I remember looking at the empty warehouse, there was rubbish and dust everywhere. It was hard to convince anyone that this space could be anything more than a demolition site. I was about 22 at the time (2000) and it was a massive investment. We divided the space up into 22 open studios. The first year was very hard. We had trouble filling the studios and the people we were getting were difficult and hardly ever there -I always dreamt of a hard working and productive studio. It was after about a year that the Studios started to develop a personality. A number of street artists had taken up studios as well as a few people from my masters course at the VCA: it was a true blend of artists. It was at this time that the name ‘Blender Studios’ was given. ‘We were sitting around having beers trying to come up with names, and James Dodd came up with the Blender. It became a mission statement of sorts.’ The mostly full studios were a blend of different artists, philosophies, beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds and educations.
The studios began attracting an underground element, and in mid 2001 the Melbourne street art scene burst from its doors and onto the streets of Melbourne. ‘There was a real political element to the early Melbourne stencil scene. This was partly because of the US invasion of Iraq and I think that many of us young artist felt that we had no voice and that the Australian art scene had been hijacked by pretention. The Blender Studios became the intellectual heart of the early Melbourne street movement. Research artists became highly influenced by the street movement, Many making it part of their common practice. It was here too, that the seed was planted, which would later lead to street artists taking a more commercial and research approach to their work.
‘It was an interesting time in Melbourne, Some nights there would be as many as 30 people leaving the Blender with mops, rollers, cans everything. The city was under siege. We owned the town. It was awesome.’ We would all work in the studio and at about 5 or 6pm as people finished work they would come over to the Blender to have some beers etc. And then everyone would hit the town. It was stencils, paste-ups and parties.
In 2002 Regan Tamanui aka HA – HA, Dan Sibley aka Danism and James Dodd Aka Dlux set up Early space inc. in Collingwood. This was run through the Blender Studios and was the first street art gallery in Australia. It set the scene for the commercial side of street art to take off. This was cemented in 2004 when Andy Mac (Citylights) assisted the National Gallery of Australia in the acquisition of a large selection of stencil and street work for its works on paper collection.
The Blender Studios continued as the centre of the Melbourne street scene and was making great inroads on the contempory art scene, with some of its artists achieving international acclaim. Some of the fine artists to come out of the Blender over the years are: Roh Singh, Emma Van Leest, Louisa Jenkinson, Tim Sterling, Cameron Hayes and Anthony Lister to name a few
In 2004 a few things happened that changed the Melbourne street movement forever. The first was the preparations for the Commonwealth Games. This meant that the government and the City of Melbourne changed its graffiti policy. A police task force was set up and a large section of important street art was white washed. And some of the most prolific artists went on the run. They are still on the run today, creating street art!
In April 2004 the Blender Studios was also shut down. This had a Diasporatic effect on the street art movement. With the meeting place gone many of the street artists disappeared back into their world -it was at this point that there was an aesthetic shift from stencils to free-hand spray painting, and the Melbourne Street scene changed forever. The fine artists moved on in the same fashion, to many degrees of success.
In late 2004 the Everfresh Studio was set up by many of the street artists that were either in the Blender or closely associated with the Blender. The studio (still running strong today) has become one of the most influential street production houses in the country A book about Everfresh was released mid 2010
It was in early 2007 that the Blender Studios re-opened in the same warehouse on Franklin St. This time I was 29 and had spent over 3 years in Asia. Setting up the same space twice allowed me to understand what worked last time. We now have 14 studios instead of 22,
Artists are encouraged to find exhibitions and push their research and work hard at their craft.
None of the studios are blocked off so that the Blender has become a great community of artists that help and support each other. This makes us a much stronger collective and community. The Studios are not for profit, it makes no money, it’s all about the art.
The studios are different now that we are older and don’t party all the time. It’s a good thing. We are more focused on our art and this has attracted serious artists. The street artists that occupy the space now are: Drewfunk, Heesco, Handcock the Napier crew and Regan Tamanui aka HA HA.
is still a meeting place and a strong underground element remains. We have set up the Melbourne Street Tours: a famous street artist gives the tour, it starts at Fed Square and works its way through the city to the Blender Studios. The tour helps open up the Studios to the public. And also helps fund the studios, keeps the rent down and is a way for artist to make some income to support their art practice.
We have also set up Dark Horse Experiment Gallery –which has now become Dark horse experiment a research gallery which aims to push the boundaries of contemporary art. The gallery aims to create a space and market for artist who may not get a chance to show in a commercial context. The gallery has been open for over five years and has had some great shows. From sell out shows to cutting edge exhibitions, performances and installations focusing on research and technology.
So the Blender has become more of an art complex an ideas factory where nearly anything goes. It is self-sustainable and tries to bring art to everyone. It is not elitist and everyone is always welcome.
Its always about the memories.
The Blender Studios Laneway
Art at the Blender
Many artists from the Blender have achieved great success in their research and practice.
There has always been a heavy research influence at the Blender. There is a lot of discussions and constructive criticism.
Over the years there has been many Blender artists working in a variety of mediums, who have achieved major critical success.
In early 2004 the Blender closed, to be opened again in 2007 in the same place.
The climate of the Australian art scene had changed and as the Blender re-opened its doors it was clear that the Blender was also going to be different.
We still have a strong link to street art with some of the most famous and prolific street artists calling the Blender home.
The Blender has changed now, it has become more of an art complex with 18 studios, an artist in residence program, the Blender laneway street art project, the Melbourne Propaganda Window, Dark Horse Experiment and The Melbourne Street Tours
In 2001 the Blender Studios became a major centre for the emerging Melbourne street art scene.
As the USA invaded Iraq, so too, did many of the Blender artists, invade the streets of Melbourne.
It was the hub of the street art movement with many of the most prolific street artists either calling the Blender home or using it as a base to colour in the city.
Street artist who have been closely associated with the Blender Studios:
- Tom Bone
- Six Ten
- Drew Funk
The street scene grew quickly. It was constantly transforming, as people experimented with different images, locations, technologies and media.
Sometimes there would be as many as 30 people all heading out at the same time to different places, to do a variety of artwork.
We had about 20 artists at the Blender back then, about half were street artists. The influence that the research artists at the Blender had on the street movement was extraordinary. Street artists began to consider context, form and concept. Street art gave the other artists in the Blender a chance to play with an immediate and ephemeral art form and many made the move to the street.
There was a real blend.
In 2003 the first stencil gallery was opened: Early Independent Space EIS was ran above Kent Street cafe in Smith street by Blender artists Regan Tamanui and Dan Sibley.
This art space gave many successful artists their first break and was closely linked to the Blender.