Charles Nodrum Gallery

Charles Nodrum Gallery | Charles Nodrum

Art + Australia got in touch with Charles Nodrum (director of Charles Nodrum Gallery) and two of the gallery's recently exhibited artists Jan Murray and David Harley. Their exhibitions', Inverso and David Harley: Selected paintings from the 80s-00s, were largely unseen during the 2020 lockdowns. The artists and Nodrum reflect on this period, how it reoriented their studio and gallery practice and what it might mean for the future. 

Virtually every business has a website, and the internet has been the greatest revolution in living memory. Assisted by digital photography, art galleries can load whole exhibitions online—and send quality images of works in the stockroom to clients within minutes anywhere in the world. In the last twenty-odd years this whole process has gathered further speed and sophistication. Meanwhile, gallery traffic has fallen but we know that website visits keep increasing. This has concerned all those for whom nothing (or rather no image) can replace seeing the thing itself—and this lack had two downsides: first, there is always a gap between image and reproduction, and second, it has the tendency to give a misleading "advantage" to those works with the greatest graphic punch and thus downplay the virtues of works of employing subtler brushwork or chromatic finesse.

The upside to the lockdowns was the ability to keep in regular touch with clients in a way undreamed of thirty years ago and this has now been the salvation of the visual arts during the current lockdowns. Our clients, who tend to enjoy both local and international travel, couldn't go anywhere at all, yet turned out to be keen to extend their collections: galleries did well and auction houses listed record sales. This of course is in diametric contrast to the performing arts which suffered the worst battering in living memory.

So whilst galleries and artists regretted not seeing visitors coming in to actually surround themselves with the works on view, we all have to thank the internet that we are still in business. Pre-internet the only way to see art was through that excellent unspoken institution—the gallery crawl. Often done with friends and family, the camaraderie was good, opinions were swapped, praise and censure were expressed, and basically a worthwhile time was had by all. And there were no short-cuts: if you wanted to know what was happening in the scene you had to drive and walk. Galleries had always opened on Saturdays because that was when their (usually hard working) clients could make the time. I think back to the 80s when I was first in business on my own account and wonder whether I would have survived repeated lockdowns when the income—unlike the rent—would have stopped dead.  I'll be interested to hear how the younger galleries have been coping, but still reckon that if this pandemic had hit us in the last century, the carnage would have been similar to that endured now by performing artists and their institutions. 

Puff Paintings And Paperwork | Jan Murray
 + Paperwork Jan Murray, 2021. installation view, Cathedral Cabinet. dimensions variable.

Puff Paintings and Paperwork

Despite the disappointment of my 2020 exhibition inverso at Charles Nodrum Gallery coinciding with the first lockdown, and the realisation that a planned walking tour in Japan could not proceed, I have suffered comparatively lightly under the attendant restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, I must admit with some surprise, to my own underestimation of the seriousness of the pandemic—that my sense of optimism and anticipation for some kind of ‘new normal' was challenged by each successive lockdown.

I have spent the last 18 months in the most locked down city in the world, Melbourne. Clearly it has been quite restrictive. Notwithstanding, I have managed to establish a routine of exercising in the mornings, spending my afternoons working in the studio, then cooking in the evening. Paradoxically, one of the benefits of the lockdown is that I have been able to regularly catch up with friends and family living in my designated zone on my daily walks—something that would normally not happen as frequently due to everyone’s busy lives. In many respects, the last 18 months has simplified, if not stimulated my life.

My studio is located at home. I have found that the lack of distraction and the atomised nature of the lockdowns have in many ways benefitted and concentrated my practice. In fact, I have managed to make two distinct bodies of work related to my COVID experience. The suite of Puff paintings takes as a central motif the ‘puffer’ jacket I wore on my daily walk throughout the wintery months of the 2020 COVID lockdown and seeks to render strange this oddly embodied, ubiquitous, familiar and everyday garment. Paperwork on the other hand is a series of around 80 discrete paintings of oil on canvas board—depicting various kinds of stationery and postage paraphernalia—masquerading as found objects. Utilising a highly illusionistic trompe l’oeil technique, this work creates a dynamic and momentary oscillation between image and object, reality and illusion and the arbitrary distinction between an art object and our everyday existence.

 + Puff (Chrysalis) Jan Murray oil on linen.

Fortunately, just before the fifth lockdown I was able to show some of the Paperwork series at Cathedral Cabinet in the ground floor foyer of the Nicholas Building. Neither inside nor outside this space seemed entirely appropriate for the work. However, due to the fifth lockdown a planned exhibition of the entire Paperwork series that was scheduled to be shown at the VCA Art Space was cancelled. Also, I was successful in being selected for the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize exhibition with Puff (Chrysalis) from my ‘puffer’ jacket paintings and another iteration of the Paperwork series will be shown in the upcoming Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize exhibition.    

Both series of work carry aspects of the everyday lived experience of the COVID pandemic by focusing on details of our shared material culture—through the ubiquity of the commonplace ‘puffer’ jacket and the ever-increasing importance placed on postage and parcels.

From Then To Now | David Harley
 + Free-form Propositions #2 David Harley, 2017. dimensions variable.

From Then to Now

The first restrictions of 2020 began at the same time that an exhibition of selected paintings from the 80s-00s had just been hung downstairs at Charles Nodrum Gallery with Jan Murray exhibiting upstairs. Everyone was very nervous and while the gallery remained open via appointment very few people were able to attend. These paintings were minimal and thinly painted and unfortunately it was difficult for their qualities to be conveyed through a digital medium. Simultaneously I was working on a wall-work commission for RMIT and it was a truly strange experience, regularly visiting the site in a fairly empty CBD while also consulting printers and installers. A site that, as far as I know, may not have gone on to be used. During the latter part of 2020 with the worst of the fears lifting I began to appreciate the unexpected benefit of being able to spend 24/7 with my wife and teenage daughter. As well as relief from long commutes, and many other activities that once seemed necessary, now seemed extraneous. A conducive period of reflective and explorative new work ensued, which was aided by the expanded studio space of VR headsets—making the home studio much bigger!

Family binging on Netflix sitcoms, and later MUBI movies and MIFF as well as dance offs, and home-made music helped alleviated the 2021 lockdown fatigue, interspersed with Zoom dinners, traipsing local waterways and very many COVID tests. During the interregnum between the two major lockdowns, I was fortunate to be able to have an uninterrupted exhibition of a couple of animations in the MARS gallery video spaces. Through this period, I also visited many exhibitions at museums and galleries which allayed my fears that the infrastructure for art had not been entirely decimated and also reaffirmed, like never before, the importance of the actual experience of art in situ.

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