Rubbish Remade as Poetry: The Art of Julie Shiels

This article was first published by The Wheeler Centre on 13 May 2014

Is it a disease of the soul, 2005, by Julie Shiels

Melbourne artist Julie Shiels says her exploration of stories told by what we leave on the street began in 2005 with a flattened muselet, the wire that holds a champagne cork in place. But for as long as I’ve known her, Shiels has had a talent for reading the poetry in everyday objects, drawing attention to the magic we might otherwise miss in the streets.

Shiels and I met in Hanoi in the mid-1990s, back when motorcycles outnumbered cars in the streets and drivers bought petrol by the litre from roadside stalls. Vendors advertised by perching recycled glass or plastic bottles of fuel on blocks of wood at the edge of the footpath. I passed such bottles countless times but didn’t appreciate their quirkiness, precariousness and incendiary potential until I saw them in Shiels’ paintings.

These were loud works, green petrol bottles against red backgrounds, part of a 1996 exhibition in Hanoi, which also included paintings of onomatopoeic traffic noises written in the Vietnamese alphabet. The overall effect was a cacophony of light and sound that mirrored life on the street.

The works in Sheils’s current exhibition, As long as it lasts, are quiet by comparison. But they share a sensibility with those paintings in Hanoi, encouraging us to stop and take notice of stories in the street that might otherwise escape our notice…

Read the rest of this article on The Wheeler Centre website.


About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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5 Responses to Rubbish Remade as Poetry: The Art of Julie Shiels

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Fascinating! Thanks, Angela. Her work is powerful because it really does invite one to think. Interesting article too.


    • angelasavage says:

      Thanks Margot. The participatory – or interrogative – element of Julie’s work is a big part of what makes it so attractive. It really has changed the way I look at refuse dumped on the city’s footpaths — what you’d call ‘sidewalks’ 😉


  2. kathy d. says:

    As a tangential topic, the NY Times ran a column about women artists now doing street art in the States, and it named several women who are doing this.
    One artist is putting up posters around Brooklyn, which stand for women’s rights. The slogans are fabulous and quite feisty. One is “My outfit is not an invitation.”
    I’ll find out her name and post it as it’s good news to share.
    It’s always an up to see women expressing their issues and art and getting recognition.


  3. kathy d. says:

    Here is one of the articles about the above-named street artist who took her posters from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Atlanta and other cities. The NY Times mentioned several other street artists, but this is an older article just about one artist.


    • angelasavage says:

      That was a terrific piece, Kathy. I sent the link to an Australian friend who is quite overwhelmed by the level of harassment she encounters in NY. I wish she could meet Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.


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