Figure with Three Arms
“The writer John Berger once wrote that ‘whatever the painter is looking for, he is looking for its face’; the thing that looks back. At one level it’s a hopelessly romantic idea, but what a way to be in the world! Who wouldn’t want to believe that something inanimate can somehow be imbued with life through its own making? Nichols’s paintings have always been washed out and patina-rich, but his new works take this quality further. They are only very faintly coloured. They are purposefully devoid of obvious virtuosity. There is a careful anonymity to them. Yet they nonetheless manage to be hopelessly romantic in exactly this way; objects of private belief that for most would seem coded beyond legibility, but which resonate all the same. They know things – this much is clear – but whether they divulge these things is entirely reliant on the capacity of the viewer to complete the circuit. Their capacity, that is, to look. “
Jonathan Nichols is an artist, independent curator and writer born and raised in Canberra and based in Melbourne. He began painting in the early 1990s after studying sculpture at the ANU and the University of NSW. Jonathan’s paintings are most often based on figures he paints directly from the computer screen in the studio. The figures might be taken from photographs he has taken himself or images found on the internet, but there are many mediating stages in the painting process that follows. Jonathan is concerned with a painting’s painterly character and its particular history. He builds a muted palette of tonal browns and greens, blue greys and warmer hues, and his works on paper, canvas and fabric are generally small to middle sized. Figures are never larger than life, and this rule or gesture in his practice links to the general scale of his painting and the painterly movements within each work.
In the past, Jonathan’s works have been described as ‘seeing at a distance’ – paintings where the world is seen at a distance. More recently, the works have transitioned. Figures and paintings are no longer ‘real’ scenes but rather suggest that paintings can themselves be living models of the world. For example, his most recent works join the figures of shop mannequins with figurative images he sources from the history of painting. The finished paintings collage strange hybrid shapes and hierarchies of figure and painting relations. In a reference to his time living in Singapore, Jonathan uplifts certain painterly gestures in the work of Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong, whose work is on permanent display at the National Gallery Singapore.
In 2022 Jonathan published a book of interviews with six artists (including Boedi Widjaja from Singapore and Noor Mahnun Mohamed from Malaysia) titled Walking with Ghosts: Six Conversations about Painting. The book unfolds as a story about painters and painting that reflects the conversations that happen in studios and between painters themselves.
Early in his career, Jonathan cofounded Melbourne artist-run initiatives The Green Door (2005), Lovers (1998–99 and 2014) and Stripp (1996–98). Recent curatorial projects include Learning to Leave at the VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne (2014). Jonathan has been invited to curate an exhibition of Southeast Asian contemporary painters at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) later this year.
Over a period of 12 months in 2012–13 he was an artist-in-residence at Rimbun Dahan, Kuala Lumpur, and for six years until the end of 2019 he lived in Singapore. In late 2022 Jonathan submitted his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) dissertation to the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.
Jonathan has participated in group exhibitions in Australia at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, National Portrait Gallery, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Karen Woodbury Gallery, Geelong Gallery and Bendigo Art Gallery, among others. He has held solo exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
Oil on linen
110 x 61 cm