2010-The Darkness and The Beauty

Anthea Polson Art
March 20 – April 3, 2010
Guest Speaker: James Guppy; artist

‘Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…’ The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe 1845

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There is a certain sensitivity and heightened awareness, seemingly peculiar to artists, that compels them to investigate the vicissitudes of life – to probe relentlessly at some existential core. Strange, perhaps, that often the most poignant and passionate pieces are created by the young. Memento mori symbolism now permeates contemporary art and even extends into all manner of mass-market merchandise. Nic Plowman’s imagery is not the product of such a trend. His self-referential works are profoundly personal and utterly authentic; their aesthetic potency rooted in very real life/death experiences.

Born with a serious heart condition, Nic Plowman has undergone Open Heart surgery twice, and only last year found himself back in a hospital’s ICU with massive injuries incurred in a ‘freak accident’. Six long months later he re-entered an untouched studio where dried-up paints and brushes lay as he had left them. Having spent many hours contemplating the ‘fine line between beauty (life) and darkness (death)’, Plowman sees his art-making in terms of crucifixion, self-dissection and therapy; ‘I was always aware of my mortality and I think it has made me a lot more thoughtful about what I’m putting my energy towards. Art is really about your own experiences – a filtered reflection of the realities that give the impetus to create. The most personal work is often the most universal.’

The Darkness and the Beauty works may deal with themes of vulnerability and the fragility of life, but they are also about the power of artistic expression to overcome overwhelming adversity. Nic Plowman comments, ‘After the events of last year I was looking for strength and direction and was again inspired by artists who have seen the dark side of life. Whether their journeys resulted in triumph or annihilation, in the end there is the evidence of that struggle – the art.’ During his convalescence Plowman remembered the visit he had made some years ago to Frida Kahlo’s studio in Mexico, “When I saw her studio I felt a connection, I kind of felt akin to Frida’s situation… it was her energy… she never stopped working despite her health problems.” That memory proved to be a catalyst for his current body of work. Many of the paintings in the exhibition pay homage to those artists who continue to inspire and sustain him, among them, Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, Francis Bacon and Edgar Allan Poe.

Plowman’s remarkable visual articulation is now widely acknowledged and he has twice been a finalist in the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship. His innate compositional and drawing skills temper the expression of intensely introspective musings: ‘There are some parts in painting that need to be more focused – parts depicting emotion. That’s why I’ve got these highly detailed areas combined with these more distorted but still figurative elements. I’ve always been interested in composition and the subject versus the environment it’s in; the detail versus the void.’ He cites Francis Bacon’s theatrical, stage-like paintings as being a major influence in this regard.

The power of Plowman’s work is its capacity to make us spectators at moments of utmost intimacy. In the painting Shadow of the Soul, we witness Edgar Allan Poe standing forlorn, shoulders slumped and hands drooped wearily over a branch. Unlike his nervous little companion, the poet appears oblivious to the jostling host of ravens who observe them. Throughout world history ravens and crows have variously been seen as birds of ill-omen, oracular creatures or messengers from another realm but subtle compositional relationships are also at play here. It seems Poe’s soul is in the process of detaching itself from his listless mortal body, which is rendered flat and exiting the picture frame. In contrast, the ravens are very much alert and attendant. Dark, intricately delineated feathers glisten in anticipation. The work is electric with visual and psychological tensions. The topmost bird has its head turned towards the viewer, its gaping beak and black, unblinking eyes seem to caution that none of us has escaped attention! However, a solid red heart – placed badge-like on the poet’s chest – is the focal point of the painting. Despite the tiny size of the shape, the intensity of its colour over-rides all other pictorial elements. The inherent symbolism is palpable.

Nic Plowman, and the artists he has chosen to paint, have refused to ignore a dimension of experience that helps define our humanity. Their works speak of the visionary gifts granted to those with the courage to embrace the darkness and celebrate the fleeting beauty that is life itself.
JACQUELINE HOUGHTON

  • Exi(s)t  2009/10
  • Shadow of the soul (part one) 2009
  • A little bird told me.. 2009
  • X-ray Vision (Study for portrait of Francis Bacon) 2009/10
  • Messenger 2009
  • The Darkness 2010
  • The Beauty 2010
  • Letter to Frida 2010
  • Hold my heart 2010
  • L'Horreur et l'Ecstacy/ The Horror and the Ecstasy 2010
  • Amid love and fear 2010
  • Exi(s)t  2009/10

    Exi(s)t 2009/10

    graphite, ink, charcoal, pencil, pastel, gold leaf and oil on poly-cotton
    160 × 200cm
    Private collection

  • Shadow of the soul (part one) 2009

    Shadow of the soul (part one) 2009

    graphite, charcoal, ink, pencil, acrylic and oil on poly-cotton
    150 × 180cm
    Private collection

  • A little bird told me.. 2009

    A little bird told me.. 2009

    graphite, charcoal, ink, pencil, pastel, and oil on poly-cotton
    70 × 75cm
    Private collection

  • X-ray Vision (Study for portrait of Francis Bacon) 2009/10

    X-ray Vision (Study for portrait of Francis Bacon) 2009/10

    graphite, charcoal, ink, pencil and pastel on poly-cotton
    85 × 160cm
    Private collection

  • Messenger 2009

    Messenger 2009

    charcoal, ink, pastel, bitumen and oil on poly-cotton
    150 × 120cm
    Private collection

  • The Darkness 2010

    The Darkness 2010

    graphite, charcoal, ink, pencil, pastel and bitumen on poly-cotton
    140× 100cm
    Private collection

  • The Beauty 2010

    The Beauty 2010

    ink, bitumen and oil on poly-cotton
    140 × 100cm
    Private collection

  • Letter to Frida 2010

    Letter to Frida 2010

    graphite, charcoal, ink, pencil, pastel, gold leaf and oil on poly-cotton
    140 × 100m
    Private collection

  • Hold my heart 2010

    Hold my heart 2010

    graphite, charcoal, ink, pencil, pastel, gold leaf and oil on poly-cotton
    140 × 100m
    Private collection

  • L'Horreur et l'Ecstacy/ The Horror and the Ecstasy 2010

    L'Horreur et l'Ecstacy/ The Horror and the Ecstasy 2010

    graphite, ink, charcoal, pencil, oil stick and oil on poly-cotton
    80 × 85cm
    Private collection

  • Amid love and fear 2010

    Amid love and fear 2010

    ink, pencil, pastel, acrylic, oil stick and oil on poly-cotton
    triptych 10 × 10/ 40 × 35/ 40 × 35 cm
    Private collection