‘Nicole Ellis Arrested Sites’, 4 October – 24 October 1993, Hyde Park Barracks Museum, Sydney, Australia

Into these environs Nicole Ellis has brought paintings that allude to the workaday lives of other people on different circumstances, from elsewhere in the city. Her “paint skins” comprise the marks and debris of a one time bustling Oxford Street sewing rooms, and artists’ studios for the past two decades…soon to be remodelled. Located at key points through the museum these enigmatic concretions interact with and derive piquancy from layers of distilled history of the Hyde Park Barracks.

Lynne Collins 1993
Curator, Hyde Park Barracks Museum

Preterite traces

Nicole Ellis’ new work continues her preoccupation with the way we create hierarchies of attention. But while her painting of a few years ago did this by presenting a literal absent centre, her new work takes up this concern more subtly and thoroughly.

These strip paintings and hangings side-step the question of representation – which in itself presupposes basic protocols of attention – by using the particular properties of acrylic paint as a medium for something like two-dimensional casting. I say ‘something like’ because ‘casting’ like ‘imprinting’ doesn’t quite describe the process involved. The paint reproduces the patina of the floorboards by imprinting the grain of the wood and absorbing the substances that have stained and marked it. So one board, or group of boards, that have been repeatedly “painted” in this way produce a series of acrylic skins on which the stains and marks grow fainter while the grain of the wood remains – like a photocopier producing ghostlier images until only the white paper is left.

The method produces work where what’s represented – or reproduced – is truly random. We are forced to focus on the fact that there is nothing to focus on. But the works are evocative. I think it matters little that they are taken from the floor of a building that has been used as an artist’s studio for twenty years. Or that the building itself was once part of the rag trade. These paintings could be from any work place where results of waste, mistake and accident aren’t cleaned up. Where the act of labour cannot be cleaned up.

Which brings me to the title of this piece. In Calvinist theology God creates many more people than he intends to save. Those he does save are the Elect, like the paint that gets on the canvas. But those he turns His Face from are the preterite – the ones he disregards. We operate on a similar economy of focus and waste and these works are stark embodiments of its results.

John Forbes
Melbourne 1993

View more

Image gallery
Use arrows to view