Thursday, September 20, 2007

Neil Hollingsworth: Nautilus


This nautilus reminds me of a rare nocturnal flower that cowers under the morning sun's bright rays -- the artist uses the shape of the object to imply interaction with the surroundings, a clever compositional trick. Light and shadow, diagonals and straight lines, sharp angles and soft arches, they all point towards the theme of contrast, of color and geometry respectively. Yet what makes this piece particularly fascinating, or paradoxical even, is the sense of serenity and confidence generally projected from the canvas. There simply does not seem to be a place for a conflict, though there are so many conflicting elements. Perhaps it is the clear-cut nature of these contrasts, and their effortless identifiability that makes them work for the opposite, unifying effect. Or perhaps they just cancel each other out.

This is a classic, and a classicist composition: the column and its capital echoes Doric architectural elements, while wide and clean light stripes divide the scene into four slanting parts. Gray alternates with white, producing a zebra-like pattern, which is then repeated by the color scheme of the nautilus; a recurring theme that engages the viewer -- whether you tend to look at the bigger picture first, or prefer to delve into smaller details, you will arrive at the same road sign, aptly showing a zebra. Additionally, there is something very solid in the way the artist employs simple and basic lines. He does not merely employ them, rather, he exploits them to the maximum, perhaps driven by self-imposed economy in more luscious elements, in turn ensuing from adherence to certain stylistic principles.

But, there is the culprit, which despite its relatively insignificant size, owns the space, the canvas and the title. The nautilus plays the lead role, and appropriately so: it concentrates all of the mentioned features in its small body. First, there are the lines, second, there is the incredibly soothing and reassuring sea sound trapped inside, and third, its spiral form reaffirms theme repetition, which is an important motif in this piece, -- in an allegorical fashion. Eventually, the calm that the shell holds inside transpires outside, to the painted surroundings, and beyond, to the real minds of the viewers. I live half an hour drive from the Mediterranean, and I have become so accustomed to it, I rarely appreciate the sea view. It takes something indirect, and surprising -- such as this painting -- to rediscover the pleasure of watching the waves hit the rocks that try to break them.

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