Facial Recognition Nº19
Introducing L.M.Noonan, Australian Collagist
/DRI:M/ARTZ: I just want to start off by saying that I admire your art—both your collages and poetry.
NOONAN: Well, thank you. As always, I am surprised and delighted when someone ‘gets’ my work. I’m concerned that a work loses its mystery if explained beyond the basics of how it was made and maybe the mindset or circumstances for the artist at the time of making it. So pardon my anxiety at any imminent autopsy. However, it can only be a good thing if a work provokes questions and/or outrage or indeed any response beyond a yawn.
DA: I have been working in the medium for just about two years and I’m excited to see my artistic practice evolve. This past year I have made an effort to put myself out there and get seen. Posting on a regular basis, applying to open calls, zines, basically doing the work! What advice do you have for someone like myself who is just in the beginning stages of her art career?
LMN: I asked a similar question of a friend, a highly successful painter. His sage advice: "be careful what you wish for," elaborating that if I found fame and whatever else I was seeking I could lose my artistic freedom. Clients, curators and fans paradoxically dislike change whilst yearning for something new and exciting! You have been doing all the right things—especially the networking part; my reclusive nature works against me in this instance. Look inside yourself—and be honest because no one will overhear your answers: if you are never again invited to exhibit, if you are always overlooked and at best only give away your art, will you continue to make it and find other ways to put it out there? Consistency is underrated, but it underpins an identifiable mindset to other professionals and your peers. I think of making art as my job, albeit one that I’m paid very little for.
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Denouement, 2020 / Boro Mondo : Map, 2015 / Boro Mondo: and so it goes, 2020
DA: How has your upbringing influenced your art? Did you have an artistic background growing up?
LMN: My mother’s family came to Australia after the Second World War under quite traumatising circumstances. The painful memories and diasporic sense of loss definitely made me feel like an outsider; experiences that continue to shape and inform my art and interests. They were well educated for the time but too busy trying to survive and rebuild their lives to invest in creative pursuits other than literature and music.
DA: How much of it is what you’ve been taught?
LMN: I spent many years in formal study. A Fine Arts Degree, a Diploma in Fashion Design, followed by more post-graduate studies.
DA: What have you learned on your own and what tools have guided you?
LMN: First of all, it took a long time to unpick the kind of artist I had become. Retrospectively, I spent that time as a kind of art zombie/addict, enslaved to my ego. Art was my religion. I detoxed by removing myself and introspection became my main tool.
DA: Do you work in analogue only?
LMN: For now, yes. If paper and books become too scarce/expensive/sacred relics/forbidden objects: maybe I’ll return to at least a hybrid practice. In the past I have scanned and reinterpreted some of my analogue collages to create very different works. However, as a die hard fan of serendipity and happenstance—it’s a bit of a deal breaker.
DA: Since moving to Saudi Arabia I have worked mostly in digital—it’s been a challenge finding paper to cut. I might have to take a venture into the abstract!
LMN: The context in which we find ourselves making art is important. You have to adapt if you’re going to survive and of course ‘change is inevitable’. You may find these current constraints have an invaluable outcome regarding your future work. There are some fantastic artists working the abstract scene to use as inspiration.
Historical Interventions, 2014
DA: Do you have favourite source material and where do you find it?
LMN: I would love to work with more contemporary imagery. However, I only use material that has been thrown out or given to charity shops, usually old encyclopaedias, newspapers and magazines. I prefer heavier paper stock, matt opposed to gloss, and generally monotone images (I have great respect for those collagists who successfully work with colour).
DA: You are posting collages like crazy and you don’t seem to be slowing down. Is this just how you roll or are you really feeling it right now?
LMN: A bit of both really. It’s a really interesting time to be alive, grist for the conceptual mill, if you like. Routine is really, really important. I go into the studio everyday, sometimes I’m anxious to critique with fresh eyes the work I’ve made the day before, sometimes I drag my legs and spend the day shuffling paper and tidying up. After spending many years without a space of my own or the time and energy to make art I feel really privileged to be in this ‘perfect storm’ period of my life.
DA: On Instagram you gave your followers a peek of your space in Australia—it was gorgeous and left me wanting to see more! I liked how you described your bathroom as an extension of your collage practice. Could you elaborate on this? Does your practice cross over into other parts of your life?
LMN: My partner and I swapped inner city life for a remote, reclusive, and somewhat self-sufficient one. Combining our eclectic range of skills we built our home and studios ourselves slowly over the years using secondhand and often unorthodox methods and materials. We are passionate recyclers, up-cyclers, menders and makers. Our work environment is both home and studios, so naturally what we collect and use, how we furnish and embellish this environment is an extension of our art practice. A visiting architect once described our house to his students as a perfect example of organic architecture that continues to grow and adapt. We are quite proud of our achievement. As for the bathroom in question, I literally winged it, having no experience, treating the porcelain shards like paper, glueing as I went, learning what I should and shouldn’t do as I did so. Channeling Gaudi and some unnamed Pique Assiette artists. All the broken china I’d saved over the years.
