Curve Magazine / by Travis Kelleher

Andrew Nicholls, Protect Me, Satan, ink on paper, 2005.

Andrew Nicholls, by Thea Costantino, Curve Magazine, 2006.

Perth may be known for its millionaires, surging house prices and short business hours, but it also deserves to be known as a city that, despite its small size and less than flattering reputation, is home to a community of young and exciting artists. 

One such artist is Andrew Nicholls, whose meticulous large-scale drawings borrow from Victorian-era illustrations from a wide range of sources, which he uses to highlight suspiciously archaic values lurking in our contemporary Australian culture. He states, “I am particularly interested in how sentimental culture has become historically aligned with the marginalised - women, the lower classes, ethnic minorities and homosexuals - yet remains such a powerful, often unacknowledged presence in mainstream culture.” Central to his work are the twin concepts of camp and the uncanny, which turn the familiar into something alien, comical and frightening all at once. 

His images artfully recast the motifs of colonialism and religion in homoerotic, kitsch and spooky contexts. They are often temporary - Nicholls draws by hand directly onto the gallery wall without the aid of a projector, so the translation of the original small-scale images necessarily involves mutations and mistakes. These distortions are incorporated into the overall composition of the drawing and lend an unsettling aspect to the otherwise intricate and lifelike image. The wallbased works are physically demanding and time consuming, and are doomed to be painted over at the end of the exhibition. 

Nicholls describes these works as a ‘gift of labour’ to the viewer, and his method harks back to the antiquated concept of craftsmanship, which is losing its relevance in our increasingly digitised culture. His current work uses Christian imagery to humorously promote the unearthly delights of decadence. 

Nicholls’ interest in historical Australiana has led him to investigate china design, including the ubiquitous blue and white willow pattern that is so emblematic of settler culture. He makes conspicuous the things these images allude to or erase - colonial narratives of violence, desire and appropriation. Nicholls has been exploring the possibilities of chinaware as a medium, and in 2004 undertook research at the Spode China Factory in the UK. He will be exhibiting the outcomes of his investigations in 2007. Through his emphatically non-minimalist work, Nicholls interrogates identity in a post-colonial context by drawing parallels with the marginalised worlds of kitsch, craft, nostalgia and pornography.