Installation view of DAVID NOONAN “Lead Light” at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2016. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

Lead Light

David Noonan

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

DAVID NOONANUntitled, 2016, silkscreen linen collage mounted on wooden panel and steel frame, 90 × 70 × 5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. 

David Noonan is an Australian visual artist who first visited London in the mid ’90s on a two-year visa and moved there permanently with his wife more than a decade ago. “I find it a really dynamic and interesting place and I wanted to live in Europe,” Noonan said to ArtAsiaPacific at the opening of his recent exhibition “Lead Light” at Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. His reputation over the past decade has grown impressively with a practice that has never strayed far from monochromatic collages on linen comprised of fabrics, often from Japan, which are torn, folded, cut, stitched and combined with silkscreened images from photographs both found and sourced from numerous bookshops and thrift shops. The resulting works are figurative abstractions, where an almost alternative reality is constructed within a clearly defined theatrical mise-en-scène.

Theater or perhaps, more accurately, theatricality has been the core ingredient in his work for many years. Noonan claims they are not really about theater per se but more about the transformation that takes place through the theater; for example, an actor’s face under stage lighting when heavy makeup becomes abstracted. Noonan sees his work as “Formally constructed aesthetically driven, condensed things [governed by] tight conceptual rules.”

The untitled pieces of Noonan’s “Lead Light” series (2016) is smaller than his previous works. They mark a distinct evolutionary moment in his oeuvre; he has jettisoned the Japanese fabrics with their rough-cut edges, but retained his central focus on anonymous photographic portraits, with their adherence to dramatic lighting and theatrical makeup. Also significant in these new works is the graphic overlay from the small, variously shaped pieces of glass of leadlight. The faces remain androgynous in their sensuality, and their anonymity clouds any sense that they are real people. They act merely as ciphers that need to be decoded. For example one image here features a woman with her eyes heavily lined with kohl gazing at the viewer with either insouciant indifference or come-hither attraction. Another portrait of a person with a heavily made-up face is disturbingly epicene in its allure. Critically, however, the subjects of these images appear to be suspended in a timeless, surreal state.

DAVID NOONAN, Untitled, 2016, silkscreen linen collage mounted on wooden panel and steel frame, 90 × 70 × 5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. 

Over the previous decade Noonan has openly plundered the photographic styles of several well-known 20th century photographers. For example, the intense lighting and glamour of George Hurrell’s 1930s and 1940s Hollywood imagery is alluded to here; the cool and often effete theatricality of Cecil Beaton’s lighting is evident; even the iconic photograph by Lord Snowden of Sir Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice in the 1957 play The Entertainer, can be seen pastiched in “Lead Light.”

In our current digital era, the medium of photography has become so ubiquitous through social media that even being able to forge a distinctive style of work, such as what Noonan has done, is no mean feat. He also deserves praise for the onerous task of mining his vast archive of images sourced from bookshops and thrift stores, which number in the thousands, compiling images for an incipient animated film that touches on various moments of his 10-year practice in London.  “This [the film] is the next project that I am engaged with. A 25-minute film of still images I have collected. It is not really a narrative, but a moving experience that uses the technique of documentary filmmaking. There is animation and a lot of other things within the film that relate to my practice over the last 10 years,” said Noonan.

It goes without saying that the film, which will be shown at London’s Stuart Shave/ Modern Art gallery next June will not have a slither of color in it. Noonan is a bolted on monochromist who obviously luxuriates in the subtleties of black and white rather than lavish in the potential of color.

Installation view of DAVID NOONAN “Lead Light” at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2016. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

David Noonan’s exhibition “Lead Light” is currently on view at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, until December 17, 2016.

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