BARBADOS BASED ARTIST LILIAN STEN-NICHOLSON AT QUEEN’S PARK GALLERY, AN APPRECIATION BY JANICE WHITTLE: QPG WITH REVISED OPENING HOURS
Lilian Sten-Nicholson’s Retrospective, ‘Wings of the Morning‘, opened on Sunday Nov.7th at 6.30pm at the Queen’s Park Gallery. Due to the passage of Tropical Storm Tomas there is no electricity at the Gallery. Until electricity returns Gallery hours are as follows: Monday to Saturday 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. After the electricity returns, the hours will be 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.
This exhibition allows you to see the development of an Artist born in Sweden, who has lived most of her life in the Caribbean. There is an accompanying catalogue of the exhibition from which I quote:
The primary colours and black dominate the work of Lilian Sten-Nicholson. The marks, layering and colour choices create a very vibrant space as opposed to a flat patterned surface. Colour and the movement of colour often represents sound in Sten-Nicholson’s work.
The scale of her paintings is always significant. She seems to more fully realize her ideas successfully on a larger scale. She manages to make every inch of the canvas count; every mark contributes to the atmosphere. The large, monochromatic ‘And Still I Rise’ (2005), has a female nude figure emerging out of a metaphorical space of brush strokes. Although the blues vary only a little, Sten-Nicholson creates a space by her control of the brush stroke. This is a gentle image of spiritual triumph against the odds.
‘Holy Ground’ (2003) has the atmosphere of a Nativity scene. It is a night scene with four very distict figures grouped around a female figure, who seems to be awaiting something, perhaps an initiation? It is a small painting, which is very strong and arresting. We don’t know what these figures are gathered for and there is the suggestion of more figures in the background, less distinct than the five. There is a source of bright light from the left.; the figures seem to glow. The central female figure has a figure behind her with what appears to be a halo.
The figures are largely androgynous and emerge out of the darkness with a heavenly light surrounding them. Working with blacks, dark browns and blues in a composition with figures coming out of the darkness is something that this Artist does extremely well. The entire space is aglow with something mystical.
Through her travels with her husband in Asia, Sten-Nicholson was exposed at a deeper level to the beauty of the calligraphic gesture. In 1984 Sten-Nicholson attended Chong’s School of Chinese Painting in Kuala Lampur in Malaysia. The calligraphy she learnt there brought a new dimension to her lines in work such as ‘Caprice’ (2009) and ‘Irons 5‘ (1995) using the traditional ink and rice paper to great effect. These are works of great delicacy and economy of means.
Like Picasso and Matisse, these portraits are based on contour lines and ink wash but seem to capture the essence of the sitter’s features, but we have not much of a sense of their personality. ‘Pan Father’ which is a brush drawing, but not really using the calligraphic lines is a portrait.
In her more recent work, the energy of her work comes from the mixing of media. There is a greater element of risk-taking involved, as her seductive brushstrokes easily draw the viewer in. It is far more difficult to balance the visual information in combining oil pastel with acrylic, inks, printmaking, charcoal drawing. When it works as in the ‘Dance of the Dingolay’ (2008) and ‘Mirror Image’ (2010) it results in very arresting images.
The ‘Dance of the Dingolay’ was exhibited at CARIFESTA 2008 in Guyana. The theme is once again Carnival, but these relatively small works relied on a mixture of pastel marks combined with acrylic paint combined in a non-representational image to create the atmosphere of various bands in Trinidad Carnival. This series was so effective that visitors to the exhibition immediately recognized the bands!
The work of Kamau Brathwaite has always resonated with Lilian in a very profound way, both thematically and in the rhythm that is central to both. In this series, Brathwaite’s use of language is transposed by collaged images. The ‘Mirror’ image series are part of the ‘Tribute to Kamau Brathwaite’ exhibition at the Queen’s Park Gallery in celebration of the Poet’s 80th birthday.
This exhibition will allow you to understand the work of Lilian Sten-Nicholson as you never have before. Come and enjoy it.