It’s a great honour for me to make this speech for my good friend, long time Jugglers studio artist and Life Drawing Tutor, Nic Plowman and to officially open his show – “Popes, Kings and other fools”.
As a former protestant minister of religion in the non-conformist tradition for 20 years I have some understanding of the concept, framework and philosophical inquiry that underpins these marvellous works and some quite considerable experience of power and intrigue. I am both a former power broker and victim of power plays.
My craft has been the spoken word but religion – particularly both Eastern and Western Christian traditions – has a long tradition of religious iconography including the graffiti marks on the walls of the catacombs of Rome from the early Christian period of Western history. Visual art – and music under such greats as JS Bach – began to flourish during the renaissance and protestant reformation – hence the origins of the “Jugglers’ species”.
The Christian church has always prided itself on being a fool for Christ’s sake and politicians swear to serve their constituents in the same spirit of humility and service. However, in a horrible twist these days we see that Popes, Prime Ministers and Premiers share this mantle in a twisted irony of idiocy and arrogance.
I cannot imagine the Holy See being interested in purchasing any of Nic’s work, but if they did maybe Pope Francis might see through them that more and more of his predecessors and some of his current Cardinals have been involved in too much monkey business. That many Christian and secular institutions have perpetrated and hidden child abuse, is, most likely, beyond the dignity of the primates. No Chimp would do what some priests and community leaders have done to children.
Nic’s work shows not only his exceptional skill as a painter and draftsman – which he hones constantly – but also his reflective path of philosophical inquiry.
The founder of Methodism, Anglican priest John Wesley used to teach his lay preachers that a sermon must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. These works of Nic’s are visual sermons carrying the viewer into uncomfortable spaces that demand a response. They afflict the comfortable at least. If you are a religious person maybe you could buy one for your local parish priest!
These multi-layered images of artist, pope and primate speak to all of us intuitively about our search for wholeness, for meaning, for sensibility. Greek dualistic teaching which divides the human into body, soul and spirit, deeply influenced post Constantinian Christianity right up until today so that we have leaders with no heart, priests with no compassion and politicians with no love . From what we know of Jesus, Buddha and Mohamed there is no division, no dualism. We are all one in god and god is in us all. They taught and lived childlike wonder and welcome, love and respect for the natural order and the beauty not evil of the human body. Wholeness and joy can arrive for humanity with a shift to new ways of seeing and I think Nic’s works are one of the door openers. Nic, like all serious artists, is intuitively wanting to represent both the search for understanding and the moment it might hesitantly arrive and , regardless of the commercial outcome, to continue down that road less travelled. In respect of artists being passionately committed to art and philosophical inquiry, one of the best bits of news I have heard this week around art as protest is the resignation of the chairman of the 2014 Sydney Biennale in the face of the withdrawal of artists from the Biennale because he and his family business, Transfield Holdings, which is a major sponsor of the Biennale, were just awarded the contract for the Australian Government’s Detention Centres. His father was the founder of the Biennale in 1974.
In this exhibition of Nic’s questions have been subtly, beautifully and disturbingly structured.
Someone has said that there is only good and bad art which leads any serious artist to a lifetime of being true to the craft and intuitive inquiry. However subjective this evaluation is, most people and art critics can sense good or bad art.
Nic has painted his soul’s search and his enviable skill into great art that we see here tonight and which, as we take time with, may make us realise are asking our own fleeting questions.
I am very happy to declare this exhibition open.