Exhibition review: Dreamscape, Off the Kerb gallery

Iconic Melbourne art gallery celebrates turning 17 with a characteristically high-quality collection of local art
image is a plate with images of birds on it. Dreamscape, Off the Kerb gallery

Collingwood in Victoria is a magical suburb, and not only for its football team. Just one small stretch of Johnston Street, between Smith and Wellington, is all but cluttered with artistic icons, for instance the legendary punk and rock venue the Tote Hotel, community radio station 3PBS, Keith Haring’s 1984 mural and, on the other side of the road, the visual arts creative hotbed Off The Kerb gallery, which is currently marking its 17th anniversary with an exhibition entitled Dreamscape.

Off The Kerb is remarkable for many reasons. For starters, it’s had the same address since it opened (so far), whereas many other galleries have moved at least once. Then there are the artists who have Off The Kerb on their CV, including filmmaker Daniel Agdag, director of the 2017 multi award-winning animated short Lost Property Office, whose 2012 exhibition at Off The Kerb was launched by Academy Award winner Adam Elliot (Harvey Krumpet, Mary and Max). 

Any gallery’s success is a sum of its artists’ parts but, just as a film needs a director and a circus needs a ringmaster, a gallery is held together by a curator with a discerning eye, a finger on the pulse and an overriding sense of whose art will work with whose, and how to use similarities or juxtapositions between artworks to the greatest effect within the gallery space.

Off The Kerb’s longevity is proof that its curator, artist Shini Pararajasingham, has those traits. To celebrate this anniversary, she has decked out her double-storey gallery with a characteristically eclectic yet cohesive assortment of art by artists who have adorned the walls in the past, which will be on show, and on sale, until 25 April.

Within the 43 works featured in this show, dozens of styles and mediums, and hybrids of them, are represented – from abstract to architectural, from impressionistic to tribal, from retro to surreal, from line drawings to oil paintings, from collages to 3D works and computer-manipulated images. The thematic idea of the exhibition’s title, Dreamscape, weaves them all together.

While this may sound like a very open-ended concept, Pararajasingham’s pool of talent has combined to create an overflowing reservoir of ideas, images and interpretations of what might be seen in the kaleidoscopic soup of dreams.

Excellent examples are Guirao’s subtle portrait of dreamlike detachment, Ben Lopez’s masterwork of tribal imagery, Alexia Novella’s concise, blatant, unforgiving symbolism of time and Manda Lane’s colour-stripped albino monstera leaves, especially contrasted with Brendan Rowe’s explosion of twisted, nightmarish pop culture colours, or Skübz Mope’s street art-styled facial salad.

And, on the topic of street art, the exhibition also features a work by one of Melbourne’s most prolific and recognisable mural artists, Hayden Dewar, whose piece in this exhibition shows his trademark yellow-faced, hoodie-wearing alter ego helming some form of floating ship; some elements recognisable, some not, some elements melting, some not. 

As with all the pieces here, Dewar’s piece is wonderfully affordable for an artwork of this quality. Indeed, the majority of the pieces for sale in this show range from $200 to $600, with only four pieces asking for a four-digit figure. This is probably another key element to Off The Kerb’s success – affordability and accessibility, for buyers and artists alike. It’s good for the buyers because you can take home some high-quality local art, and it’s good for the artist because of Pararajasingham’s curation skills, showing the artist at their best.

Artwork by Hayden Dewar. Photo: Supplied.

As mentioned, the gallery has helped hundreds of artists’ careers over the years, including more recent trailblazers, such as Sooj Mitton, whose stunningly detailed creations were featured in Beautiful Bizarre magazine a few months ago, Izzy Faith V, who recently had a sell out show in First Nation-owned Honey Bones gallery in Brunswick, and Julia A Rich, whose staggeringly polished work will be showcased in a solo show in Brunswick’s world-class surrealist art gallery Beinart this July.  

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Like its owner and curator, Off the Kerb’s deceptively simple exterior harbours an ever-churning ocean of creativity, which, in turn, attracts fellow artists, helping their careers in the same way as the Tote does for musicians – 17 years and counting. 

Dreamscape, Off The Kerb’s 17th Anniversary Group Show, will be exhibited until 25 April 2024.
Off The Kerb gallery

Ash Brom has been writing, editing and publishing books, stories, journals and articles for over 25 years. He is an English as an Additional Language teacher, photographer, actor and rather subjective poet.