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Catalogue text - Nell's exhibition

Nell - All the Way

The title of Nell’s exhibition, All The Way, acknowledges her preoccupation with and strong commitment to the multiple strands of her practice. In artist talks, she often introduces herself as being engaged in three major forms of practice: Zen meditation practice, yoga practice and art practice.

Practice makes, practice makes, practice makes perfect. In a Zen sense – perhaps equally – practice makes, practice makes, practice makes imperfect.

One could argue that her commitment extends more generally across the entire practice of being. An earlier title for this series of works was ‘Walking and Sitting’ – the two active poses represented in the work and the two major physical modes of a Zen meditation practice. I was repelled by this title, as it sounded like ‘wanking and shitting’. Nell found – unsurprisingly – my association with the title equally compelling in the sense that it represented the same thing. Walking and sitting, eating and shitting, fucking and breathing, painting and sleeping. Nell puts in the hours. She decides to do something and she goes ‘all the way’.

All The Way is suggestive of unflinching commitment. Three words endlessly conjured in political slogans and the droning refrains of pop songs. For Nell the title implies following "The Way"- a spiritual path common across Christianity, Buddhism and Daoism. All The Way suggests following something to its natural conclusion, walking to the very end of the road, expiring after your last breath and navigating the difficult terrain of a painting until you make it through to the other side.

Baseball provides the most succulent metaphor here: hitting a home run and making it ‘all the way’ to home base – loaded with all its sexual connotation. Nell describes her major themes as "Sex, Death and Rock ‘n’ Roll." In her daily studio practice she can be trusted to take works to their natural conclusion: from kissing at first base, through heavy petting and all the way home.

Nell is monogamous to her ongoing, broader project (a wide, rambling path). Yet you have probably heard the gossip that, when it comes to material, her promiscuity is beyond compare. The series of delicate, playful and considered ‘sitting paintings’ (comprising a figure inscribed with text) represents Nell’s faithfulness to repeatedly asking the same question and discovering new answers, in a way that only painting (making an image from nothing) can provide. A few years back painting was a fresh young trick for Nell and a little rough around the edges. Painting is now her faithful companion.

Within the paintings Nell employs a tender cannibalism of language, where words and meaning float across the surface of the mind and are absorbed into the flesh of the body, labeling the observation of things, naming the nature of things, meaning is accrued through simple and essential experience.

In the sculptural installation, a white bird flies in the mist, a black bird flies in the night, a woman walks, wild and free, she is not afraid to die, meaning is difficult to restrain. Nell takes us on an open-ended journey whilst the figure – a mystic – may stand in for the Bodhisattva, postponing her own Nirvana to help the field of ghosts and the many souls reach their own enlightenment.

Viewing the individual artworks as a series of lovers, Nell’s epic ‘walking’ sculptural work (which forms the centrepiece for the show) is her grand new conquest. All The Way is a serious long-term love affair in itself, in which she discovers a whole range of surprising new positions.

Lionel Bawden 2008
Catalogue text to accompany Nell’s 2008 exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9