|Ship of Fools, 2007, oil on linen, 84 x 60 inches|
|Ross Bridge Heads, 2006, oil on linen, 60 x 97 inches|
|Rescue up the Creek, 2007, 82 x 120 inches|
PB: How did you arrive at the idea of using such personal imagery in your work?
GN: It started very early in Tasmania. I suppose I discovered art at age 4, making fantasy drawings when I attended primary school. That initial burst became lost amidst the intense distractions of daily school life until later, after leaving school at age 15, I worked at Silk and Textiles Factory learning to draw master sketches for fabrics. That lasted 3 years during which that business encouraged me do to life drawing classes at the Art School in Hobart for one year. The repeated patterns I worked on at the factory are in a way present in my painting now.
The childhood memories that I remember most fondly and vividly I found in nature. They include the dry ochre coloured bush beyond my home in Lindisfarne, the wild gum trees with white, gray, pink peeling bark and the variety of shades of earth peering up between fallen varieties of eucalypt leaves forming a bed of subtle and raw colour. The occasional scattered bones of dead animals and birds come to mind easily in this tableau of contrasting textures, shapes and things soft and hard to the touch.
My father’s attempts to grow fruit trees in our backyard have influenced my paintings to a large extent. His successes and failures at trying to cultivate fruits that weren’t entirely suited to the southern Tasmanian climate I celebrate in my paintings. The passion fruit on the vine, apples, peaches and pear trees are realistic vivid memories. The tropical fruit trees that did not succeed were memorable too. I include all those fruits in my memory as still life arrangements in my oil paintings. I want to retain some of that personal memory of intense colour, heat, texture, sound quality and momentum of plants striving to grow in that climate, and fenced landscape.
Sounds that are a vivid memory include sqwarking parrots in the trees, flocks of blue / red, gray / pink ones flying overhead making noise everywhere, especially in the bush in Tasmania. I want my paintings to suggest these sounds.
PB: Do you ever feel the pressure to go in a more formal/conceptual direction with your work, or lean toward more symbolism, rather than the fine balance your work is now at?
GN: I feel no pressure to be anything other than a working painter. I explore the concerns that are currently important to me - pushing paint around on any surface available to me, continuing to use symbolic colour, shifting around my scale to surprise myself and keeping my narrative interesting.
PB: How did you survive upon arrival to NYC?
GN: I had early success in Australia before I left the first time, showing in a top gallery in Sydney whilst still a full-time art student. That success initially resulting out of a facile talent, hard work, early ambition and luck being in the right place, which brought me attention—and the Marten Bequest travelling art prize award then facilitated and hastened my departure for Europe. I received a full scholarship to attend the New York Studio School after 6 months travelling around Britain and Europe. That part seemed easy as events fell into place. What I encountered in New York was another matter. My visa situation meant that I was compelled to stay a student to remain in the States. That was not a difficult choice as the school and its philosophy on art education was the most difficult challenge of my life. I stayed at the school for 7 years, thriving as an advanced student after falling on my head the first year and a half. In my last year at the school I started exhibiting in galleries in New York and soon thereafter in Australia again.
I discovered the hard way, that while you are in the throes of exhibiting and getting early attention, success can seem easy and it flows from one show to another, from one grant/award to another and so on. Once the artist becomes too precious about their art, too aware and careful of the traps and pitfalls of the art business, too intimidated by it, that initial earlier impulse to just make art can get lost. An initial, aggressive, naive approach can get an artist a boost onto the scene and quick success. Staying there for the long haul is very difficult. Many successful artists settle on maintaining an identifiable style, a style that sells and stay with that, while the artists who want to challenge themselves to evolve and grow generally have the harder road. I’ve been told by more than one professional that any artist is lucky to have two years of sales of their art in New York. The art scene is very fickle, fast and can often seem to digest, chew and spit out artists faster than they arrive in this city. It is always fascinating, always intriguing and sometimes a wonderful place of support for the arts.
PB: Do you feel satisfied with the point at which your work is now at?
GN: At this stage of my life and career I am very aware of my abilities and my unique personal vision, which I always attempt to express confidently through my artwork. The response to my story about the actual Ross Bridge in Tasmania, the convict artist who carved the reliefs on it, as well as my family’s involvement in it, has elicited some amazement from my New York friends and the artist community that knows me. The collection of my paintings that focuses on that subject has been very well received by artists, gallery owners and critics, often without them knowing the background story surrounding the carved panels on the bridge.
I am still drawn to the Tasmanian landscape as it provides me with endless material for my artwork. In my paintings I often include and describe cherished, retrieved objects from that landscape: toy ship models, scattered animal bones, and ancient paths - all visual memories. My symbology of colour - ochres, greens, yellows to reflect the lush palette of the Tasmanian rain forest flora and fauna, contrasted with the black, red and white of the dry heat. I think of the history of that place and expand on this narrative with a grand vision.
The paintings start with a structure from the nature transcriptions, left as open as possible to allow me to introduce throughout, a flow of contrasting shapes and symbols, built with a process of layering oil paint, heavily and thinly applied, erased, reapplied, and glazed until the images are resolved. These paintings represent a synthesis of ideas I continually explore in my work. Not unlike my attraction to places I spend time divining (dowsing) in, a gift that I have to use, and which I spend much time practicing.
PB: Is there any other medium that you plan on working with in the future?
GN: The Weathervanes I have been producing as wooden prototypes in my studio will need to be fabricated in metal, probably aluminum, to exist outside permanently. There are 7 Ship Weathervanes so far. A Brooklyn foundry has given me some support this year with research into making them as editions. That material should embrace strong patinas that represent the integrity of the existing surface colours on the prototypes. I am endeavoring to take this project as far as possible, with as much commercial success as I think it warrants.
I still love just painting with oils on wood surfaces or heavy linen. I'll keep doing that for the foreseeable future, with a view to returning to woodblock and silk screen printing.
To see more of Garry's work: garrynichols.com