Now Colour

Various styles and materials on show at the Higher Bridges Gallery

In 1996, Nuala Gregory, the Belfast-born artist who trained at the University of Ulster, was chosen along with fellow artists Micky Donnelly, Dermot Seymour and Michael Minnis to contribute work for the internationally acclaimed show, Art Beyond Conflict.

The following year she moved to New Zealand to take up a post as lecturer at the University of Auckland. Today, Gregory is Associate Professor and Deputy Dean of Auckland’s Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries. She brings some thoughtful and personal work to her exhibition, entitled Now Colour, Now Shape, Now Paper at the Higher Bridges Gallery in Enniskillen.

Instead of a catalogue, Gregory has prepared a small souvenir book that contains reproductions of the art works on display and academic essays by New Zealand academic, Peter Shand and writer and art critic, Gregory O’Brien.

'Exploded View' was originally launched in 2010 at the Gus Fisher gallery in Auckland. The major exhibit, a huge yellow installation covering one entire gallery wall is made from hundreds of sheets of bright yellow A3 paper, each one measured up with a spirit level and pinned to the wall with tiny plain pins.

The scallop shaped edges, sculpted, like bays on a seaboard, create an impression of a huge continent, perhaps five continents elided into one to conjure up a brave and bright new world.

Alongside this bold statement, the array of 38cm x 48cm abstract pastel prints seem understated and somewhat solitary. Yet each of the lithograph monotypes reveals a lightness of touch, colour and texture that belies the complicated processes which created it.

Gregory has worked with John Pusateri at the Auckland Print Studio to perfect several ancient techniques, including stone lithography and Chine-Colle. The lithographs are produced when an oily ink substance called tusche is painted on heavy slabs of limestone and, as it dries in a process called reticulation, it produces a web-like structure of delineated marks.

Shand describes this as ‘muted soakage, seepage’ and then ‘colours are laid flat in ponds and flower-like blooms and bleeds’. He attributes the element of serendipity in the final print to a series of chaosmotic encounters. The ‘chaosmos’ of James Joyce’s Ulysses is the dual process of the emergence of order (cosmos) and disorder (chaos) and its reverse.

In a technique known as Fei Bai. Chinese rice paper, so fine it is almost transparent, is stuck onto the print paper. Once the paint has been applied, the rice paper is removed to reveal blank white spaces within the painted surface. At times, the rice paper is also attached to create deliberately superimposed patterns. Gregory also uses techniques such as stencilling and combing.

O’Brien is reminded of a Bach fugue as he describes ‘the most orderly and disorderly of subjects accommodating in equal measure freedom and restraint’. Some quite profound academic art criticism attaches to these seemingly modest art works. Gregory’s declared strategy is to explode contemporary theories which claim that, in this digital age, painting is dead.

She deliberately uses basic colours, shapes and materials to produce an overall effect similar to watercolour, gouach or classical Chinese painting. Yet the lyrical tones in her unique prints are anything but loud. On the contrary the yellow/orange, pink/mauve colour combinations are carefully conceived, sensual and delicately feminine.

Now Colour, Now Shape, Now Paper will continue at the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen until July 28 and will then travel to the Nucleo Issstezac de Cultura, in Zacatecas, Mexico. In 2011 Nuala Gregory will take up a residency at Robert Peter’s print workshop in Holywood, County Down.