Nicole Kelly: Changing Tides

30 May - 22 June 2024
Exhibition Text

Nicole Kelly’s new series of paintings, ‘Changing Tides’, expands the artist’s ongoing exploration of her charged emotional response to being in the natural environment. Consistent with Kelly’s oeuvre, celebration rubs up against loss as she honours the natural world whilst hollowing out the histories buried beneath. The works reveal Kelly grappling, representationally, with the slanted historical narratives of particular sites – in this case, Police Point Shire Park and Point Nepean National Park in Mornington Peninsula, where the artist recently undertook a residency.


Drawing upon a modernist legacy of felt interpretations of reality, Kelly pictures this landscape in flux. The paintings are born from line drawings experienced over an expanse of time rather than a fixed moment. Kelly’s process of plastering, scrubbing, scraping and scoring with a palette knife or rag visualises the fissures in the landscape tradition and historical landscape narratives. Intricately-mixed and intuitively invented, her seductive hues make bold strides between each other, and abstract shapes of coloured ground are left exposed. Marks collide and overlap, imagery is layered on top of one another, and a dissolution of conventional perspective contributes to temporal and spatial splintering, opening up multiple entry points across the picture plane. Some images are tightly composed while others drift apart into single syllables that form a sort of free-verse poetry. This visual stratification and layering references the impossibility of truly depicting the landscape and its stacked histories.


Having recently become a mother, Kelly has been adjusting to a new routine with her young family – a shift in process, and perception, that has informed her latest collection. During the six week residency she would take strolls with her son in a carrier at dawn and dusk, and feelings of wonder within the living landscape were intensified by sharing this sensitivity with a small child. In Golden Hour, a scintillating orange sunset contours the limbs of a tree, which meander into a nebulous field of pinky blue foliage like a network of veins carrying life, and light. The same golden hue showers the sand and silhouettes the bush in the distance. Maternity and Mother Nature coalesce here, a golden hour of splendour within and splendour without.


There is something effervescent, celebratory, about the works in ‘Changing Tides’. Energetic marks unfurl like fireworks while sunlight and moonlight scatter diamonds across the luminescent land. The mystic glow of early motherhood can be felt here, by those who know it. Kelly’s landscapes are illuminated from multiple angles as if by artificial light, creating an aura of theatricality where trees and skies resemble props on a stage, in eternal anticipation of some elusive performance. Slippages between solid forms and negative space flattens and fragments reality by simultaneously pulling forward and pushing backward. There is the sense that Kelly’s landscapes lean in, perhaps to divulge truths untold, or perhaps simply to embrace us. In many of the works, Kelly positions the viewer at sea looking inland, subletting their perspective whilst also summoning a more holistic vision of the landscape. For these paintings she waded waist-high during low tides with her drawing diary to create sketches looking back. A timbre of peace emerges herein, the same sort of quietude that comes with looking back over one’s life, retracing the ever-changing tides.

Elli Walsh
Principle Writer, Artist Profile


Winner of the prestigious Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship (2009) and the Hurford Hardwood Portrait Prize (2018), Kelly is well recognised for her landscape, portraiture and still life painting. She has undertaken residencies in France (2019, 2018, 2017, 2010) and Spain (2016) and has completed major public commissions for the Sutherland and St George Hospitals in Sydney. Her work has been selected for inclusion in the Lester Prize for Portraiture at the Art Gallery of WA (2019, 2018, 2017, 2015), Portia Geach Memorial Award (2021, 2020, 2019, 2015, 2014), Salon des Refusés (2023, 2020, 2019) and Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW (2015). Kelly’s work is held in the collections of the Moran Art Foundation and Lismore Regional Gallery, among others. She has also recently completed her Masters of Fine Art at the University of New South Wales researching contemporary painting and poetic literature.

Installation Views