We went to see Nic Plowman at the old scout den* art studio he shares with life long friend and fellow artist, Sam Eyles. The million dollar location overlooking the Brisbane River fell into Jugglers hands from Brisbane City Council after the sudden eviction of all 13 Jugglers artists from the 4 leased Queensland Rail houses. Jugglers leased these on a peppercorn agreement lease for around 5 years.
Nic has always impressed me as being adaptable in life, influenced no doubt by his country Queensland [Toowoomba] roots and his more than fair share of serious health hurdles. Being yanked out of one studio and plonked into yet another one seems to be another forced lesson in adaptability for Nic, undeterred and determined as he is to complete this body of work for his next solo exhibition[“Kings, popes and other fools” ] with Anthea Polson [ http://www.antheapolsonart.com.au ] in March, 2014. The greater issue for the arts and emerging mid career artists like Nic Plowman in Brisbane is that the eviction of 13 artists from the 4 houses might be justifiable economically by accountants who are looking for an improved bottom line, but in my view it is culturally counter-productive and counter intuitive. A commercial value, though essential for artists, does not reflect the depth and impact an artist like Nic Plowman has on the cultural conversation that his paintings are a part of. Selling Nic’s works means that he buys paints and canvas and someone has a constant reminder of what he thinks and feels about, in this case, religion. For the deepening understanding of life by our children and the general population , we need a conversation that emerges from reflections on and in this beautiful troubled world by artists and groups of artists. Artist collectives [eg Jugglers] have long facilitated these kinds of alternative educational processes in Brisbane. These artists and collectives have shown to be the essence of that education and understanding. As we say at Jugglers, “Art is the nerve end of the culture”. Nic’s current body of work is indeed one of those “nerve ends”.
This body of work largely in oils on stretched paper over canvas, represent what Nic sees in his experience of religion. Brought up in the Catholic system, his understanding of Catholicism is considered and confronting. Having been raised on the Biblical creation stories, his views on evolution and the known genetic similarities between humans and apes rise up from the paintings in a strange juxtaposition that forces the viewer to consider the priesthood and the papacy from a totally different position. What if the ex cathedra pronouncements from Rome are only 3% ahead of what a chimp might do while chomping on a bit of bamboo in Borneo? The authoritarian single white male dominated religion of Roman Catholicism is finally facing its clay legs as its relevance is shown to be as pagan as the next “heathen” with depressed suicidal middle aged abuse victims find the courage to face “the voice of god”. Except for the light of Pope Francis, the “monkey business” perpetrated against women, children and common sense have overshadowed the enormous good done by Franciscans and Jesuits over the past centuries. Nic’s story telling here is as complex conceptually as artistically. His signature use of mutliple images, lines and gold leaf are not busy motifs as much as the unpacking and depthing of a story that has afflicted countless generations since Emperor Constantine made Christianianty professional and male dominated and removed it from its roots as a little Jewish bit of enlightened madness.
Some of the works have already “sold off the plan” even before the event and I for one, as a Plowman collector, would want to own a larger piece as a means of ongoing contemplation of these chapters of disturbing painterly story-telling beauty. Nic’s well known drafting skill at a number of levels but in particular of the human form, shine here in the dominating chimp and papal representations.
This is a show not to be missed and one to take on as a serious attempt at both personal reflection and prophetic suggestion.
* Jugglers have lost the lease on the Scout Den but have been successful in securing the lease of the old Guide Hut at Tarragindi and will take over the lease of that property in April, 2014.