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One would be hard pressed to find a more ordinary street than Pin Oak Court, Vermont South. The homogenous brick veneer streetscape could belong to any of Melbourne's outer suburbs that, beyond a certain radius, start blending into anonymity. But there is a nagging familiarity to these particular homes and, furthermore, they manage to attract bus loads of pilgrims from the other side of the world. Far from anonymous, Pin Oak Court is best known by its television alias, Ramsey Street.
Sean Meilak has twice made the minibus pilgrimage to the haloed asphalt, immortalized in the closing credits of 'Neighbours'. Earlier paintings by the artist featured fellow pilgrims-British backpackers, mostly- in reverent flocks before the houses, but they have been banished from the current body of work. With them goes the obvious clue to the iconic status of these suburban homes. One is uncertain whether their immediate familiarity is due to recognition from 'Neighbours', or due to one's own suburban past (neither of which one wants to own up to readily) and it is this doubt that makes the current paintings more intriguing. There is a guilty delight in recognizing the ubiquity of the treated pine letterbox (always painted mission brown), or the matching brass letter-slot, number and newspaper portal found in many a brick block alongside many a driveway. lt is the street's very ordinariness, rather than its fame, that Meilak celebrates.
Composition is faithful to the Ray White1 School, and the scrupulous over attention to detail is in keeping with the laboured photo-realist style popular with Rotary clubs. Each brick is individually painted, and the loving care Meilak lavishes on minutiae such as the water meters, hose reels and canvas awnings suggest that he, too, has roots in suburbia. This is a genuine homage to Roll-a-doors and (naturally mission brown) volcanic rock landscaping, but these modest oils hint at more than that.
Colours are just that bit too saturated, the palette a little too overexposed, in this street where the sun always shines and the lawns are always immaculate. Ramsey Street has managed to make a pretence of Pin Oak Court, creating artificiality from reality. Meilak acknowledges this facade in the impenetrable locked doors, drawn curtains and windows which promise voyeuristic gratification but ultimately only refiect the empty street. He also reminds us that the very things that make the street ordinary to Melbournians, make it distinctive elsewhere. I can still recall my stunned disbelief on learning that the Brits considered Ramsey Street exotic.
Other iconic Australian dwellings, such as Governor La Trobe's cottage, have also made it into Meilak's repertoire, chosen as examples of prefabricated homes shipped out from England as part of the colonisation mission. While these earlier works explored 'instant' urban environments, imposing (at that time desired) Englishness on the place, with Ramsey Street Meilak has begun a far more interesting investigation of the trend's reversal. 'Melbourne-ness' has been made desirable, its suburbia an escape-inspiring pilgrimages to the other side of the world, even.
1. Preferred real estate agent to the suburbs.