Nicola Mason

Nicola Mason's "Cycle" is a Local Artist Project of the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. Across this body of works, Mason troubles the familiar distinction between culture and nature, pushing at the bounds of still life from her perspective as both an artist and a former member of the conservation and land management sector.

Nicola Mason left her former profession in conservation and land care in mid-2016, to focus full-time on her artmaking. A local to Wiradjuri Country in regional New South Wales, she went on, after her first career, to study at the painting workshop of the Australian National University, and at UNSW Art & Design. In Cycle, a solo show at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, she works dextrously within the generic vocabulary of still life to probe questions about the division of nature and culture which she encounters not only artistically, but also with the knowledges gained in her first line of work. 

In these wily still lifes, native flora often seem to taunt, tease, or overwhelm the domestic objects with which they’re pictured (and it’s worth noting the intense domesticity of these scenes, created in and after the lockdown years). In The conference, 2022, banksias jam a system of kitchen appliances, spilling out of the mouths of bowls and the openings of cooking utensils like they either have a devious plot, or simply don’t know any different. Though it would be easy for a painting like this to reinforce a binary opposition between “wild” or “unruly” nature and the ordered world of human technology and culture, Mason’s work is more interested in forming a dissolution of these categories, animating the natural and the cultural with the same strange, transformative brush. An electric mixer attending The conference is unsettlingly characterful, its handle slicked back like a businessman’s gelled hair, while a sharp, stout coffee pot delivers stern verdict in its ear. These appliances are made strange not only though their disruption by nature and their characterisation as lively, social entities, but by another, more literal, doubling. Their reflections in the bench on which they sit are soft, pliable and luminous – rendered tenderly in thick brushes of paint. Presented to us as a kind of platform on which we, the viewers, might stand, these reflections offer a world where the domestic realm becomes something other than a place under our taut control; where it is shaped and informed by a “nature” of its own, as well as by the natural world with which it, ultimately, corresponds. 

Using painting as her vehicle, Mason thinks through they ways that we can live with the land, shaped by it as much as we are compelled to care for it. At once personal and philosophical, gently gendered and totally disruptive of any binary mode of thinking, these works knowingly upend genre conventions in playful, imaginative, and expansive ways, drawing on a knowledge of the natural world from within and without the Western history of painting. 

Nicola Mason: Cycle 
9 April – 5 June 2022
Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales

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