FAD caught up with artist Gavin Nolan just before the opening of his new exhibition at Charlie Smith London to ask him a few questions about the show.
Gavin Nolan Portrait Credit King Street
1 Can you tell us a bit about your new exhibition Hype Trace?
Hype Trace is a collection of new paintings of semi-fictional historical figures. It’s an engagement with language that takes place in what is ostensibly portrait painting, where pictorial content and abstraction vie for supremacy and truth and fiction are blurred.
Nolan, Gavin ‘Iceland Spar’, 2015 Oil on linen 24x18cm
2 What’s it like working with CHARLIE SMITH LONDON?
Before we started working together I was involved with running the Rockwell project space and Zavier had a gallery in Clapham. We knew each other socially and I recall rather drunkenly and probably quite cockily (I’d just graduated from the RA and was full of gusto) describing my new work to him. He nodded politely while backing away slightly, came to see the work, offered me a group show, and the work was received well. That early conversation has pretty much set the tone for our relationship since. He’s been incredibly supportive when it comes to allowing me to experiment. It’s a difficult thing for an artist to change, to keep the work interesting for themselves while maintaining an audience, but I think Zavier fully understands this particular dilemma. He’s always shown faith in the paintings and with my ability to hit the right notes from time to time.
3 How long have you been working towards this show?
Zavier and I had a meeting in the early summer of 2015 where we decided on a double run of solo shows in 2016. I’d been working on this series for perhaps six months before that and we’d had a lot of success at a gallery show in Frankfurt and Volta Basel, so the feeling was that we should run with the momentum. First a solo presentation at Volta NY then Hype Trace at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON. It’s been hectic but very well received with collectors and the general art going audience.
4 How did you choose these historical figures?
I tend to be attracted to people that linger just in the periphery of my consciousness. Their attitude and attire is recognisable to me, almost archetypal, but they’re not necessarily a familiar face. This lack of familiarity allows me to create a new context for the figures – I can delve into their past and engage with ideas they were associated with, and filter that through the prism of a passing knowledge of events that have taken place since. The aim is to create a peculiar sort of temporal fact (a painting) that traces their legacy through time. It’s exciting that today as a painter I can re-engage with the seemingly obsolete and extract new possibilities.
5 The colours are a lot more muted in these works – are they more serious?
The palette choice comes down to a combination of things. Most of my source material tends to be black and white. There’s a seriousness to many of the images, an earnestness you rarely see today. Then there’s the process, which is very traditional – terra verde under painting followed by grisaille tones. Theoretically there should be a subsequent process of glazing colour but I’ve deliberately eschewed this. The works are finished, but on their own terms. I want the work to exist in a provisional state, the incompleteness is important. To me it suggests potential, unfinished business, or something fading in and out of being.
6 What’s up next?
Next up is a group show in Frankfurt in April and Volta Basel in June, and then a little time to reflect on this body of work in order to progress with the series.
Gavin Nolan Hype Trace 15th April – 14th May Charlie Smith 336 Old Street, 2nd Floor, London EC1V 9DR.