New Work by Nick Malone | The Earth Moved
Contemporary Art | Volume 2 | Number 3 | Libby Anson
The sriking thing about Nick Malone's work is how focused it has become in such a short space of time. Painting did not become this major concern unti 1985 when, in his late thirties, he began studying for a degree, "To rearrange the way I was thinking". His work already has both a zeal of youth and the conviction of maturity. Prior to his 'conversion', he was a published writer, his books illuminated with his own wistful, Blakeian illustratians. Themes prevelent in his writing translate powerfully into fine art media, extracting elements from the land and the human psyche. Signithicantly, Malone was inspired practically and spiritually while under the tantalisingly brief, but cathartic tutelage of Miles Richmond (himself a student of Bomberg). His subsequent, early responses to the living forces at work within landscape reveal an unrestained, raw energy and an uninhibited ability to animate the bulk of the earth's body. His search for a way to deal with the metaphysical aspect of his subject, to recreate it in a less literal, less referential sense had begun.
Malone's work has developed into images that are assured and strong, with landscape persisting as the major motif. He is interested in the tradition of English landscape painting and the notion of the genre as a "cultural, metaphorical and mythological construct". In conversation he refers reverently to Turner (of course), and to Micheal Porter and Terry Aetch. About his own work, Malone quotes Morris Graves, saying that certain forms can heighten one's sense of "walking through the stuff that we are". Considering the positive force and dark, surging vitality that dominates his painting and drawing, I know what he is talking about. The works suggest a realisation of personal history leading to a present moment, or the visualisation of life's events, illustrated like milestones along the way of his own journey. Like an episode of travel, all the layers of time, sight and experience are piled on top of one another, as paint from a loaded brush, then scaped back to lose some of the memory and inscribed with charcoal. He shows a need to search out and establish form while simutaneously acknowledging the autonomy of paint, or material on surface: abstraction meets figuration, meets manipulation. His dense blacks can be either positive or negative elements, becoming megaliths or chambers, and colour has to force its way through from where it was buried, nurturing the promise of revealing its own history; sometimes it doesn't succeed. The space surrounding these amorphous structures is not vacuous but active, buzzing with a palimpsest of marks. Here, the subterranean and the celestrial merge.
Paint occasionally looks as if it has been applied with implements for working the earth rather than medium on canvas. Megalith 2 appears like the inverse of Rising, the former plunging beneath the no-man's land of a war zone, fiery colour and gold punctuating the humus. The whole vision has in common with other canvases (Tumulus in particular), the construction of shapes slotted together, slipping and sliding over one another like plates of the earth's crust in a state of flux, searching for a place to rest. In the acrylic works, the manipulation of pigment makes for a rich and interesting complement to the Franze-Kline-like statements dominating each painting. In his paper pieces, the frenetic chattering of the charoal amid the bareness of Fabriano is reminiscent of Cy Twombly's wiry, graphic hand-writing lines of communication, fizzing with impulsivity. Cutting 2 looks like the cross section of a pore and subcutaneous layers, an image recalling the show of the artist's work in 1988, entitled Excavation. The archaeological urge and hunting instinct is still very much in evidence in the digging, the quest for a personal Holy Grail, perhaps, for what is veracois.
The achetypal, fundamental forms which emerge, time and again in Malone's visual vocabulary, come from working to establish a tension between what is recognisable as landscape and what is more abstract, coupled with a sense of humanity becoming a physical part of it. The forms impose themselves as symbols for an internal landscape and for something deeper than what we know of things seen. What is tangible appears and disappears, being solid here, fragmented there, and there's the suggestion of metamorphosis, of monoliths taking the place of mythical heroes, petrified and stripped of characterisation, generalised and denied a personal history.
Anothropological symbols presents itself in recurrence of the cross and the fish, and the recent emergence of the ram in drawings harks to the demonic counterpart. Pagan imagery abounds too in the runic characters and the shapes undeniably reminiscent of those constituting Stonehenge.
Malone suspects his work will become greater in scale. In this shoe some of the larger paintings already suffer for a lack of space and visitors have, sadly, been denied the pleasure of viewing the artist's more intimate, often more colourful sketchooks. The artist will continue to reply on his painting to take him in a direction he feels is beyond his control. Figures, shapes, colours and postive spaces come and go, breath and suffocate. Pictures are lost and caught several times during the physical work of structuring each compostition, mark-making and establishing the motif -a difficult process which he relishes.