The flâneurie was a literary type in 18th century France and essential to any notion of the Parisian streets. He would walk the streets and observe, meander – an urban explorer, a connoisseur of the street. Leonie Rhodes has used the concept of the flâneurie as central to her installation at Gold Coast City Gallery’s Signs of the Time exhibition and questions whether today’s graffiti artist is a modern-day flâneurie.
“The flâneurie is anti-capitalist and is rebellious because he thinks,” Leonie explained. “And then I bring that through into feminism – because the flâneurie is always a man of certain societal stature. At that time if women were to contemplate anything it wouldn’t have been taken seriously and they couldn’t walk the streets. If they did, they’d be considered prostitutes.”
“So my skater work is called the triple axis intersectional skater,” she explained.
Leonie’s work is an exploration of our modern understanding of urban art and its movement into a fine art context.
“I’m using a lot of ancient symbolism that’s usually used by corporations,” she explained. “I’m talking about the street setting and the two types of lettering we have in that setting. One is tagging and the other is advertising. Both of which we don’t give consent for – one is legal and the other is frowned upon.”
“I’m interested in the use of symbolism by corporations and in taking back that symbolism for ourselves and our own empowerment.”
While being a fine art sculptor, Leonie has a long association with street art. Growing up in SE London saw her writing graffiti from the age of 11 or 12 and listening to drum and bass music that was completely integrated in that scene.
“Everyone’s signatures were somehow inspired by their tag,” Leonie said. “My friends all had aerosols but from early on it was sculptures that inspired me, and always inspired by street art and external settings. It’s only been the last few years I’ve worked with materials hardy enough to survive those settings.”
Leonie’s thesis (she studied fine art) explored the nature of the urban environment in the imagination of the city dweller. She worked with large scale steel, industrial materials, aerosols.
“In that fine art setting, especially at that time, it’s not something you were encouraged to be part of,” she said. “It’s only been the last five or ten years really that fine art has accepted street art.”
And that’s what this piece is about. The movement of underground and outsider culture in a fine art context.
“It’s exciting for me to reconnect with my history and the playful side of my practice and have that recognised as fine art,” Leonie said. “And to combine that will skills and conceptual knowledge I’ve developed in my career. I’m really excited with the results and what it means for my work in the future.”
Like most Gold Coast artists who’ve been involved in the exhibition or just been to see it, Leonie is excited about what the exhibition signifies for street artists and for the local art scene.
“It’s definitely a sign of the time that an institution like this is recognising street art in a fine art context,” Leonie said. “It’ll be really interesting to see how the work is received.”
“For me, if you come and visit the show and read about my work, you’ll see what I’ve been trying to do with The Writer and the reason I’ve accentuated his clothing and the folds in his clothing is that I’ve tried to emulate the sculptural drapery of the past. In a way, I want to represent him, that which is our contemporary artist, as something other than an outsider.”
“Could we consider that the graffiti artist is in fact the artist of our time and that throughout history, very current artists have always been rejected by the mainstream?”
“The graffiti world represents a return to the appreciation of colour, making for making’s sake, expression and a more politically-minded form of art-making which has been pushed out societally by art colleges and the establishment.”
Leonie’s work is installed as part of the Signs of the Time Exhibition which runs at Gold Coast City Gallery until 9 April.
IMAGE: Skate Park by Leonie Rhodes (c) Peter Wheeler Photography