Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Meet Your Maker: Grant Nimmo

Wild forests, floating neon orbs, voodoo skulls by candle light and drum sets collapsing into the grass. Is it 'Newage' or is it 'New Age'?  I've been captivated and intrigued by Grant Nimmo's work for some time. His gallerist - Anna Pappas - was around the corner from where I lived in Prahran and a rare jewel on the south side of the Yarra. I saw his work there a couple of years ago and it's been in the back of my mind ever since. This winter he's brought a body of work to Stockroom and it's contemporary painting at its best. Original, expertly crafted, layered with meaning and eye-ball throbbingly gorgeous. I had a chat with Grant and threw some questions his way about his work.

a smorgasbord of drawing and painting power in the Project Space at Stockroom

Hey Grant. I love this weird mix of Romanticism and vaguely dark psychedelic hippy-ness that you have in your work. What draws you to this sort of imagery and these themes?

I guess it's a combination of things that happened that draw me to these images. I grew up in the outer suburbs of melbourne, there aren't a heap of galleries out there, maybe even none. Or at least none that i knew of. So my early education in art wasn't through looking at art hanging on walls or even in books, I knew of a couple of artists that I looked at in school (I liked Goya) but that was it.

My real early education in art came as a teenager taking the day off school and looking through record covers in record stores in the city, like Augogo and Missing Link. This was great because I loved punk and folk music and browsing the album covers tied in with my love of drawing and of the visual side to making things. So it was a really exciting thing for me to see that these things seemed to just naturally belong together. At the time I worked in the local supermarket and I would spend some of my money on records. At that point a 7 inch vinyl was about $5 so if I was looking through the singles and I saw an album cover that I thought was great, or an album title that I thought was cool regardless of whether I had heard the band, I'd just take a chance and buy it.

So for me music was basically what art was. So then my early education to music was through my dads and my uncles records.. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix etc.. 60's and 70's stuff. So I guess that's where the psychedelic thing started for me. I guess I have moved away from this now and I don't really listen to those old records that much but it seems it was so influential to me that it just sort of stuck. I guess that music is pretty romantic and it kind of leads to other avenues, listening to led Zeppelin I ended up reading the lord of the rings, cause they seemed to like it. And on it goes. I think I look at it like anything anyone makes is just a reflection of where you happen to be standing at any point in time. An artist just looks, learns and re directs.

I want to delve into this underlying sense of unease that sits just below the surface of the works. There's upside down mountains, for example, that evoke a sense of imbalance, of inverted gravity. And maybe because there's hints of the new-age and commune culture, and we all know that kind of dream for a utopian society with a connection to nature pretty much failed for anyone who tried, for me there's this really captivating feeling of ... 'forests, sunshine, freedom, oh my god i wish it was summer right now... oh, wait ... did that tree just talk to me? holy fuck i think the rainbow is turning black and is coming to strangle me.'

Turning a painting upside down is always unsettling, seeing anything turned upside down is always a bit unsettling. I think it’s unsettling because it opens a slightly different perspective and just that slight slip can actually be a bit horrifying. It reveals that you had no idea what you were looking at all along. Especially if it is something that you have stared at intently for a period, something that you feel like you know quite well. All of a sudden you are re looking at it and you no longer trust what you have experienced. That element of anxiety is always an important part of it. I do always want things to be poetic when i am making work, and for anything to become a beautiful poem the anxiety of reality has to be in there, but of course it has to work in some kind of harmony with everything else, like any cultural attachments the image might have. It’s needed in order to feel excited about not knowing what is going on. I think confusion is a good starting point for anything.

There's so much nature going on in your work. But it's a filtered nature, as if seen through binoculars or the distortion of lysergic acid or through nostalgia. And there's a strong northern hemisphere representation of nature - perhaps a representation of an ideal of nature. What's your feeling about our engagement with the environment, of mountains, forests and streams (at least in so far as dealt with in your work)?

Grant Nimmo, Eat Your Skull, 2011

Obviously people on the whole are pretty accustomed to not dealing with nature on a day to day basis, aside from the basics. Everything is accessible without even stepping outside. There are people who despise this and there are others that couldn't care less. I have spent a lot of time alone just camping or fishing or whatever, hanging out in the bush and I like this, I like doing that sort of stuff, but at the same time I know it's pretty boring. And i cant do it all the time. I think the thing I like about it is that there is for me this idea that something could happen. It sort of ignites my imagination a bit. I like to think about ghosts or witches eating children to try and scare myself a bit. I kind of see how a lot of folklore could just be made up by people sitting around with nothing to do. Which I think is great. I like to think about that being away from everything when I am in the city sometimes.. Because its just more boring at times than the alternative.. But it's harder to think there in the city.

So I guess the idealised nature in the work I make is really just a symbol of wanting to think and wanting silence.

So, what's ahead for the rest of the year and beyond?

So the next show planned is the Melbourne art fair with Anna Pappas in August, where I'll also be giving a talk on Martin Kippenberger in a forum on post-conceptual painting. After that I'll be back in the studio for a while.

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The exhibition runs until 8 July.
Grant is exhibiting with us courtesy of Anna Pappas Gallery - a great venue in Prahran, showing some amazing artists.