beautiful site on the edge of the Derwent river. It’s arriving at the old white lighthouse merged into the wonderful huge sandstone and rusty iron architecture. It’s the wines of your vineyard Moorilla – I’m particularly partial to the Muse Pinot Noir by the way. It’s the crisply modern tasting room at the Cellar Door (if that’s the right term for a soaring two-storey glass pavilion with a fine dining restaurant attached.?) It’s the MooBrew artisanal beers from your own brewery.

It’s the ferry service to and from the docks in central Hobart (although I must confess I was slightly disappointed you don’t have white branding on a black hulled ferry instead of the more ordinary black on white – that would’ve been the icing on the cake of the superb design aesthetics consistently applied to your brands and your websites). It’s the ability to easily go to the MONA website, book my ferry transfer times, and have my wine flight and antipasto plate booked and ready to revive me at The Wine Bar when I need them. It’s the fact that I can have a nice glass of your vino on the ferry ride too, have all the booking and organising work like clockwork, and not be overcharged for any of it.

It’s all much bigger than I imagined. And the technology is great – how can I not love being issued with my own ‘iPod-like’ O on arrival, which then identifies the art closest to me, gives me a choice of reading about the artist, or reading a more gonzo view on it if I didn’t want to take it too seriously? At the press of a button it records what I stop and see, and gives me access to a permanent online tour that follows in my original footsteps. I like that I can click “love” or “hate” for any part of the exhibition. I like the rumour that any art work which gets “loved” too much gets removed from the exhibition and replaced with something more controversial. I love the idea that you may have spread that rumour just to mess with our heads and have us second guessing whether to claim to love or hate something.

I am quite delighted with the Cloaca. I hear that this is the most hated exhibit, and also the one people spend the longest time in front of. First off, the smell is not that bad at all, I think a lot of people may have been exaggerating. It’s quite a beautiful, clinical thing, this shiny machine representation of our human process from digestion to waste. Maybe people stand in front of it for so long, like I did, because it is so much fun watching other people’s reactions?

I really like that people who would never choose to go to an art gallery will probably enjoy  MONA , there is nothing stuffy about the place or the enthusiastic staff, and the art is a mix of fascinating old egyptian and a huge variety of modern and new. Some I loved, some I didn’t, some I even found boring, but many made me laugh – and there’s nothing better than art with a sense of humour. The bit.fall waterfall of words was beautiful, the bean bags scattered around the floors so I could plop down and watch videos on the wall or the roof were very comfortable and inviting.

And I love that I completely underestimated how long I would need to wander MONA, have refreshment breaks, do some wine tasting, maybe some beer tasting as well, definitely some eating, a browse through the museum shop, not to mention taking lots of photos. We booked ferry times to give us almost 5 hours there, and it wasn’t nearly long enough. But it does give me an additional reason to visit again soon. And we really did love the antipasti tasting plates to death before we left.

So thanks David, its a wonderful thing you have done.



Sydney Biennale -brilliant or bore?

The Sydney Biennale is on again, but what is it and should I bother? You’ve maybe seen the features in the newspapers but still not sure exactly what it is? Well I went and checked out the core part of it, the art walk, to help make your decision easier. So cutting to the chase, what is my conclusion? It’s BRILLIANT! And here’s some of the reasons why.

10 reasons to go do the Sydney Biennale art walk -even if you are completely uninterested in art.


  1. The Free Hop-on Hop-off Ferry trip. It’s free, it uses three lovely old restored deck timber vessels, it’s on beautiful Sydney harbour, and it runs in continuous circles around three stops. Even if you hate art, its worth it for this alone. Leave from Circular Quay at a special spot just in front of the MCA, see the opera house on your right and then pass under the harbour bridge and cruise past lovely harbourside suburbs to Cockatoo Island and disembark at it’s delightful wharf building. When ready, reboard and continue to the second stop at the historic old pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay, a burgeoning area of renovated historic finger wharves and an ever improving food and cafe scene. From here take the ferry for the final leg back under the harbour bridge and return to the starting point, or alternatively it’s a ten minute walk with great views around the point, under the bridge and into The Rocks

  2. The Sydney Weather. A chilly winter day with clear blue skies – this is the perfect time to explore Cockatoo Island, just rug up and go. The biennale runs til 1st August so you still have one more month to get there.
  3. Cockatoo Island. If you haven’t visited this gem in the middle of Sydney harbor yet, this is just another reason to do so. This is no pretty beach island, this is grittily industrial and seeped in its history as a former imperial prison, an industrial school, a reformatory and a gaol. It was also the site of one of Australia’s biggest shipyards during the twentieth century. So we have a mix of dozens of art installations scattered around and in tunnels under the hill, old warehouses and remnants of old machinery. And all for free.