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L.M.Noonan's Studio, Veranda, & Collage Tiled Bathroom
DA: In your bio you point to the subconscious and say your work creates ”moments of abstract connection that are sometimes uncomfortable and yet strangely familiar ”. Would you be willing to indulge us and take a deep dive into a collage of your choosing and tell us what the piece means to you?
LMN: I’ve not produced a work that I’m completely happy with. I’m not attached to them, they’re simply a means to an end—DIY cheapskate psychoanalytic therapy. There are works that seem to improve with time and there a lot I’m terribly embarrassed of. Collage polarises—you either get it or you don’t. Making art in other ways I feel hamstrung by my limited technical expertise and imagination. The magic of collage or the trick is to find a way to enter into a meditative collaboration. I have to spend time each day cutting and loosely sorting. Carefully avoiding reading captions or trying to recognise people and events as this will influence the outcome. I feel exhilarated when just two pieces make a whole new story. Unpleasant childhood experiences seem to guide and produce compositions of the ‘uncomfortable and strangely familiar imagery’ kind.
DA: I’m taking a collage curation workshop at the moment and we talked about the white cube in exhibition space and the challenges collage artists face when presenting their artwork in gallery settings. Your collage exhibit Figments/2015 featured 200+ smallish, paper and card assemblages of quirky characters peppering the walls of, in your words, a gun-barrel space. Can you tell us about the curation process?
LMN: The body of work ‘Figments’ was part of what was initially meant to be a retrospective exhibition, one showing work from different periods of my professional career. I politely rejected this idea suggesting instead the work be recent and therefore collage and assemblage (with the exception of a couple of sculptures). The exhibition space comprised a very large gallery, a medium gallery and a long connecting gallery. After signing a contract and agreeing to a date, the curators visited my studio to get acquainted with where the work was heading—the lead up time was approximately 18 months. The gallery has available large custom-made frames for touring works on paper exhibitions. However, it was agreed that we should attach the works on paper to the walls using magnets as I do in my studio. Being a public gallery I chose to exclude any work containing explicit sexual connotations and violence that might distress children. Collage has a small audience here, so I wanted to encourage visitor numbers. The ‘Figments’ were made during a period of overseas travel and I was surprised they made the final cut—I tend to overproduce for every exhibition and ruthlessly cull during installs.
DA: Did you face any challenges installing it?
LMN: No, most of the various components making up the show are lightweight and unframed, transported in boxes and folders. I always have to suppress a giggle watching them lay out the work with such care and white gloves. So different to how they’re treated in the studio. The final look and feel of the exhibition is the result of a marvellous collaboration between myself, two young and gifted curators and a tireless team of assistants. I listened to the ideas of the curators because they know the spaces so well and understand the audience demographic. I find it really interesting to see their vision for my work. It's a win-win for me at least.
DA: Would you have curated the space differently in retrospect?
LMN: Only that it could have been less formal, and would have been more interesting if it were less Spartan and closer to the state in which it was created? However, the curators cannot be blamed; I completely own the decision. I think I was nervous about the reception by the public to the idea of collage ranking as highly as other mediums and chose an ‘exhibition style’ accordingly.
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Top panel - Casual Accretion: Reboot Exhibition
Bottom panel - Figments Install & Figment Nº173 (center detail)
Simple Interventions Exhibition, 2015
DA: Now the flip side to Figments is your Casual Accretion: Reboot exhibit (sorry, I couldn't find the date!), which spanned roughly 840cm x 240cm and featured a variety of other objects. Two very different shows when it comes to scale.
LMN: Actually, the ‘Casual Accretion’ installation was shown in the same exhibition, placed in the main and largest gallery space. The title of my exhibition was ‘Simple Interventions’ and held 2 MAY - 20 JUNE 2015
DA: Once again, I would love to hear about the curation. How did it compare to Figments?
LMN: Casual Accretion was the oldest work on display in this exhibition and acts as a sort of bridge between my various interests and mediums. I wanted to produce a work that was both simple and with a sense of playfulness, of spontaneity and—I don’t know if this is the right term—but a certain deceptive deftness? At the same time I wanted the viewer to have to work hard for the images just like I did. The size of each panel was determined by the MDF sheet size. My choices when applying the many layers were quite random mostly governed by the age and quality of the paper. However, I deliberately collected defunct information as part of my rationale/concept is to do with the continual updating of information, something that was true yesterday may be false tomorrow. I would never intentionally destroy a book or print of great value. The work is also in part my response to the changing values of a modern throwaway society. Importantly I wanted to express things that I see and feel, how the mundane can become the mystical and to talk about time as I am experiencing it—how it seems to be spiraling inwards on itself and what happens when it’s impossibly compressed, tangled and indecipherable. I wanted to make a work that showed the state of my mind—a visual cacophony, conflation and confabulation. To create a work with the potential to change, to be rearranged, added to and taken from. I worked on these over a fairly lengthy period waiting for the characters to emerge a bit like automatic drawing—a struggle to make a new sense from the nonsense.
