Art school is a valuable period in many artists’ lives; it affords future creators the time and space to experiment, understand and refine their craft. Grounded: Contemporary Australian Art at the National Art School Gallery harks back to these formative years by bringing together eight Australian artists who began their art practice at NAS.
Encompassing almost every possible medium (painting, sculpture, installation, ceramics, video, photography and sketch books) the show features the work of NAS alumni Mitch Cairns, Karla Dickens, Newell Harry, Jumaadi, James Nguyen, Addison Marshall, Joan Ross and Justine Varga.
“The artists acknowledge the National Art School for providing a good grounding, hence the exhibition’s title, Grounded,” says Blackall. “What interests me in their work is their distinctive creative approaches, their commitment to their respective visual languages and highly accomplished practices. Although different, they each bring unique and courageous thinking to their work, original and experimental attitudes to art and culture.”
With such a variety of explorations on display, Blackall is able to draw upon common elements across the artists’ work. “Karla Dickens, Newell Harry, James Nguyen and Joan Ross broadly explore cultural dispossession and dislocation, history and identity, the impacts of colonisation and critique the behaviours of the dominant culture in Australia,” explains the curator.
Alongside these contributions sits the work of 2017 Archibald Prize winner Mitch Cairns, who has created a new series of paintings for Grounded. Meanwhile Justin Varga’s work steers away from conventional representation to evoke a personal visualisation of her lived experience and gained knowledge. Jumaadi also presents new work in the form of dream-like figures, derived from the traditions of Indonesian shadow puppetry. The artist’s work also references village art forms that resonate from his childhood in East Java.