Grounded: Contemporary Australian Art

NAS GroundedFeaturing the work of artists Mitch Cairns, Karla Dickens, Newell Harry, Jumaadi, James Nguyen, Addison Marshall, Joan Ross and Justine Varga – who have all studied at the National Art School (NSA), Grounded: Contemporary Australian Art is a new exhibition at NAS Gallery from 18 August 2017.

Curated by Judith Blackall Grounded is presented across both floors of the NAS Gallery. The artists have responded generously to the invitation to present a range of work in NAS Gallery’s distinctive spaces: some have produced ambitious new bodies of work, others have chosen to re-present important and rarely seen works that, presented in new contexts, bring fresh insight to the artist’s process and studio practice.

In some cases sketchbooks and working drawings are included, providing further insight into the importance of drawing, a discipline at the core of the National Art School’s approach to learning and creativity.

“It is a great privilege to showcase the breadth of practice from the NAS graduates in Grounded,” said Steven Alderton, Director and CEO of the National Art School. “We are particularly thrilled for Mitch Cairns, this year’s winner of The Archibald Prize and Joan Ross, winner of the Sulman Prize currently on show at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and, of course, Justine Varga, recent recipient of the Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture.”

“The National Art School is the thread that joins these artists together and the exhibition provides the opportunity for audiences to enjoy the work of these skilled practitioners.”

Each artist brings unique and courageous approaches to their work, original thinking and experimental attitudes that have been central to their accomplished careers.  While they have all studied at the National Art School, it is the depth and breadth of concepts that distinguishes their practices and this exhibition.

“The National Art School has such a great art tradition, almost 100 years on this site, and it has produced many incredible artists,” said Judith Blackall, Curator NAS Gallery. “The eight artists selected for Grounded acknowledge the solid training they’ve had at the School: a very good grounding. What interests me is their diverse approaches and their commitment to a conceptual position that distinguishes their works in this exhibition.”

Mitch Cairns (b. 1984, Camden NSW. Lives and works Sydney) presents four exquisite new paintings produced after an intense period of work in the studio.  Cairns’ whimsical and enigmatic subject matter – dust coats in the breeze, a game of chess, a bird, a half-eaten apple – draw from a strong interest in early modernism, coupled with a love for the graphic form, pure line and colour and the lyrical suggestiveness of typography that the artist skillfully combines in his paintings.

Karla Dickens (b. 1967, Sydney, of the Wiradjuri people. Lives and works in Goonellabah, NSW) exhibits a powerful new body of work featuring the artist’s signature assemblages and text-based forms. Her most recent series comprises twenty new Warrior Women (all 2017), sculptural forms depicting female underwear as chastity belts bearing the rough detritus of Australia’s rural economy, from barbed-wire, harness, tools, machinery parts to sporting relics, fish hooks and Aboriginal kitsch. Dickens also presents a new straight-jacket inscribed with her hard-hitting text. This new work in Grounded extends her powerful installation at Carriageworks for The National.

Newell Harry (b. 1972, Sydney. Lives and works Sydney) focuses on the nuances of language, cultural exchange, communities and art objects as currency through a range of works selected from his personal collection. Harry participated in the 2015 Venice Biennale All The World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor in the Arsenale Corderie, and since then the artist’s work has been presented in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation for Contemporary Art, Vienna in Tidalectics, 2 June – 19 November, 2017 and Known / Unknowns at Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery 27 July – 26 August 2017.

Visitors entering the exhibition via the ground floor gallery experience an immersive space, densely hung with large-scale drawings, dream-like figures, animals or floating reptiles made by Jumaadi, (b. 1973, Sidoarjo, Indonesia. Lives and works in Sydney and Indonesia).  Jumaadi has recently returned from a period of working in Indonesia, where he produced this latest body of watercolours, drawings and sculptural work that combine Indonesian and western perspectives.

Addison Marshall (b. 1972, Armidale, NSW.  Lives and works in Sydney) presents formally minimalist, open-ended installations of glazed and unglazed ceramic that both embrace and defy the medium’s traditional boundaries and relationships. Marshall’s pastel-coloured objects combined with a selection of drawings appear both architectural and strangely organic, futuristic yet enduring.

James Nguyen (b. 1982, Vietnam. Lives and works Sydney) continues his investigation of parallel histories: the artist’s personal story as the son of Vietnamese family who left Vietnam by boat in the 1980s, juxtaposed with Sydney’s constantly shifting urban development, particularly in Western Sydney, where the family was settled. His new two-channel video explores the complexities of interpreting personal stories, meaning and cultural displacement.

Joan Ross (b. 1961, Glasgow. Lives and works Sydney) presents an installation and video that reflect her ongoing concern of the legacy of colonialism in Australia. Ross’s appropriation of romanticised Australian landscape are juxtaposed with highly saturated and fluorescent motifs in the form of Hi-Viz wear, a reminder of colonialism’s ongoing presence in the form of dominant cultural attitudes and damaging repercussions.

Having returned in June from a period working in London at ACME Studios, Justine Varga (b. 1984, Sydney. Lives and works in Sydney) presents her large-scale process-based photographic images made without a camera and over extended periods. Her photographs embody an intersection of time and place, offering an autobiographical memoir of the artist’s experience.

GroundedContemporary Australian Art 
National Art School Gallery (NAS Gallery), Forbes Street, Sydney
Exhibition: 18 August – 14 October 2017
Free admission

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Mitch Cairns, Draught (head of department) 2017 (detail) oil on linen. Image courtesy the artist and The Commercial, Sydney; Karla Dickens, Warrior woman XIII 2017, mixed media with fish hooks. Image courtesy the artist and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane; Joan Ross, still from digital video Colonial Grab 2014Image courtesy the artist and Michael Reid Sydney.