Exhibition review: Nadja Kabriel: Softening the Eyes, Tweed Gallery

Casting appreciative glances on still life paintings.

Painting is a kind of slow cooking in a time of fast food; a wonderful soup of rational propositions, unconscious emotions, half-digested ideas, wide-ranging references, intuitive leaps and random baggage. Sometimes murky, and yet sometimes – as is the case in Nadja Kabriel’s works – the clarity is dazzling.

Kabriel provides convincing notes for her exhibition of still life paintings at the Tweed Gallery. By slowing down time, by carefully scrutinising her surroundings, by filtering her observations and thoughts through the medium of painting, the artist feels better able to understand her environment and herself.

Forensic evidence comes in many forms. It sits in plastic bags in laboratories, it’s filed in manila folders and it hangs on the wall in the form of paintings that contain dense information. It’s hard to imagine a more cunningly potent assemblage of data than still life works: the selection of colours, objects, placement, composition and artistic references.

In these challenging times, the pandemic and its collateral effects have been far-ranging for everyone. Kabriel has been going about her life in this region with her partner and her two children and patiently making these beautiful paintings. They conjure nostalgia, a raft of artistic references and they are informed. They blend and blur contemporary and historic elements, creating resonance between them.

Many have rediscovered markets and enjoyed the chance to get outside, walk around and select fresh produce. Bangalow Market (2021) draws us into a realm of personal involvement and calculation. 

‘That looks good… I wonder what that is… I’d like some of that…’ It prompts memories, smells, tastes, it makes you want to be there.

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Can paintings of flowers really be that potent? Examples clamour for attention, but perhaps one will suffice: It can be argued that Margaret Preston’s bold still life paintings and prints have prompted Australians to reassess notions of identity. 

Kabriel’s Natives (2021) juxtaposes native flowers with European patterned wallpaper and a tablecloth; a homage to Preston. Her work celebrates local flora but also reminds us who we are and the environmental challenges facing us. We can bring the natural indoors, but we must also confront the outdoors.

It’s a pleasure to view this worthy exhibition in a venue only a stone’s throw from the artist’s Bangalow home and it enables a significant opportunity to look backwards and forwards between Kabriel’s still life and Margaret Olley’s in this stunning regional gallery.

Nadja Kabriel: Softening the Eyes, Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre

Softening the eyes will be on display until 20 January 2022

Gillian Wills is an author and arts writer who has published with ArtsHub, Australian Stage Online, Limelight, Griffith Review, Australian Book Review, The Australian, Weekend Review, Good Reading, The Strad (UK) Cut Common, Loudmouth and Artist Profile. Her short stories have been published with Dillydoun Review, Antonym, Dewdrop, Unbelievable Stories and Hare’s Paw Literary Journal. Her memoir, Elvis and Me: how a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch Pty was released in 2016 in Australia, America, Canada, The UK and NZ.