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)