  4. The cafe on Cockatoo Island. As well as great coffee you can get fare as good as any sydney cafe – including gourmet pies through to intriguing and healthy salads and treats for the sweet tooth – I am very impressed with how good a range of food they have in such an out of the way place.
  5. The MCA Biennale exhibition. If on the other hand you are here for the art, then don’t miss the MCA as well, where the majority of the space is turned over to about 48 different artists. You will have your own favourites. I was fascinated by the work of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, who paired photos of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong with their backs to the camera, with a photo of their place of work – and had the workers insert a toy grenade into the photo of the house where they worked as well. Intimate and impersonal at the same time. I found the life and death masks of Fiona Pardington haunting, and the photos of stunning small Greenland villages by Tiina Itkonen made me put Qaanaaq and Kullorsuaq on my travel to-do list. And thats just a tiny taste of the volume and variety of work here.
  6. The AES+F russian collective’s large scale digital video installation on Cockatoo Island. I walk into one of the exhibit spaces in an old warehouse, blacked out, and sit back with others on a large circular sofa in the middle of the room. Its mesmerising. In a circle around us is a circle of nine giant screens, three sets of three. Each of the three sets are showing a different film, but all part of the same story. And each of the three screens in any one set are showing three different views of the same story thread. In the words of the program, “with panoramic, immersive, sumptuous colour and a loud symphonic soundtrack, this depicts an orgy of consumerism reflecting on the contemporary state of the world”. Your teenager will be besotted by it, and you will be too, the hyper-real colour and shine is addictive.
  7. If you like bright shiny lights and fireworks, and who doesn’t, then you’ll enjoy the Cai Guo-Qiang work, also on Cockatoo Island. Bodies of identical old cars are hung throughout a hangar sized building in a sequence depicting the sequence of an explosion, named as detonation, blast, launch, tumbling, gravitational return, and rest. Each car is pierced with rods through which light pulses and fades with the imagined explosion sequence. Its eye catching and on a spectacular scale.
  8. I am not normally a big fan of digital and video art but there are a few such installations on Cockatoo Island that hook me in. Another one was the work of Isaac Julien. This time I ascended a staircase into another blacked out floor, find myself a seat on one of the many stools scattered around the floor, and then watch a beautiful film that entwines historic and modern china. The twist is that the film is played across another ten or so screens scattered around the space, but with a different perspective of the scene showing on each screen, and each view flicking around from one screen to another. So you could follow the main theme on one screen while there might be a closeup of a character’s shoe on a second screen, a view of the background behind the character on a third, and so on. Yes, hooked again.
  9. Also on Cockatoo Island, in another small blacked out room, is an unusual film of an old man performing tai chi, but the film-maker has morphed this into a stretched version where all the consecutive movements have flowed together as occur at the same time. It hard to describe but beautiful to watch

    Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, Daniel Crooks
    Sydney Biennale, Cockatoo Island, Daniel Crooks
  10. The Royal Botanic gardens. Its always a beautiful walk on a sunny day from the opera house, around the harbour and through the gardens. This time I have a further reason for wandering, as I try and find the two installations in the park. I find these are not as well sign posted as the other areas, but maybe that’s the plan, as it succeeded in making me wander through many paths and gardens trying to find the right spots. It is well worth the effort, particularly Janet Laurence’s ethereal piece.

Nursing a broken toe means a fair bit of limping so I haven’t yet completed the entire walk. But i have plans to go back to the bits I missed, at the Opera House, the NSW Art Gallery, and the Artspace set up in Woolloomooloo on the other side of the botanical gardens. The Artspace, in addition to its gallery, has a big programme of live performances from around the world every night, as well as movies, talks and anything else that takes their fancy. So if you prefer your art to include a late night bar and lounge, this may be the part for you.

And don’t forget pretty much everything is free, except your food and drink – now thats a pretty good deal. I can’t think of any reason not to go and enjoy it.