Curated by Michael O’Ferrall, Other side art: Trevor Nickolls is the first major museum survey of this influential artist’s politically charged practice. Nickolls’s drawings and paintings reflect his personal experience as a Nunga man from remote South Australia, and his relationship to land, place and history.
Samstag Museum of Art, Hawke Building, City West Campus, University of South Australia, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide
22 October – 17 December 2010
Trevor Nickolls, a renowned aboriginal artist who was born in 1949 and lives in Adelaide, is the subject of this exhibition, a NETS Victoria touring exhibition developed by the Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne.
Brenda L. Croft coined the phrase ‘the father of aboriginal art’ describing his artistic career. He studied at The South Australian School of Art in 1970 graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Art. Nickolls taught in various schools in South Australia and, in 1975, moved to Canberra. The move was seen as ‘a powerful catalyst for Nickolls to explore his own sense of aboriginality and its meaning in his life’ which is evident in this artistic survey. In 1980 the artist completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts.
The exhibition, in its artistic and chronological groupings, is an informative insight into his mind and concerns on a spiritual, environmental, inquisitive, and passionate search for meaning of life and its struggles and joys. On face value the works resonate with a visual energetic dance but, as one examines closer, the depth of character and concerns of Nickolls environment is a testimony to his empathy for humanity and his people.
He exhibits a wide range of influences and one can notice, in Tightrope Walking, 1980, something of Picasso’s sensibility in his depiction of the figure. Tin Lid, 2001, a picture of the vast Australian landscape occupying from base to top, is reminiscent of Russell Drysdale. Nickolls is a very astute artist and knowledgably depicts a wide range of perception, translating greed, humour and political issues to a visual surface, which resonates with pure energy.
His ‘desire for restoration to wholeness and a return to intuition, instinct, love and respect for nature’ is his goal for humanity.
The ambiance of the Samstag Gallery, with its lighting and placement of works, elevates the artistic brilliance of an artist in the pursuit of truth and justice. Nickolls is a storyteller-historian with an acute sensibility of composition and colour. The mark–making, be it dots or lines, are a rhythmically thought out process, creating a harmonious dance.
Reviewed by Gina De Pieri Salvi, Visual Arts Critic, Glam Adelaide.