Essay for 2008 Exhibition Waiting for the Fall
Recently I viewed Claude Monet’s Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond (c. 1920) at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and joined a room filled with people transfixed by this extraordinary meditation on nature. The side panels of the roughly 13 metre long triptych are angled slightly inward, to enhance the sense of being immersed in a painted sea of dappled light and colour. Perhaps the city context made the sensation of viewing this work so potent, but standing before it seemed to blow through all the industrial layers of the metropolis. Visiting Adam Nudelman’s studio recently I was reminded of this experience. While the stylistic attributes of a Nudelman differs greatly from a Monet, like the French master’s work each of the paintings that comprise Waiting for the Fall revels in its contemplation of the natural world. Nudelman has found a forlorn beauty in the marshy coastline he depicts, and in doing so harnesses the restorative powers that nature contains for the weary urban-dweller.
The coast that lies off Port Albert, a small beachside town located east of Wilson’s Promontory is the humble muse for this recent body of work. This wetland area lacks the sandy beaches and crystal waters of nearby Ninety Mile Beach, or the spectacular cliffs and landforms of the Prom. Here the sea is still and silty, dotted with clusters of mangroves that make it a rich breeding ground for fish and bird life. Its marshy conditions also make it relatively free from tourists – hence its immediate appeal for Nudelman when he decided to place roots there just on a year ago.
Port Albert’s melancholy vistas perfectly suit the manner of describing the landscape that Nudelman has made his own. The artist favours vast uninterrupted horizons, beneath which the fore and middle grounds stretch like bands across the canvas in an almost abstract sense, while above changeable skies dominate the picture plane. Certain images verge on the surreal through their inclusion of ambiguous structures – some reminiscent of guard towers, others of playground equipment. Though they are convincingly described their placement on the shoreline appears strangely incongruous with their natural setting, as if the scenes described would never occur in reality. As such we are forced to consider both the object’s aesthetic attributes and what they might represent. In many ways Nudelman leaves this for the viewer to decide, though invariably their presence suggests an incursion of modernity onto the landscape.
The motif of a solitary tree has a strong presence in Nudelman’s recent works. Placed before rustic timber and barbed wire fences that separate it from the coastal background, these trees make reference to the cycles of nature, from new life to death and decay. In Last Day of June the boughs are bare, while the sky is cast a pinkish red by the setting sun. In contrast A Prayer Sent to Me contains blossoming flowers which immediately conjure ideas of growth and renewal, and in doing so can be read as a symbol of hope.
Nudelman’s choice of stone fruit and other non-native trees is made in reference to the history of immigration which brought these and other introduced species to Australia's shores. This continues the subtle post-colonial discourse that flows through much of the artist’s work. Fences or lines of trees often appear to signify the demarcation of property – and imposed systems of ownership. It is however not a didactic sub-text, rather an acknowledgement of the forces that have shaped how we interact with the landscape, in our position as a colonised nation.
Different associations exist in the depiction of boat-like structures that populate the exhibition. In Time and Tide the skeletal remains of an ark rise up from the gently swaying grass. The structure’s hard lines contrast with the organic flow of the natural world that surrounds it. As the title suggests, there is a sense that this object has been lodged there since time immemorial. This shape more so than Nudelman’s other structures has a permanence that perhaps relates to the space that an ark inhabits through its biblical allusions. It is an image rooted in the past, and like the story of Noah that it is associated with, can be seen to represent regeneration after destruction and near despair.
While the viewer may find various symbolic connections in his work, Nudelman consciously avoids a fixed narrative. Leaving certain elements open to interpretation, the unmistakable essence of these paintings lie in their quiet yet powerful rendition of earth, sea and sky.
Marguerite Brown, MA Art History , Arts Writer Melbourne