Thu, 30 Nov 2000

Deborah Nolan, an artist with a noble cause

By Pavan Kapoor

JAKARTA (JP): While the majority of artists find vent to human emotions in external metaphysical objects, Deborah Nolan, attempts a manifestation of these internal landscapes and how they manifest themselves in the human figure.

The art works of this artist from Canada, who is presently residing in Yogyakarta, are being exhibited at Warung Badung in Central Jakarta. The exhibition is quite appropriately entitled "Human Landscapes: Figurative Work" and was opened by Canadian Ambassador to Indonesia Ken Sunquista. The event runs until Dec. 22.

Curiosity is aroused when one observes that all Nolan's exhibited works involve a precise female anatomical figure in the throes of a strong emotion -- happiness and melancholy playing the two polar contrasts in the human landscape. But the curiosity is quelled when one learns that Nolan is an arts advisor with CUSO, a Canadian organization which supports alliances for global social causes. She is based at the Yakkum Rehabilitation Center in Yogyakarta, a rehabilitation center for disabled youth and children and hence she is not simply an artist but one with a noble social cause behind her.

"For me, the human body is the ultimate symbol for the human condition," informs Nolan. "In the ongoing creation of my work, I am amazed at the contrast of fragility and strength in the body; a smudge, a line changes this balance."

The onlooker is forced to confront the body in its raw form -- unadorned, unapologetic, in states of deep sweeping emotions.

All Nolan's artworks feature women and her feminism is distinct in the words inscribed in the painting entitled, The Gaze, which shows a woman with one eye of a man and one eye that of a woman. The two eyes are magazine cutouts and simply pasted as if the artist is unconcerned about displaying her painting capability and is solely concentrating upon forwarding the message: "The image of women is to flatter men who treat lens as a substitute for the eye of an imaginary onlooker." Below these words are what seem to be a message for all womanhood of the new millennium: "We will be who we want; where we want; with whom we want; in what way we want; when we want; and the time is now; the place is here."

One of the most imposing works of Nolan is aptly entitled Lightness of Movement. With a deft understanding of humanoid proportions, Nolan has succeeded in inlaying a fluidity of motion in the graceful poses or landscapes, as she prefers to call them. The painting is in three panels, each in a varied combination of turquoise and orange with a plum colored background. The dark background acts as a weight to the relative flight of the humanoid figure in the foreground.

Nolan nurtured a fascination for drawing the human body right from childhood and claims to have converted her school biology and anatomy figures into pieces of art. A peep into her creative mind as a student is apparent in the multilayered artwork called Layers of Self. It looks like a book standing upright with the pages open. On closer inspection one notices that each page presents a female figure and is actually a framed artwork depicting the various layers or aspects of the human body. It houses the mental, biological, astronomical, geographical and other aspects that Nolan sees as part of the human landscape.

Also striking are the eight-piece series entitled Key to Understanding. In black and white and shades of gray, the series are mounted on 3D frames that add effective depth to the paintings. Again the subjects are feminine in various poses of repose that could show a wide range of emotions. The human landscape changes only slightly in each frame but in the process changing the entire meaning of the posture. From repose and rest to dejection and torment -- Nolan leaves the onlooker to travel his own individual journey with his own interpretations.

The impact of Nolan's artworks is usually maintained with minimum fuss over details of clothing, background etc. a simple figure in a flat background. With masterful strokes and poignant choice of colors she attempts to portray her meaning.

She has pertinently done away with the use of a frame or even a canvas in the biggest painting of the exhibition which covers a whole wood-paneled side of the back part of the restaurant. Untitled is simply taped onto the wood paneling. Done on simple carton paper the six humans sit in various postures of grief, agony and silent torment.

The implementation of strong strokes is perhaps a sign of the inner strength of this painter who chooses to work with the handicapped and disabled children. Although Warung Badung seems quite deserted during the day due to the Ramadhan fasting period, the evenings would be an excellent time to visit Human Landscapes.