I was recently invited to open emerging artist Nicole Macdonald’s exhibition at G3 Artspace at Kingston Arts (Parkdale, VIC). Here are my opening remarks about this talented young artist’s work!
In Hidden, Unseen, Unknown Nicole Macdonald presents a body of work that is diverse in its mediums of execution that include etching, lithography and watercolour, but uniform in its arresting depiction of things that dwell beneath the waves. Nicole’s work embraces the strangeness that exists in our natural world. It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and when looking at these organisms from the deep with their gaping jaws, protruding lights, and alien forms this phrase appears particularly apt.
I first came across Nicole’s work a few years ago at the Port Jackson Press Graduate Printmaking Award where I was working at the time, and thought to myself, here is a person who knows how to work an aquatint. The pair of prints were called Lurking, and I was immediately captivated by the unconventional beauty and grace that Nicole had invested in these weird species, set within a velvety black void. I was also impressed by her technically proficient use of tonal effects available in the aquatint technique, and the clever way she had composed the image in Lurking #1 – where a large creature emerges from the left hand side to trail the smaller one which disappears into the right hand edge of the picture plane, creating an overall sense of slowly progressed movement. I recall that myself and former colleague Jackie Hocking were secretly rooting for Nicole to take out the main prize (don’t worry everyone – it was independently judged) and while this didn’t happen Nicole was highly commended by the judges, and rightly so.
This work touches on the notion of fear, and in the exhibition statement for this show Nicole ruminates on the co-existence of the seemingly contradictory positions of beauty and terror, as central concepts explored in her art. This paradox is also key to the notion of the sublime as characterised in the eighteenth century, that was pivotal to the romantic movement, and which drew its emotional potency through attempting to harness the beauty and terror that exists in the natural world. The romantics were in awe of all things grandiose that are almost impossible for the human mind to comprehend, and which makes us feel particularly small and aware of our own fragility within the spectacular, untamable maelstrom of certain places on planet earth.
Nicole’s work touches on this but it is a less overtly ostentatious display. Rather than snow capped mountains or storming seas, she casts a light on what is rarely seen by human eyes. Nicole focuses on the romance of the night, the eternal black that exists kilometres under the surface of the ocean where the suns rays never pierce, and all of the strangeness that is concealed by the dark. In this framework the silent black becomes the source of terror, and the living organisms that have evolved to populate it, the source of beauty. As such her works essentially celebrate different forms of life through capturing their delicate, ephemeral structures, which nonetheless survive in some of the most inhospitable conditions on earth, about which science is still only just discovering.
The geometric form of the circle also has a strong presence in many works within the show. This seems to have a dual function, it further separates the viewer from the anemone, jellyfish, or other creature which is contained within the circle, so that we get a sense of looking through a porthole window to the world beyond. It also creates an area within each picture that is purely abstract, a zone for either inky flat black as in the case of her aquatints, or the subtle innuendos available through watercolour. This contributes to the satisfying tension between the representational space within the circle, and the abstract space that exists outside of it.
For anyone who has ever looked into a rockpool at waters edge, and been fascinated by the small perfectly contained microcosm within it, these works may also resonate for you. Nicole generates a similar sensation of looking into another universe, which has its own ecosystems and is ruled by forces vastly different to the world of air that we humans inhabit.
Nicole warm congratulations on this epic underwater exploration which you have brought before us.
Hidden, Unseen, Unknown
12 October – 5 November
G3 Artspace Parkers Road, Parkdale VIC Australia