Nicholas Osmond

Nicholas Osmond draws from his embedded connection to place around his home in Moree in northern NSW. Only new to painting, over the last three years he has been prolifically honing his practice. Anchored by his intuitive sense of colour and guided by emotion, he works the surface to achieve a unity of colour. He sees himself as an observer, painting past and current narratives in Australian history.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a sheep station up near Mungindi, in northwest NSW, until I was 15. I then went to boarding school for eight or nine years. I went into nursing when I first finished school in Moree and then we all moved to Sydney. I went to Sydney University and studied Classical Greek and Roman literature. There has been no kind of design to my life at all, I have done lots of different things, and my main thing has been horticulture. I lived in Sydney for 11 years, and then I had cancer in my early 30s. It was a rural upbringing with a desire to go somewhere else, but then you go back, it is a whole cycle.

What led you to begin painting?
I did my left Achilles twice, and you can’t walk. I’d moved back to Moree and the artist James Kearns got me into painting. I started painting three years ago and I had no knowledge of art.

What was your entry point into painting?
The only knowledge I had was Sidney Nolan, I absorbed his style and have evolved from there. For the first two years I would post on Instagram and would have no idea what people would think. The only framework I had was a perception of colour and that is all I know – looking at Paul Gauguin and Idris Murphy as references. Paul Gauguin said, “If you see a tree as blue, then paint it blue.” It is great company. I am reading this great book of interviews with Francis Bacon, and the way he speaks is so straightforward, a wonderful communicator, and he just goes on and on about mistakes, and how that is key.

You paint a melange of Australian characters and events in Australian history – what attracts you to a subject?
It is quite emotive; there is very little premeditation. I don’t have much time to paint, I only paint in the evenings, I have tea and I just start. If I am flicking through a magazine for references it is compulsive – there needs to be an emotional way to get into it.

Colour is a big focus in your work. How do you begin?
I do a drawing first, within five minutes it might be all gone but I remember the ideas from it and it anchors me there. I work with whatever colour is on the palette – I have a chopping board – I put down eight colours and I will blend, and as Joe Furlonger said, “To get going you just throw the colour on the canvas and you’re away.” He’d put down 10 to 12 layers before he could begin to feel what was happening. And for me it is very much like that – I will keep on going until everything is becoming unified.

You have a great energy in your brush marks.
Yes it’s wet on wet. It has to be fast as it is acrylic paint. The facial features happen extremely fast, and everything else just swirls around, something changes and that changes everything else. For me it is a feeling of unity, or relationship.

There’s flatness to the picture plane, a play between depth and space.
I do like the banality about it. I use acrylic because it doesn’t have that richness about it and you are communicating via the actual medium. And I create clashes in regards to the colour.

Your style is semi abstract, focusing on figures whose features are distilled. What informs this?
It is a pulling away from detail, and I feel that I want to have something that is subtler. I am more interested in emotion. It can sometimes be a little bit heavy; there are elements of anger that come out in my work, sadness as well. The portrait ‘Daisy’ was influenced by the images of the kids that disappeared at Bowral. I made her name as Daisy, and I was thinking about that when I was painting.

Do you see yourself as a narrator or observer in these depictions of Australian life and history?
I’m really interested in what I see outside my door and that’s it. I don’t make any statements, it is pure observation. Two core elements for me are place and identity, looking at the Aboriginal community in Moree, and the narrative of the bush and how in my life it has changed so much. It went from being a traditional sheep culture with a defined way of being, to broad-acre farming, which brings a different dynamic and a depopulation of the countryside. If you are driving from Moree to Collarenebri, you look for signs of life along that road and what you see is machinery.

You have done a series of works on Aboriginal history in Moree – which is multilayered in context.
Yes, I have had a long-term interest in the Aboriginal community in Moree. An Aboriginal woman called Aunty Noelene that I nursed with in Moree became a local historian. She published three books based on family photographs of Aboriginal people from the 1930s to the early 1990s.

Looking at all those images you don’t have to guess the level of abuse that had been happening there. They were living in a community with a big divide, where they thought they were second-class, and were made to feel that way. There are all the layers there. I lugged these books around for years; mum gave me two of them for Christmas. I started off painting all those images and it was very much based off the idea of the communal, their communal lives and comparing to how things have changed now.

Art is a great medium to stimulate conversations about sensitive histories.
There is so much going on, I am getting more confident in what I am doing so therefore I feel I have a vehicle to be able to represent it. You want people to be able to feel it.

Nicholas Osmond is represented by AK Bellinger Gallery, Inverell, NSW and Cooks Hill Galleries, Newcastle.

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