Behind the Mask
For his debut show with Wagner Contemporary, Nigel Sense invokes the everyday and the fantastical in a suite of paintings that revisit one of the artist’s favourite subjects, the working lives of Australian blokes, but this time overlaid with strange and colourful symbolism.
The title Dickheads and Demons suggests the often-conflicted nature of work – the alliances and allegiances that form between people at their jobs, a loose but ongoing conflict between the shirkers, guys who do the bare minimum and who can’t wait for smoko or knock off, vs. the do-gooders who follow the rules.
To work anywhere, you have to know who is who. Sense dramatizes these relationships in these new pictures with the addition of masks, making plain that there are monsters out there as potentially dangerous as the fabled creatures of ancient mythology.
Sense is a dynamic painter. His use of colour in large fields, overlaid with simple figures painted in sharp and contrasting primaries – and the subtle use of secondary colours – has the same effect of a diagram or illustration, as though these odd pictures were from an alternate universe ‘work safe’ video. Guys load trucks, others dig a road, some blokes carry a plank, and everything is seemingly normal. But not really.
There’s a sense of mystery here: the matter-of-fact appearance of these masks – grinning lizards, pig-men, multi-eye bulls and red devils among them – seem to have no effect on any of the ‘normal’ looking men in the paintings. Either this is an everyday occurrence, or perhaps only we can see these masks. In that sense, these aren’t really masks at all, but a revelation of the true characters of these otherwise normal seeming people. The monsters are inside everyone.
There’s a great humour to these pictures, but also honesty. This may not necessarily be the way things look; rather, Sense reveals how things really are.
Dr Andrew Frost
Nigel Sense is a graduate of the University of Wollongong and is regularly selected for major art prizes, most recently the Salon des Refuses (Finalist, 2018), Mosman Art Prize (Finalist, 2018), Black Swan Art Prize (Finalist, 2017), Mosman Art Prize (Finalist, 2017) and the Kilgour Art Prize (Finalist, 2017).