the early days.
"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 artists 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 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 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 contemporary 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 April 2004 the Blender Studios were 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 varied 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. There were 14 studios instead of 22, and artists were encouraged to find exhibitions, push their research, and work hard at their craft.
None of the studios were blocked off which is how the Blender became a great community of artists that help and support each other. This made us a much stronger collective and community. The studios were not for profit; it made no money and it was all about the art.
In 2012 Dark Horse Experiment Gallery was opened (formerly Michael Koro Gallery). A research gallery at its core, it aims to push the boundaries of contemporary art. The gallery creates a space and market for artists who may not get a chance to show in a commercial context, and has hosted various projects such as the Melbourne Projection Windows. The gallery has now been open for over 8 years and has had some great shows. From sell out shows to cutting edge exhibitions, performances and installations focusing on research and technology.
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, but it is still a meeting place and a strong underground element remains.
Alongside the studios we run the Melbourne Street Tours, providing tours and workshops for the public, corporate and education sector. On the tours, a famous street artist is the tour guide, and 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 by keeping the studio rent down, and they are also a way for artists to make some income to support their art practice.
Blender Creatives has also come out of the studios, producing creative projects such as large scale murals or installations. This is also creates opportunities and connects artists with commission opportunities.
So the Blender has become more of an art complex and 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. It's always about the memories.'