Review / Nichols translates abstract designs into hooked rugs

craft / “Gail Nichols: In Transit”, Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, ANU, until July 29. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.

In ‘Autumn Leaves’ Nichols uses new and recycled fabric hooked on polyester backing.

“ONCE an artist, always an artist”, so they say. Artists have a particular eye for form, colour, pattern and texture, no matter the media.

Gail Nichols is renowned as a leading ceramicist. She gained her PhD in soda vapour firing and has won many awards in Australia and overseas. She approached her art intelligently, with diligence and a light hand. Her forms were integrated beautifully with their surface treatment, and she maintained her own aesthetic curiosity.

And now she has moved into another art form – rug making using (mostly) recycled fabrics. Nichols’ aesthetic has quickly developed in this new medium, seen in this exhibition mounted by Narek Gallery.

‘Reflections at the Water Temple’, new and recycled fabric hooked on hessian backing.

Not long after attending a rug making workshop, where she hooked a few squiggly lines of fabric strips into hessian backing, she visited the Arthur Boyd exhibition, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, at the National Gallery of Australia, and she was immediately drawn to the tapestries Boyd commissioned of his pastel drawings. Her eyes were opened to the potential of textiles.

Before long, Nichols became to think of herself as a textile artist. The world around her provided graphic and abstracted designs and she translated these into hooked rugs. She immediately saw the potential of fabrics, hooked, looped, cut, and trimmed into open pile, offering a three-dimensional surface.

”Temple Fish” depicts the dynamic movement of koi in a water temple in Bali. The surfaces are complex, with multiple swirling colours. Another work, “Reflections at the Water Temple”, shows the visual cacophony of coloured banners, sarongs, and saris, the walls of the temple and movement in the water reflected in the pool. The fabrics add texture and depth that would not be gained through paint or pastel. The trimmed open pile evokes the shimmering surface of the water.

‘Logistics’, new and recycled fabric hooked on polyester backing.

A third work, “Logistics” shows the dynamic warehouse markings of the Aalsmeer flower markets near Amsterdam. The simplicity of strong yellow and white vertical lines, combined with curved black lines, and triangles of red translate well to hooked fabric rugs, creating an energetic surface.

The most recent work, “Autumn Leaves”, shows familiar autumn leaves. The design of coloured leaves, branches and stems of Canberra autumn is warm and captures the sun shining through leaves.

‘Stormwatch’, shouldered jar, 2014, soda vapour glazed stoneware,

Nichols is also showing a selection of large bowls, wide-shouldered jars and tall, open-mouth vessels. These are likely to be the last ceramics she will make. They are robust, while at the same time soft and organic. The forms and surfaces take a minimalist approach and give the viewer a precious gift. Generously rounded and manipulated, they should be looked at closely and carefully; the crystalised surfaces are tactile.

The minimalist pots contrast with the complexity of colours and designs of the hooked rugs. Viewers can see the intrinsic aesthetic qualities Nichols brings to all her work. A transition from clay to fabric is not a path commonly taken, and I have no doubt Nichols will become as widely recognised for her textiles as she was for ceramics.

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