In her new series of figurative paintings, Nicole Kelly considers the existential and experiential power of interiority. Domestic settings and natural landscapes become stages for the silent theatrics of human identity, in all its multifaceted splendour. Slipping between representation and abstraction, the works address the uncertainty of what it means to be human in an age of rapid change. Fractured, interlocking images and binary perspectives create painterly dualities that evoke the precariousness and preciousness of humanity’s relationships with our environment, and with each other.
Aligning with the European mode of painting the female figure, Kelly’s works depart from this mostly male tradition by summoning deeply intimate subjectivities. She subverts the possessive male gaze and passive female body by anchoring herself within the scenes, her tender brush telling us that these are her worlds. The autobiographical mingles with the fictional as Kelly knits together friends, loves, relatives, memories and places into a tapestry of personal experience. Warm lighting and soft hues – lilac, blush, powder blue, apricot – construct feminine spaces inhabited by everyday heroines absorbed in their own inner worlds.
Kelly’s painting process is a dance of disordering. Through fragile marks, meandering lines and truncated brushstrokes, imagery is shattered and pieced back together into a tessellating mass. The act of painting is inscribed in Kelly’s works like a memory; or a scar. Material accumulation of paint and of time suffuse the works with a sense of becoming, while formal dialogues between of accrual and erasure visualise the nexus of negation and summation that shapes human identity.
Orbiting ideas of the body, the gaze and identity, the paintings adopt ambiguous points of view to nurture multiple interpretations, morphing and merging with the viewer’s own embodied experience. Tension hovers in the air as the protagonists seem slightly out of place in their interior spaces. Mirrored reflections stray from reality, screening apparitions from another time and place. Figures appear imbalanced or weightless, dissolving into their surroundings. Others are solid, totemic, as if composed of stone. Areas of negative space are both wounds and respites.
The works in ‘Within, Without’ posit human identity as manifold, resistant to definitions. In the ambiguity of Kelly’s paintwork, her female protagonists refuse to be confined to a single viewpoint; a fixed identity. A woman curled up in a bath seems somewhat embryonic, vulnerable, her womb-like capsule defying perspectival norms as if levitating off the ground. In another work, a figure peers out of a living room window into the night, the painterly patterns of dress and drapes merging with the natural landscape, melting the threshold between that which is within us, and that which is without. There is a sense of urgency in these energetic compositions, where the artist has spilt her raw reminiscences onto the canvas. And yet they are also shrouded in stillness, silence, as if each moment is unfolding across eternity.