For his latest exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, London-based Australian artist David Noonan has placed a large grey mat on the floor of each gallery space. This sets the scene for a series of encounters between the illusory and the real. Noonan’s silkscreen collages bring together archival theatre imagery and other found materials, inviting the viewer through the proscenium arch, with glimpses backstage. Chloé Wolifson talks to Noonan about the way collage, abstraction, patterning and staging come together to create meaning in his work.
Your work often references performance, theatre and film, and several of these images depict the process of applying stage makeup. I’m interested in how those notions of restaging and resurfacing might relate to your use of reproduction and layering techniques.
For me the fundamental underlying aspect of the work is collage, not just the physical process but actually collaging images and time periods together. Essentially all of my work is a combination of two images superimposed to create a new scenario. In work I’ve done previously I’ve often put two figurative images together to create a cinematic dissolve, fade or transition, where you simultaneously see both images at once. That set up interesting relationships between two different scenarios.
Increasingly I’ve been more interested in combining figurative and abstract images. In this show, they’re abstract in the sense that they’re representations of actual fabrics made up of abstract shapes, textures, and patterns. I’ve done work with Japanese textiles in the past. With this work I wanted to use sashiko fabrics. You can see the patterning in the corners of the works. They’re essentially running stitch – sashiko means ‘little stabs’. I was really interested in the formal elements, the graphic patterning in these fabrics.
They’re not easy to find but I found six or seven pieces to make the show, and they were photographed in my studio. So that was a different element with this work, in that the fabrics were very much part of the image process. Rather than being found images, they were more like found objects. That’s why in these pieces I used a very fine linen to really capture the detail of the fabrics. In the past I’ve often used quite rough jute and canvas, when that aspect of detail hasn’t been as important. But with this show, everything’s quite flattened out – even though you can see all the nuances of the surface.
You’re printing an image of fabric onto fabric. Could you describe that intersection between subject and surface?
In some ways these are about trompe l’oeil. They’re representations of something they pretend to be. When I make the screenprint the images are combined to make the prints, and then I collage them together in direct reference to the original fabric. So for instance all the patches in these works are actually present on the original fabric, then I reproduce those on the final piece. Seams also become ways to construct the picture, since you can’t print that large. So it’s all about building an image.
So that’s happening organically during the process because of practical limitations?
Exactly. You have a certain amount of control, knowing what the image will be, but because they’re hand printed and it takes six people to pull a square, there’s variation – alternation of pressure will make one area darker and one lighter. There are variables along the way, then I choose what I want to privilege. So in some ways the studio aspect is a bit like painting, you’re making these formal decisions as you make the piece.
Are these images that you’ve collected over time, or sought out for this show?
In this show I wanted the large room in particular to have only one piece per wall. So each of the four pieces, rather than have a strong narrative relationship, reference aspects of my practice over the years, and various themes that I’ve been interested in. I’ve worked with the owl a number of times, but not for quite a while so it was interesting to revisit that. And then the actor, or the singular, self-reflective figure. There’s a certain style of theatrical photography which interests me. They’re often documentary photographs. I’m drawn to the aesthetic of that harsh black and white lighting. Also the scenarios on stage are quite strange, particularly in avant-garde theatre.
The sashiko patterns form a link between the works but I wanted them to be quite singular pieces, so you’d look at them in the space without too much reference. The size of the rugs was about creating an ambience in the space which is very much about materials. I’m very interested in the relationship between materials.
Do you think about the body of work as a whole when you’re working towards a show?
Absolutely. In fact I always build models of the gallery in the studio, and that was quite critical in making this show. I wanted the lobby space to function almost as an antechamber, to bookend the show with the two smaller spaces. By putting down rugs it creates a field…you feel it is another space. The smaller works have a more intimate feel, as if you’re perhaps looking backstage. I wanted those pieces to be more human-sized, to create a more intimate scenario. And then you come into the more stage-like central space.
When you visit a gallery like Roslyn Oxley9 people are so familiar with the space from seeing so many shows over the years, when you shift that a little bit you immediately have a different bodily relationship to the space. You’re slightly unsettled. I’m interested in those small things that have an impact on the way in which you look at or experience things. The architecture of the gallery often informs my decisions, particularly the amount of pieces, their size. It’s always very much about how something will play out within the space.
And does it usually play out the way you’ve imagined?
There are always little shifts, but I actually feel like I’m standing in my model right now. It definitely feels the way I imagined it.
David Noonan, Tues to Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-6pm until 25 April 2015, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, 8 Soudan Lane (off Hampden Street), Paddington; (02) 9331 1919, roslynoxley9.com.au