Rose Nolan
Extra Home­work

8th – 30th July 2005
Anna Schwartz Gallery

A new dec­o­ra­tive ele­ment can be seen in the work of Rose Nolan; with an elo­quent flour­ish the lan­guage of home dec­o­rat­ing inter­venes with­in the realm of the exhi­bi­tion. The dis­parate works, themed in red and white, sug­gest a kind of mod­ern domes­tic set­ting. We are not talk­ing about slick, man­u­fac­tured design­er-ware here, but rather art­works that are man­i­fest­ly hand­made, idio­syn­crat­ic and imper­fect — delib­er­ate aes­thet­ic traits that are inte­gral to the qual­i­ty and char­ac­ter of Nolan’s art.

With Screen Work (a pro­to­type), 2005, Nolan has divid­ed the large space of the gallery into two inti­mate­ly scaled sec­tions. This strik­ing ornate work has been made by painstak­ing­ly adher­ing numer­ous cir­cles of var­i­ous sizes, cut from ordi­nary card­board tubes. Some cir­cles remain open and see-through, whilst oth­ers are filled with the tubes’ white plas­tic end caps, ren­der­ing them opaque. The over­all effect is an elab­o­rate pat­tern that fas­ci­nates the eye, like an impro­vised, home­made ver­sion of wrought iron. Whilst Screen Work (a pro­to­type) use­ful­ly serves as a par­ti­tion­ing wall, its splen­did, tee­ter­ing struc­ture threat­ens to under­mine this func­tion, such that Nolan teas­ing­ly describes the work: like a mad folly’.

The hap­haz­ard­ly sized Flat Flower Work, 2004 – 2005, cre­ates a cumu­la­tive wall­pa­per effect in the front sec­tion of the gallery. Paint­ed on card­board, the cur­va­ceous flower motifs are abstract­ed, like cutouts; shades of Marimekko fab­ric design. On the floor is a shag­gy, hand-hooked rug, which, as we walk toward and around it, puz­zling­ly reveals the self-doubt­ing words Not So Sure This Works. The expres­sion of uncer­tain­ty seems at odds with the bold­ness of the wall paint­ing near­by (part of Nolan’s Big Words series) which at first reads like a hard-edged design, but on clos­er inspec­tion reveals itself as the cap­i­tal­ized word TREMEN­DOUS. But then oscil­lat­ing moods, from the qui­et and intro­spec­tive to the loud and over­con­fi­dent are char­ac­ter­is­tic of Nolan’s works. And words are always open to var­i­ous read­ings, for view­ers and artists alike. For Nolan, the word tremen­dous’ as used in this exhi­bi­tion has: the slight­ly dual mean­ing, of awe-inspir­ing and over­whelm­ing or fear­ing (as in to trem­ble), and is a lit­tle dag­gy in terms of a compliment’.

A Small Archi­tec­tur­al Mod­el, 2005, a diminu­tive card­board con­struc­tion dis­played on a plinth, might well feel over-awed by the scale of the oth­er works, but holds its own as a sin­gu­lar piece. Clear­ly mod­ernist in inspi­ra­tion, the mod­el is a fic­tion­al design patched togeth­er from mate­ri­als includ­ing a per­fume box that Nolan had to hand in her studio/​apartment. Nolan enjoys the con­tra­dic­tion inher­ent in pre­sent­ing her ideas for a large-scale pub­lic build­ing, (albeit an imag­i­nary one), on such an inti­mate and unas­sum­ing scale, like that of a liv­ing room orna­ment. As she points out: The sug­ges­tions for inte­ri­or design or dec­o­ra­tion in the exhi­bi­tion are quite overblown and unwieldy, whilst this mod­el which refers to exter­nal pub­lic space is qui­et­ly domes­tic and restrained’. Although archi­tec­ture has long been an implied inter­est of Nolan’s (her many paint­ed con­struc­tions from the 1990s, for exam­ple, evoke a vision­ary, if unfea­si­ble, mini-archi­tec­ture), this is the first time she has exhib­it­ed a work that is explic­it­ly a mod­el for a building.

The exhi­bi­tion’s title Extra Home­work derives from the self-devised cat­e­go­ry Home­work to which Nolan usu­al­ly assigns her more domes­tic or per­son­al works (it is one of sev­er­al such cat­e­gories or sub-head­ings into which she orga­nizes her prac­tice). Here she has cer­tain­ly set her­self extra’ home­work; the more process-based works such as the rug and screen were par­tic­u­lar­ly ardu­ous to make, involv­ing long hours of sim­ple but repet­i­tive tasks. The mod­esty or self-efface­ment implied by the des­ig­na­tion Home­work’ is also chal­lenged by the large scale of sev­er­al of the works, and the strength of their com­bined visu­al effect; under­state­ment and over­state­ment are held in del­i­cate balance.

Nolan typ­i­cal­ly exhibits one series or type of work at a time, but here under the rubric of home dec­o­rat­ing’ she presents five very dif­fer­ent types of work. Expand­ing the pre­vi­ous bound­aries of her Home­work cat­e­go­ry she makes a know­ing play between pri­vate and pub­lic, inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or spaces. How the works occu­py the room is almost as impor­tant to her as how they func­tion as indi­vid­ual pieces; the view­er’s expe­ri­ence of each piece as part of a total spa­tial envi­ron­ment is also a pri­ma­ry con­cern. If dec­o­ra­tion has his­tor­i­cal­ly been seen as an anath­e­ma to mod­ernist abstrac­tion (and to wor­thy art in gen­er­al), Nolan bro­kers a good-humoured alliance between them; she hap­pi­ly con­flates the seri­ous prac­tice of exhi­bi­tion mak­ing with the more home-based plea­sures of dec­o­rat­ing a space. With delight, but also some trep­i­da­tion, she allows her­self to enjoy the for­bid­den fruit of dec­o­ra­tive form, whilst trans­form­ing the gallery space with an exhi­bi­tion of real distinction.

Sue Cramer, June 2005

(All quotes tak­en from cor­re­spon­dence with the artist, May/​June 2005)


Rose Nolan

Extra Home­work, 2005
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery