|Essay by Felix Ratcliff|
‘We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art.’ (Gottlieb and Rothko, 1943)
‘Nolan’s great achievement during the Wimmera years was an art encapsulating a dynamic and contradictory reality – a reality defined in Nolan’s own words as the ‘juxtaposition of things as they really are.' (Haese, 2014)
In an increasingly brand-orientated culture, and a slick and cynically stage-managed socio-political world, the ongoing human search for an authentically personal and idiosyncratic style continues unabated. Faced with a bewildering plethora of stylistic options to raise their standard alongside, the response of many artists has been to either adopt a bland formalism, or an ahistorical and cosmopolitan identity-politics that often ignores the rich regional and national traditions within which their practice is developed.
Not so Australian painter Nick Pont. In his representational explorations of place, person, imagery and psyche, Pont - like Rothko and Gottlieb before him - similarly favours ‘the simple expression of the complex thought’ (op cit., 1943). Noticeably absent from Pont’s body of drawings and paintings however, is the focus on reimagined myth of the former, and the reductive approach to - and abstraction of - physical and psychological subject matter of the latter - as displayed over seventy-plus years ago, during that influential moment of prescriptive wartime cultural collectivism.
Contemporaneous with those demonstrative and emblematic North American cultural declarations in 1943 and after, here on the flipside of the equator, a young Sidney Nolan was developing and refining his own intensely personal painted lexicon - later crucial cultural markers of modern Antipodean national identity – from a blend of elements drawn from the unique flora, fauna and environment of the Australian bush, built environment and imported European mythology (op cit., 2014).
Idiosyncratic and experimental in both psyche and strategy, and largely eschewing strict Renaissance conceits and baggage, Pont treads a similar path to his Australian modernist antecedents and North American high-modernist forebears in his aesthetic collation and combining of embodied life events recollected, traces of travel, personal iconography and shared cultural experiences from the autodidactic road.
Working almost exclusively in the fluid mediums of oil, ink and gouache, Pont’s imagery both flows and bleeds from his brush onto and into his paper and canvas grounds in ways that directly challenge contemporary demands and expectations for flawless finishes and clean design-inspired imagery.
Seemingly naïve in style but in no way simplistic in intent, Pont’s drawings and paintings belie a keen observant eye and a rich facility for colliding the cultural and the personal to create cloyingly familiar and child-like views of an inner and outside world made concrete via pigment and brush.
Despite their monochrome palette and the ghostly trace-like imagery on offer in Pont’s ink drawings, there is nothing dilettante or gothic about any of Pont’s most compelling images. In Mysterious Maldivian Characters, 2016, Winged Figure and The Mind of The Moon, 2016, and Figure and Palm, 2016, for example, fluidly anonymous figures blend not only into themselves, but into their shadows, each another and their surroundings as half-remembered traveller’s glances become permanent structures on the retinas and the memories of the artist and viewer alike. When read as one image, they - like the majority of Pont’s imagery – function both as a temporal record and a portal between a chronological past and the experience of viewing/revisitation in the present. While at first glance Pont’s ink drawings could perhaps be mistakenly attributed to some anonymous Polynesian islander or aboriginal inhabitant from disparate continents and millennia, the knowing titles he gives his work and a closer inspection of his imagery both reveal contemporary cultural signs and relics that paradoxically further contextualise and add layers of intrigue and interest to his finished images.
In this manner, Pont’s ink drawings operate on a metaphorical level similar to that of another recurrent motif in Pont’s multi-coloured oil paintings. As expressed in both Time Portal #2, 2015 -2016, and Killen Falls #2, 2015 for example - there is a consistent emphasis on the figure/ground ambiguity of the flow, cascades and plunge-pools of natural waterfalls, their ethereal directional movement and tendency to overshadow the presence of any human figure or witness, irrespective of their size.
Pont’s work doffs its cap to a rich lineage of naïve and outsider forbears both known and unknown, however Pont’s project is emblematic of his desire to embody, preserve and capture individual experiences in material form at an historical juncture barely a century from where a certain gentleman from Trier observed that 'everything solid melts into air' (Marx, 2011). Today, rogue capitalism similarly renders resistance ultimately mute, and pixel-driven ‘art’ is regurgitated ad nauseum via the twinned wonders and evils of contemporary online social media.
Pont’s is an art that reproduces well, as must all market-orientated imagery in this day and age, but a real-world and real-time encounter with his work - between the viewer and the object’s singularity- truly opens up Pont’s richer realm of personal mark-making on a far more intimate and meaningful basis.
Gottlieb, A. and Rothko, M. (1943). http://homepages.neiu.edu/~wbsieger/Art201/201Read/201-Rothko.pdf. [online] http://neiu.edu. Available at: http://homepages.neiu.edu/~wbsieger/Art201/201Read/201-Rothko.pdf [Accessed 26 Dec. 2016].
Haese, R. (2014). The lost Wimmera years of Sidney Nolan 1942–44 | NGV. [online] ngv.vic.gov.au. Available at: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/the-lost-wimmera-years-of-sidney-nolan-1942-44/ [Accessed 28 Dec. 2016]. Marx, K. (2011).
https://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html. [online] www.anu.edu.au. Available at: https://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html [Accessed 21 Feb. 2017].
©felix ratcliff 2017 / email@example.com
© Nick Pont