Lara Merrett & John Nicholson
Opening: Tuesday 21 October, 6-8pm
Dates: 21 October-8 November 2003
Born in 1971, Melbourne, Australia, Lara Merrett currently lives and works in Sydney. In 1993, she studied painting abroad at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain, before completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales in 1996, and graduating with a Master of Arts (Painting) the following year.
Featuring among her major solo exhibitions is this current exhibition, every breath you take, Karen Woodbury Gallery, still vast reserves, Kaliman Gallery, Sydney (2009); soft rock, Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne (2007), To soon to tell, Kaliman Gallery, Sydney (2006); let's get together, Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne (2005); Upside down you turn me, Kaliman Gallery, Sydney (2004); Wish you were here, Kaliman Gallery, Sydney (2003); and No Hard Edges, Kaliman Gallery, Sydney (2002).
Lara has also participated in numerous group exhibitions most recently in the Salon des Refuses 2010, The Alternative Archibald & Wynne Prize Selection at the National Trust S.H. Ervin Gallery Sydney, The Shilo Project, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2009/10); Turbulent Terrain, Latrobe Regional Gallery, Melbourne (and touring) (2009/10) Other group exhibitions of note include, Newtown Diaries, Delmar Gallery, Sydney (2009); An Ever Expanding Universe, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth (2008); DÃ©cor, Glen Eira City Council Gallery, Melbourne (2008); ABN AMRO Emerging Artist Award, ABN AMRO Melbourne & Sydney (2007); Against the Amnesiac Lifestyle Showroom, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (2006); Portable model of... Plimsoll Gallery, Hobart and La Trobe Regional Gallery, Victoria (2005); Arrival/Departure, Bus Gallery Melbourne, collaboration with John Nicholson (2003); Helen LempriÃ¨re Traveling Art Scholarship, Artspace, Sydney (2002 and 1999); New Painting, Coffs Harbour Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales (2002); Fisher Ghost Festival Contemporary Art Award, Campbelltown City Art Gallery, New South Wales (2002 and 1996); and New Acquisitions, The Sir Hermann Black Gallery, University of Sydney (2000).
She has received various grants and awards such as The Freedman Foundation Traveling Scholarship for Emerging Artists (2001) and Willoughby City Art Prize (2001). Lara has recently been commissioned for various projects at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop for St Michaels Church, Melbourne (2010), and the Sofitel Hotel, Melbourne (2009), and is represented in the collections of the University of New South Wales, Sydney; the Bundanon Estate; Artbank, Melbourne; RACV; Sofitel Hotel; Macquarie Bank and UBS, Australia.
Nicholson-e-lite™: It's not really any one thing
While the forms and materials of John Nicholson's art practice appear in many ways a novelty, nothing could be further from the truth. Although his use of various plastics, binding polymers and pigmented perspex has a distinctive ring to it (one which, I believe, he could legitimately patent, or at the very least trademark), he could never be accused of being a one-trick-pony. For the last five years, Nicholson has worked consistently with these materials, both formally and conceptually, to produce bodies of work that carve out a considerable and unique niche. In today's art world, it is rare to find such dedication and conviction in a younger artist, let alone on the scale and steadfastness that Nicholson has committed himself to his vision, and while all this is great, what is he actually on about? Well... its not really any one thing.
The initial observation to be made about Nicholson's wall relief boxes and sculptural perspex slabs is their indebtedness to minimalism, however, this is negotiated on the artist's own terms. In opposition to the opaque solidity of geometric and monochromatic sculptural objects within minimalism, Nicholson's distinctive and discrete translucent wall relief boxes give way to reveal an inside that contains biomorphic forms, rendered in a psychodelic palette. Due to Nicholson's preference for unnatural colours in unusual juxtapositions, these biomorphic forms appear to float within the boxes through the optical effect of colours advancing and receding. This is also true of his new body of work, in which thin strips of perspex are joined together to create geometric blocks that appear as concrete embodiments of the colours within the visible spectrum.
Nicholson's interest in the formal properties of light and how it interacts with its environment, while based in art, actually stems from his attraction to science. In this context, his working process and artistic investigations can be understood as a process of experimentation rather than a purely formalist gesture. Nicholson has taken this further than most in his most recent collaboration with microbiologist Kathy Takayama. In the Symbiotic Bacterial Light Project*, the artist and scientist produced a glow in the dark chaise longue (The Jellyfish Lounge, 2004) fuelled by bacteria strains that, at a certain population density emit an otherworldly glow. However, Nicholson's engagement with science extends beyond optics. Natural history and geology form an important point of reference in his practice: the materials he uses, the forms he produces and the manner in which his works are displayed all mimic the museum's interpretation of the natural world.
An almost exclusive use of plastic seems at odds with Nicholson's interest in the natural, yet despite its varied appearances, plastic is bound more closely to nature and natural processes than is commonly perceived. Plastic is created during the processing of crude oil, the result of a bifurcation event, a given point in a chemical reaction when a liquid can turn into a solid or gas, and vice versa. Oil itself is also the product of a bifurcation event, the transformation of organic materials, plants and animals that decay over eons in the absence of oxygen within favourable geological conditions. In Nicholson's most recent work, geometric perspex slabs of multiple hues resemble geological samples, the stratified layers of earth with which we are all familiar through illustrations in high school science textbooks or descriptive wall panels within museums. Nicholson's wall relief boxes extend these references by imitating vitrines, the display cases that, owing to today's whiz-bang 'interactive' museums, are now a most unfashionable way of presenting and interpreting the natural world.
In addition to Nicholson's melange of art and science, the artist is also interested in the propositions of science fiction. Although I cannot account for his tastes in literature, take him to a video store and he hovers like a pimply teenage dork in the sci-fi section (he wouldn't admit this to anyone, or if he did he would hang his head low in doing so). Nicholson's fascination with the genre is borne out of the possibilities science fi ction enables, constructing an entirely believable narrative through use of the faux tableau. Specifically, his passion is informed by his experience in making sets for The Barbican Centre and The Royal Shakespeare Company in London; Nicholson's work in many ways references the retro futuristic interior sets made famous in films such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Nicholson's quasi-scientific experiments and set making, while drawing on art history, museum practices and scientifi c discourses, have created an art practice that is distinctly his own. It is in this context we can draw parallel between Nicholson's work and that of the Belgian-born New York chemist Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland, the father of Bakelite. As Baekeland had legitimate grounds on which to register a patent for Bakelite™, I believe Nicholson, with Nicholson-e-lite™, has staked out a claim for artistic and intellectual property that is of equal stature.