The experience of lockdown during Covid-19 and the slowing down of time has a resonance in this exhibition. Often working at home, drawing, an important element of Nolan’s practice, became the sole conduit of how she made ‘meaning’ happen and manifested a response in a time of huge uncertainty.Drawing is integral to her studio practice, it is a means to conjure new representations of the world, of making it legible. Sketching, scribbling, note-taking, erasing and sometimes simply expending nervous energy is fundamental to the way Nolan draws. Often made without the intention of being exhibited, pages absorb ideas and begin to suggest material ways to formulate and give shape to often abstract ideas. The line, colours, patterns and forms are a starting point for her expanded practice; from there she transfers this mode of working to encompass painting, sculpture or tapestry.
The paintings have an ethereal and otherworldly quality stemming from years of reading and harvesting ideas from diverse fields; philosophy, archaeology, physics and theology. The figures in the paintings, such as shadowy St. Jerome, the patron saint of archaeology, known for his translation of the bible, and St. Columba, the patron Saint of Derry, who is credited with spreading monastic Christianity Christian culture in Ireland, and Scotland (and overseeing the emergence of an Irish historical record,) reflects Nolan’s love for elaborately honed narratives that become the channel for disseminating both troubling beliefs and great spirituality.
The paintings have an energetic quality to them, a hum, a liveness through her use of colour and motifs that recur throughout her work; suns, spirals, and waveforms give this sense of momentum. These forms also express the macro and the micro, the cosmic to the cellular.
Her works are revealing; representing the unseen, a fluid version of the world that continues to explore the periphery, the otherworld, and questions of ‘meaning’. As we have returned to the everyday, and things are as they were, and we are overloaded with quotidian concerns, those philosophical questions concerning the nature of the human condition have receded. This exhibition is a reminder that existence is delicate, unfathomable and our vocabulary often struggles to encapsulate the profundity and strangeness of being alive. In a time where the world feels as if it is teetering on a precipice of cumulative disasters Nolan provides a provisional space for us to occupy and ruminate on the nature and beauty of existence.