Over the past decade, Alice Springs-based Neridah Stockley has enjoyed several art residencies in Fremantle, Western Australia. There, she has become well-acquainted with the natural beauty of the port city at the mouth of the Swan River. In her paintings, drawings, prints, and her more recent foray into ceramic work, she has studied the area’s topography and waterfronts, as well as its history.
Yet, while all this attention to the ‘real’ world clearly manifests in her art-making, Stockley manages to defy categorisation in her unexpected and highly engaging results. “There is a tension between representation of the landscape, and breaking down the subject as far as I can,” she says of her methodology. “And then pulling it back again. It is almost a deconstruction process.”
This year has been an active one for Stockley, especially on the exhibition circuit. As well as her most recent Fremantle residency, amid the gothic expanses of the convict-built Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC), Stockley has had a national touring survey show covering 25 years of her work—A Secular View, which winds up in Queensland at the end of the year— as well as commercial solo exhibitions, both recent and upcoming.
The new work from Stockley’s FAC residency includes robust colour-work in the paintings she has made; Stockley says she tends to think in terms of monochrome because “too much information” can confuse things.
“Also, my training at the National Art School formed my approach to colour. However, through the discipline of monochrome, I can introduce more ‘outrageous’ colours if you like… allowing colour to have its own life and expression.”
A trio of vertical seascapes, for example, have had their elements reduced to dazzling lozenges of sea-blue, soft grey or cumulus-cloud white. Or there are bold, slab-built ceramic pieces, deftly marked in dramatic monochrome—architectural or rock formations that confidently run around each of the four outer sides of the vessels, which err much more on the side of sculpture than pottery.
Stockley says that while Fremantle is very familiar to her, each time she contemplates its surrounds, she wants to extend her interpretation of its presence further in her work. “Fremantle is culturally, historically and physically very interesting, so there is a lot of material to work with,” she says. “This time, I have somehow been telling the story of that place while pushing the motifs harder, so they are becoming more elemental and broken down, almost into abstraction.” She loves this push-and-pull and sees working in such a zone as a healthy place for an artist to be.
The sculptural work also remains an area for experimentation. Stockley received a professional development grant in 2017 to work with ceramicist Mel Robson in Alice Springs, and last year was selected to be an artist-in-residence at the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China—although she is still awaiting the trip pending Covid travel restrictions. “This three-dimensional way of working: it excited something in my brain,” she says. Having done a lot of printmaking during her career, which stretches back to National Art School studies in 1993, Stockley says she was prepared for the particular rigours of ceramics. “I enjoy the process of preparing and rolling the clay,” she says. “You can slow things down a bit.”
Even so, she sees the ceramic form as just another support for her image-making and she loves treating the outer surfaces using pencil-style marks, washes and wedges of colour or tone, alongside the more structural skills required. “I do seem to be attracted to industrial landscapes, buildings and forms, so that way of working [slab-building with clay] really lends itself to the way I work as a painter. I see it as an extension of the motifs I like to work with.”
These experiences led to slip-cast porcelain and stoneware constructions made during a 2019 residency at the Araluen Arts Centre in the Northern Territory, where Stockley was fascinated by subject matter connected with the famous Lutheran Aboriginal mission at Hermannsburg. The ceramics she made were geometric and stark, with an intriguing mix of delicate, hard and graphic motifs painted upon their wall-like surfaces.
There is certainly an abiding interest in humanbuilt dwellings in Stockley’s work and more recently this has been expressed in the presence of tent-like shapes. “They are shelters, and I tend to come back to that notion a lot,” she says. During the Araluen project, she was invited to respond to the centre’s art collection and selected three Albert Namatjira works, one of which (Albert’s Camp near Mount Hermannsburg, 1945) depicted a tiny tent at the base of the hills. “Tents are strange, interstitial spaces, but they are colonial spaces as well,” Stockley says. “In Fremantle, that’s always on my mind with its history. It is always in the background somewhere.”
This article was originally published in the September/October 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.