New Directions: David Noonan

Artists who have recently taken their practice somewhere different.

Words: Camilla Wagstaff

David Noonan is internationally regarded for his rich, atmospheric collage works and tapestries. But his recent painting show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney was no less commanding. Painting is less of a new direction and more of a return for this esteemed London-based artist. The last time he dedicated an entire show to the medium was in 2005, around the time he moved to the UK.

The move aboard partly drove Noonan’s move away from painting and towards other mediums. “When I first moved to London, I didn’t have a studio. So, it was a case of working with what I had,” says the artist. “I started working more with found materials, and it really opened things up for me. Combining and superimposing and screen-printing seemed to be truer to the material I was working with.”

Noonan’s practice over the following decades has evolved and expanded these ideas. He masterfully mingles the historical and the contemporary, creating compelling images that dwell among the avant-garde, the theatrical, the cultish and the otherworldly. There’s just something about this sort of imagery for Noonan, “I can use it to tap into a very odd sort of world,” he reflects. It’s a world he wasn’t really able to access through paint, finding he can use found materials more directly.

Painting was always a medium of mediation for Noonan – rarely a direct act of brush and pigment. Even back in 2005 he was using bleach on black fabric, removing pigment to create an image. The artist’s renewed interest in paint came alongside his inclusion in art critic and curator Jennifer Higgie’s painting show Thin Skin, staged at Melbourne’s Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) last year.

“I met Jennifer back in the early 1990s when we were both studying painting and we became good friends. She has asked me many times why I stopped painting,” says Noonan. “When she began curating the MUMA show, she issued me with a challenge to make a painting. I accepted.” What came next was intense studio time where Noonan sought to resolve how he could create paintings that felt relevant to his practice. He developed a strong desire to return to making pictures that didn’t involve the complex production processes required for tapestries and screen prints.

The fruits of this labour bore out in Noonan’s Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery show, MASKEN, 2023. The artist references familiar source material in these works. His cast of theatrical characters are heavily made up – or perhaps they don masks – heralding personal transformation or hidden persona. The subjects seem to transcend space and time, existing in the slippery spaces between figuration and abstraction.

True to form, the paintings in MASKEN are also mediations. Riffing on the monotype, Noonan painted the images onto an acrylic plate, then pushed them onto hand-dyed canvas. He created hundreds of images through this alchemic process. Only a handful were selected for the show. “The process was almost geared to fail,” he says. “If the image transcended the process, then something very special had happened – an inexplicable, magical moment.”

Noonan feels MASKEN only scratched the surface of his return to paint. “I feel like the process is established now,” he says. “I’m feeling a need to take it somewhere else.” He plans to work with scale, creating more elaborate scenarios that reflect the evolution of his tapestries and screen prints.

That said, painting will continue to make up just a part of Noonan’s expansive, multidisciplinary practice. Noonan has just finished the design for a large tapestry for an Anna Schwartz Gallery show in Melbourne in February. The artist is also included in the South Korean 15th Gwangju Biennale, to be staged this September.

Featured image: David Noonan, Reverie (detail), 2023. Liquid pigment on hand-dyed fabric, aluminium frame, 57 x 41cm. Photo: David Suyasa. Courtesy: the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 107, January-March 2024. 

FOLLOW THIS ARTIST

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

READ MORE

New Directions: David Noonan

Artists who have recently taken their practice somewhere different.

Curator’s Radar: Brian Robinson

A round up of artists who have recently attracted significant curator attention by way of commissions, acquisitions and inclusion in major public exhibitions.

Debutantes: Robbie Fraser

Artists leading gallerists have thrown their weight behind with a recent debut exhibition.

Curator’s Radar: Donna Marcus

A round up of artists who have recently attracted significant curator attention by way of commissions, acquisitions and inclusion in major public exhibitions.

Collectors Love: Djakaŋu Yunupiŋu

Collectors voted with their wallets at these sell-out and near sell-out shows.

Artist Profile: Abdullah M. I. Syed

Abdullah M. I. Syed unpacks the long and intertwined histories of Western contemporary art and South-Asian arts and craft practices.