Pretty sticky

Helen Nicholson
Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane

In the past few years, the city we live in has expanded quickly and as inner-city living becomes popular, there are more restaurants and coffee shops than ever. Unfortunately, this is accompanied by a slap-dash aesthetic, where uncomfortable interiors are seen as redeemable, even praiseworthy, if executed in interesting hues.

The obnoxious luxury of these colours is what carries fashion along, be it in interior design, clothing or cosmetics. One moment lime, the other mint, then apple, then emerald. So it continues the silly spiral of fashion; one which invents new colours only to create a commercial need for distance from the previous season. Such are the toxic types of colours for which people are employed to create names. Citing a canny awareness of this very excess, Helen Nicholson blends these colours together in her palette. The artist discards the usual context of moulded perspex and polished chrome for material like toilet rolls, wine corks and sticky tape rolls.

To begin, Pretty Sticky is a series of framed, vertically striped paintings. Nicholson sifts through the domestic environment to produce thin strips of coloured paper and material. They are part of a continuing project. A couple of degrees softer than a Bridge! Riley, the works tend away from the headache of Op Art towards a blended colour scheme. Only barely insinuated by the strips of veneer contact and floral bonding, some of the paintings verge upon 'landscape'.

The artist addresses each corner, each part of the gallery, with her work. A corner with plumbing pipes and crumbling concrete on the floor provides a frame for fungal- like cardboard curlicues, which creep up the pipes, as though art is bubbling up through the floor. In another corner, Nicholson uses painted corks on coasters to resemble the six light switches above which they are placed. Again in an excess of fashion shades, the taupe, olive, lemon and green corks compete for some kind of sense amidst the darker background. They look like caveman versions of light switches, practically autistic, until the actual light switches start to look even stupider, posing as non-art. What appear to be magnified eyeshadow compacts hum upon the back wall of the gallery. These installations are mesh embroideries, ensembles of colours akin to those of a woman's make-up. The curvy shapes of the painted mesh pieces exhibit the typically over-designed, glossy nature of cosmetics. To compare the works with eyeshadow is also to consider the function of the gallery wall-as an eternal palette of artworks. Just as make-up provides countless guises for its mistress, so the gallery wall churns out endless interpretations of art.

 Undoubtedly the sweetest, saddest work in Pretty Sticky is a tiny green frame, deep enough to house a colony of twist-ties in black, silver and white. One becomes voyeur looking in on this caged-in 'crowd scene', consisting of Leunig-like wiry figures. The eye follows their entanglements until led to a single silver figure which has fallen at the bottom of the heap. The work is apt in describing the currents between solitude and alienation; indeed how any artist may feel at the act of exhibiting her/his own work.

Why would it be significant that Nicholson finds aesthetic harmonies via the most crass and commercial of colours? That they are capable of manifesting their own beauty may be a good clue to survival in a big ugly city.