Essay for 2006 Exhibition Silence, Identity and the Landscape
Sometimes we need to step back from familiar rhythms of life, from what we are doing, to gain a truer perspective of what exactly that should be. Adam Nudelman traveled through Europe for the greater part of 2005 – 2006. Absorbing foreign visual cultures is of special importance to those whose work is making pictures, as it invariably engenders new ideas and ways of seeing. This most recent body of work was created upon Nudelman’s return from Europe, and has the freshness and the sophistication that he credits partly to his time away, and the respite it provided.
As an artist with a passion for the landscape, much of the grand tradition of this genre of painting is housed in museums and galleries throughout Europe. In these works certain paintings carry the influence of European sensibilities towards the landscape more than others. However essentially Nudelman remains a painter of a distinctively Australian view. His process involves incorporating elements from various parts of the continent. You might see the parched ochre of the Simpson Desert, with the You Yangs tinged blue in the distance. The sum of its composite parts, each forms a cohesive whole and sits comfortably within the romantic notion of Australia’s wide open spaces and big skies. A picturesque vision, were it not subverted by the strange hybrid structures which populate Nudelman’s work.
But foremost, the skies are one of the most immediately striking features of these works. It’s not hard to identify the location of Nudelman’s skies. They are the subdued, cloud-filled heavens under which Melbourne spends the majority of the year. Any Melbournian will also be familiar with those moments when, after labouring through the day under a dense blanket of flat grey which saps the colour out of everything – a bright shaft of sunlight breaks through and suddenly the world takes on a golden glow. In medieval times they would have called it the Hand of God, reaching down to wrench people out of their perceived bleakness by providing them a little glimpse of glory. The flood of light just before the sun begins to set – this is the stuff of Nudelman’s skies. The artist’s choice to represent these moments in particular perhaps reflects his hope for a better future, personally and on a social level, as with just as much clarity as his broken light filled skies, he describes the discord and cynicism of modern experience.
Reminiscent of children’s playground equipment or guard towers, strange structures appear in Nudelman’s constructed Australian scenes. Their surreal presence disrupts the organic flow of the natural world, as exemplified in And Then There Was None, 2006. Initially this appears as a peaceful scene as dusk gently descends, veiling all in the quiet of the moment. Then we contemplate the tower which looms in the foreground. It appears abandoned, a relic of the past. The realization that it is based on a watch-tower in Auschwitz immediately brings an understanding of the horror symbolised by this simple form.
Nudelman was in his twenties when he found out that he is of Jewish descent, and close relatives only narrowly escaped Nazi Germany. Subsequently questions arose relating to his newly discovered cultural heritage, including how the memory of things not witnessed interacts with that which is directly experienced – in turn shaping the way we interact with the world. And Then There Was None is a direct comment on this, but the jarring incongruity that all of these structures have in common encapsulate issues which surround his notion of identity, and the often fraught journey to understand it.
Another recurring motif is the trees that fall in line on the horizon, possibly marking the division of property. Their inclusion acts a reminder of imposed systems of ownership and our colonial heritage of dividing up the land. In some works they appear more as thick forests, and arouse the mysterious feelings of fear and intrigue that for many are associated with the idea of the woods. Folk tales and children’s stories instilled this response into our collective subconscious, and the forest now seems to inhabit an archetypal space. In works like Finding Autumn, it is no longer distant mass but rather, we are inside of it. However instead of the fear and isolation that accompanies the folk story forests, here we encounter a calm that is more reassuring than the silent dark mass in the distance.
Within the different layers of meaning Nudelman touches on some very sinister depths. However the prevailing impression from viewing these works is one of hope - like light bursting through a threatening sky and the promise of a new day.
Marguerite Brown , MA Art History , Arts Writer Melbourne