Nina Dolan British, b. 1955

“Iconography comes from my own calligraphic marks, I am interested in capturing a moment, a seamless web of eternal change, like currents of rivers, wind, and rain, the shapes I see walking — lines in the pavement, shadows, crescents, windows, negative spaces.”

Nina Dolan’s abstract work is beautifully distinguished by a poetic sense of geometry, movement, decoration, and colour. An established artist who has worked in the field for over twenty years, Dolan is highly regarded for her practice and contribution to teaching and dialogues on the art of making. 

Formally, the artist’s calligraphic lines and imagery draw comparisons to the intricacies of Paul Klee and the idiosyncratic nature of the work of Joan Miró. Dolan also admires the work of Antoni Tàpies, Jackson Pollock, and the American Colour Field Painters and finds herself deeply engaged in the exploration of line and gesture in the work of Brice Marden whose practice she describes as a “continuous extension of lyrical abstraction”. As well, the two artists share an interest in Chinese Calligraphy and Taoist philosophy. 

Indeed, Dolan’s sources are many and include photography, music, dance, and literature such as Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird, Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, and Elif Shafak's 10 Minutes 38 seconds in This Strange World. Of particular importance is the artist’s collection of photograph albums of London and the country. Dolan notes she is interested not only in the girds but also the shapes left behind. An enduring fascination with the work of Hokusai and the tactile surface of woodcuts drive her search for this “risen mark.” The artist shares: “I made up my own formulae to hold the mark and found various ways to make this calligraphic image. I wanted to capture a moment in time.” 

As well, Dolan’s connection to music and classic dance inform her practice: “movement comes into taking a line for a walk or even when pouring paint, like performance.” Indeed, the artist’s practice is one of constant material experimentation with the movement of and within mediums. Most recently, she began staining pouring, allowing the paint to dry and working within this top layer creating shapes and grids. This is a process of drawing into the paint revealing shapes that “come from the real world as if a visual dictionary in my head.” Dolan notes while she cannot explain fully the condensation of these images, they do refer in part to her interest in the pictograms of Egyptian sculptures, Rosetta stone marks and Assyrian reliefs seen in the British Museum.  

This is an evolution of form, best described as form of contemporary automatism. As the artist begins, stories, ideas and words and sketches function as emblems of journeys and experiences. Imagery reveals itself through a fluid artistic approach creating the dense textile like surface of her networked multi-media works. Surreal configurations of form and paint remind one of the strange biomorphic creatures and plant forms of Yves Tanguy. In other pictures, stippled pigmented lines and shapes seem to be at the intersection of intricacy of tapestry, and the mark making of pointillism and abstract expressionism. In all of the work, Dolan’s way of layering colours, marks, brush, tape and paint build a calligraphic yet sculptural sensibility. There is, a methodical yet organic feel to this haptic automatic work. 

As such, Dolan’s practice feeds off of accidental relationships between medium and composition, she shares: “I may make the paint very fluid to capture water or add a material to make a particular mark or surface. I also make different instruments to apply the paint, not just paint brushes. I love the challenge of working out different colour palettes. Changes happen in the work through the making process and feeling it and being present. I want the viewer to see the construction, brush marks, the journey etc rather like an archaeologist, digging for more information.”

This journey is a symbiotic one, forms carry and transfer from one piece to another, posing the question “how do you capture the wind?” And so, Dolan seeks to capture something poetically transient noting her approach is inspired in part by Taoist philosophy. In this way, Dolan’s commitment to the expression of the ephemeral, and material experimentation have allowed the artist to create an abstract visual iconography of movement quite her own. 

 

Rosa JH Berland