Wagner Contemporary is thrilled to show Nick Hall, Al Poulet, and Sai-Wai Foo at this year’s Sydney Contemporary. Holding true to both the name of the fair and the gallery, the artists will be showcasing works that are utterly contemporary in their essence and impact.
In Nick Hall’s painting series, ‘Rumpus Room,’ he explores our primordial urges in the present day. The artist portrays the fractured nature of living in the 21st century – a time in which we have become increasingly divorced from the natural world, and separated from our most essential forms of existence. Hall’s works not only capture our alienation from the environment, but also our fraught attempts to reconnect with it. “I think that we as a species reach towards the natural world, and in our own way try and keep it close to us,” Hall explains. “It’s a cognitive dissonance as we can’t quite bring these two worlds together – knowing that we need to be separate, yet wanting to be part of it.” The idea of a rumpus room occupies nostalgic territory within our collective consciousness: it is a playroom; the place where you can just mess everything up, and the space where you can just be yourself. In Hall’s paintings, his nude protagonists have been liberated from the strictures of the everyday. Although these rumpus rooms in nature may look a little different to the ones we know, it nonetheless affords them the same fundamental freedom.
Al Poulet’s series of large-scale abstract paintings capture his relationship with his immediate surroundings. Although his works cast off the representational trappings of our reality, each painted mark and visceral line indexes Poulet’s connection to his home in Wedderburn. Drawing on his long meandering walks through the bush and in situ studies, Poulet is able to capture a fugitive, fleeting, form of nature. “The moment you step into the landscape, you are no longer simply an observer or separate from it, you are in it as well,” he explains. “That’s how I think about paint.” In Poulet’s works, place is not just a theme, but an enlivened experience. “When you are in the moment fully, you make the right mark; you might question the mark afterwards but the point of the mark was presentness,” he observes. Poulet’s abstracted paintings retain a paradoxical nature as they both reflect this specific sense of place and time, and maintain a broader accessibility, which is untethered to context. His paintings are at once personal and universal. Indeed, despite the absence of trees, rocks, or water, the painter manages to distil the most essential aspects of the land: transferring Wedderburn onto the canvas, and transporting the viewer to Wedderburn.
For Sydney Contemporary, Hall’s and Poulet’s paintings will be accompanied by the sculptural works of, another early-career artist, Sai-Wai Foo. Foo’s bricolage pieces harness a variety of seemingly incongruous and repurposed materials, which the artist deftly synthesises to create what she terms “an intersection of the nostalgic and the contemporary.” In Foo’s assemblages, aged pleated paper is set against ceramic, wood and glass to create works that are simultaneously hard and soft; enduring yet delicate. Foo’s materiality prompts viewers to consider discarded materials and reconsider “how things are used in our over-curated and insatiable consumer society”.
Yet despite the conspicuous differences in the three artist’s practices, their artworks nonetheless share in a freshness of perspective and a willingness to breathe new life into old forms. Hall, Poulet and Foo are all putting forward unmistakably contemporary work, which both materially and conceptually speak of this moment in time.