Since the late 1980s Australian contemporary artist David Noonan has produced works in a range of media including painting, photography, film, print-making, collage and sculpture. His works often evoke the subconscious realm through their fragmented imagery, allusive qualities and complex layering of historical and cultural references. Animals, actors and masked figures are recurring motifs that imbue his works with a magical atmosphere that is suggestive of childhood memories or half-forgotten dreams.
In 2011 the NGV acquired Untitled with funds made available through the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists. This haunting five-part installation evokes a strange assembly of monstrous puppets, costumed characters and children parading banners. An important work in the artist’s oeuvre and his most ambitious work to date, Untitled extends Noonan’s interest in memory, performance and role-play; themes that have remained persistent in his work for several decades. Like many of his recent sculptures and collages, this installation brings into play a complex web of associations that range from experimental theatre and folk culture to literature and alternative education. Reminiscent of stage sets, theatrical props or classroom dividers, the unusual constructions that comprise this installation employ Noonan’s preferred materials of screenprinted jute and linen fabric and solid birch timber.
Brimming with narrative potential, Untitled emanates a dreamlike quality that encourages a proliferation of possible meanings. ‘My idea was to create a large-scale parade or procession of characters that would appear to be marching along’, he recently stated. ‘I did not want to pin the reading of the work down to a specific scenario. I wanted [it] to be potentially read in a number of ways. Is this a pageant, a parade, a protest event or a celebration?’
Noonan’s working process involves an intuitive approach to the selection and arrangement of found images. Sampled from a personal archive of material gleaned from films, old photographs, magazines, books and the internet – a collection that he calls a ‘library of possibilities’ – the installation brings together ideas and images redolent of past eras as a means of generating new expressive possibilities. Noonan once commented, ‘I think of the content of my work as time travel to some extent, taking things from different eras and bringing them together to form new temporal scenarios’.
David Noonan was born in Ballarat in 1969 and studied painting at Ballarat University and the Victorian College of the Arts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He began exhibiting in Melbourne in 1986. Since 2005 he has been based in London and his work has featured in a number of major international exhibitions of contemporary art, including Altermodern, the 2009 Tate Triennial at Tate Britain, London, where Untitled was first exhibited. An important work by one of Australia’s most influential contemporary artists, Untitled is a greatly valued addition to the NGV collection.
Jane Devery, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2012).