Nick Modrzewski uses art to find poetry in the law

Nick Modrzewski combines his art practice with a similarly intense career in the law. He may be the only person who has graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts (2016) in the same week as commencing work as a judge’s associate (he’s now a practising barrister). In his third exhibition at COMA, a playful collision of his two worlds see abstracted forms morphing between shapes and bodies: these painted tableaux are invested with mythic qualities.

As Modrzewski says of his two worlds, “I have a constant internal juggling match between art and my law practice. Law is traditionally seen as very far from painting, but they inform each other: I feel tied to both. Art allows me to find poetry in the law.”

Nick Modrzewski, Judgement, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 150 cm.

In his new paintings, Modrzewski explores the way human bodies fit within the institutional structures that guide our societies. “I’ve been thinking in recent years about how the body is regulated by language, social etiquette, the courts, the banks,” he explains. Using these ideas, he has drilled deeper into painting, using new tools (like an airbrush), gridded patterns and graphic qualities to create layers that draw the viewer deeper into the picture plane.

In a year that will also see Modrzewski showing at Monash University Museum of Art, New York’s Armory Show and Sydney Contemporary, he feels something distinct has emerged in his new paintings. “Crisp clean patterns are combined with loose flowing forms, taking this work to the next level of refinement. It is a pared back and selective show that goes to the heart of my conceptual concerns.” Faces become bodies and segue back to shapes, creating an interplay of the rational and intuitive that compels the eye and the psyche.

Pulping at the Forum
Nick Modrzewski
COMA Gallery
13 October—10 November

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Louise Martin-Chew