DA: Challenges? Observations? Give me what you got. I’m specifically interested in how we can elevate the medium and move past the standard cut&paste shows that we see with collage. For collage artists who are typically producing smaller scale works, how can we create exhibits that transport the art form to another level?
LMN: In an era that fully accepts exhibitions online and art is bought and sold this way must indicate that how art is made, what materials are used and how it is viewed have completely changed. This can only be a positive for those artists who have long worked the peripheries of the art world. Digital printing means we can apply our images to anything at any scale. As always context is king and images are like artists; they suit certain sizes better than others. I’ve experimented in these hybrid forms, but in the end I keep coming back to the tactile and fragile qualities of paper. I favour suites of work, particularly narratives. Installation-like juxtapositions of various component objects/assemblages and collages playing off each other, teasing the viewer. Lightweight methods for hanging large paper works, unconstrained by heavy framing, or conversely small and icon-like in ridiculously elaborate and cobble together unorthodox framing. Shadow-play and depth created by raising the work away from the walls. Hanging high or very low (target the toddlers and mice here). In a previous exhibition I simply lent large panels against the gallery walls. Any method that engages the viewer making them want to press their noses against it, sneak a little feel. It’s all good. I think that Collage perfectly captures the zeitgeist of our time.
DA: We have been facing a lot of challenges this year. How has creativity helped you during this time?
LMN: It’s both a very good time and a very bad time to be an artist. Lots of time, no remuneration. Same, same but different. Artists have always had to be creative when it comes to how to live and pay the bills.
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Top Panel - Peakaboo / Levitating, poem / The Examination
Bottom Panel - Cathedral / Enough, poem / Gulf
DA: What is most inspiring to you through all of this?
LMN: The definitive example for the climate change naysayers of what is possible, that we can claw our way back from the brink. That many more of us can work from home, teach our children, cook from scratch, grow some food, repair, need fewer clothes, buy less everything, demand less, feel more gratitude...ad infinitum.
DA: What do you do when you feel weighed down by it all?
LMN: I’m deeply privileged to live surrounded by forest that is home to native animals in a mild climate. The air is clean, the skies are clear and the water we drink falls from the sky. So, I generally connect directly by working in my garden, accompanied by my flock of chickens until I’m red-faced and exhausted and/or sprawled on some cushions gazing at the horizon and drinking wine...home brewed of course!
DA: Okay, staple question of mine! Lebanon Hanover produced their song "The Last Thing" in the thick of the pandemic. In the video they are in a parking lot next to a dumpster and in the background the word ISOLATION hangs vertically on a smokestack in the distance. They sing: And all metaphysical Unmasks itself now Did we have each other enough? Did we connect deep enough? This is my lament for 2020. It isn’t a celebratory song; it’s somber and existential—it embodies the feeling of uncertainty and regrets we face when we feel the end may be near. For me the song speaks to how inconsequential everything is except for love and connectedness. What’s your song for 2020?
LMN: Bowie’s "Heroes"
DA: Last question! Do you have any big projects in the works that you would like to share with us?
LMN: Alas, the Australian population is small and broadly speaking prefers sport to art. The industry has been especially hard hit by Covid 19. Now there is simply no money for art. Many galleries have closed, perhaps permanently, and our tertiary institutions, who relied on international students, have no work for those who teach. Future exhibition opportunities look slim. My bread and butter has been in the Public Art Realm. This no longer exists. It was great while it lasted and I am better off than most.
DA: What can your fans look forward to in 2021 and beyond?
LMN: Well, to my fan Michelle: more paper storms. More running with scissors. More getting hot and sticky (with glue). More posting to instagram. And when there's no more room in the paper drawers and on the walls I could stage a one night only exhibition (popup?) in my studio, BYO alcohol, and give the work away? Finally, I’m feeling optimistically pessimistic about the near future for all forms of the visual arts. Yes, an oxymoron statement...it’s a no brainer that the turbulent times will continue and, during times like these when many view art as a luxury, it’s all about survival. The world/internet is saturated with images and text and music and movies and selfies and so forth. Perhaps this is a much needed cull in which only those who really have to create will continue, even if it’s in a cellar hunched over a candle. I plan to be one of the last ones standing.
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Babylon / The Painter’s Tale / Indiscreet, 2009
Website | L.M.Noonan
Instagram | lmnoonan.artist