Nick Ashby

Day After Day

May 28 - June 11 2011

"While working from life has become an increasingly important aspect of my practice, naturalism or realism has never been my primary motivation. I have been interested more in a distillation of the observed externalized world and the interior world." Nick Ashby March 2011

There is something very authentic about Nick Ashby's intent and its visual expression. Introspective musings about the lot of the individual in an increasingly uncertain environment are again given voice in this new body of work. Notions of duality and the repetitive cycles of change are explored in both actual and metaphorical contexts. The particular and the universal, the internal and the external, light and dark, warm and cool - all morph and merge into a profound reflection on the human condition.

The show's title, Day After Day, references four quite extraordinary works that are composed of a multitude of tiny, repeated portraits. In these, Ashby investigates the changes in a human countenance as affected by the hand and eye that copies, mood, time and patterns of shifting light. The largest piece is a composite of 720 portraits of a single male face, each one copied from that which precedes it. Reminiscent of a Chinese Whispers game, small changes accrue in the attempted faithful retelling. "A sense of the day to day runs throughout the works," says the Brisbane-based artist. He explains that he means this quite literally for painting is a daily activity and that his repetition of an image is used to "embody the task of the painter while revisiting a particular subject."

Ashby's interest in visual and psychological implication is extended in another group of paintings where the body, and the way it is clothed, has become an important feature. ‘Hoody' wearing figures stand motionless in the pale, cold light of day. From under sheltering hoods eyes peer out, seemingly fixed on some mute horizon and seeking answers to that which cannot be known. In archetypal symbolism, clothing represents persona or outward significator. It acts as a kind of camouflage that lets others know only what we wish them to know about us. Ashby is also concerned with the way various materials describe, mask or protect underlying form. His hooded figures follow on from the coverall safety-suit imagery of an earlier series. He explains that he was attracted by the way those suits "made the body look strange and unfamiliar" and how specific clothing functions as a "two-way barrier" or "a boundary between the world and the individual."

"In contrast to the cognizant hooded figures there are a series of sleeping paintings," continues Ashby. "My interest in this phenomenon lies less in attempts to document the appearance of sleep but rather, to try and engage with it on another level." Accentuated by the long, horizontal shapes of these works, his recumbent figures are cocooned in a sombre, warm darkness. The mood is gestational. His deep, earthy palette exudes an almost tangible pungency. Daubed and smeared across linen surfaces, Ashby's expressive application of oil paint intensifies the uncertain atmosphere. Here, eyes in pallid faces are now oblivious to external circumstance; all outward questing has subsided into the realms of the unconscious. "While these works reference the daily cycle of sleep, it is fair to say that they have been influenced by a consideration of mortality," Ashby confides. "In the past this has been expressed quite abstractly and although abstraction still informs my practice, the use of more recognisable forms creates a constraint that I believe gives my unnamed motivations a sharper form."

Ashby's deeply personal imagery taps at the door of the great Collective Unconscious. We are reminded of our own need for shelter and withdrawal so we might retrieve that part of our inner selves which has been lost in ‘day after day' encroachments and repetitive mundanity. "For me the most important experience in painting is the moment in which a work is made and the change it can promote," concludes Ashby.


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