Noël Skrzypczak interview | Mountain Paintings @ Neon Parc

Noël Skrzypczak, Mountain Painting #10, 2014
Courtesy the artist and Neon Parc

'Splashy lost-at-sea chaos', 'sculptural toxic oozes', 'globular explosions'. Writers tie themselves in knots trying to talk about Noël Skrzypczak's work. In the process they produce prose that is almost as colourful, psychedelic and atmospheric as Skrzypczak's paintings. Here’s Edward Colless, in typically florid form, on some of her earlier work:

'The colour schemes swerve from anatomical to astronomical, from intestinal to incandescent Pop, even from gore to gelato; but they spill, splat and mingle without becoming mud. The forms may be fluid (darkly vaporous or liquid) yet… they can also congeal in luscious reefs or fantastic floating islands hung with stalactites or with languid tendrils like Spanish moss swaying from their shorelines' (in Australian Art Collector 2007).

Joyous no? Writing about Skrzypczak's work is a bit like trying to write about music (i.e. a fool's errand for all but the most loquacious logophiles). In fact Skrzypczak's paintings are themselves a lot like music, and not just because the of neon hues. Like music they get better with repeat, preferably immersive, encounters. Like music they're more about mood and energy and emotion, things that are better felt than observed. And like music (or at least the best kind of music), they have the air of spontaneity and chaos but are in fact rather clever, lucid and the product of formidable technical know-how.

Noël Skrzypczak, Mountain Painting #7, 2014
Courtesy the artist and Neon Parc

Interview with Noël Skrzypczak:

Can you tell me a little about the paintings in your new exhibition at Neon Parc?

The six paintings on show at Neon Parc at the moment are part of my "Mountain Painting" series. They have bright, high-key colours - think of clear mountain light and high altitude air - and seemingly torn or cut forms which are layered in a collage-like way. There is also a lot of use of the stripes which I associate with mountains. Mountains? Stripes? It's a bit of a long story.

A number of years ago I was leafing through a book on the early-Renaissance artist Giotto and I came across an image from around 1235 depicting St Francis 'talking to the birds', by Bonaventura Berlinghieri (great name isn't it?). There is a fantastic mountain in this image which is basically a strange blobby arch form with striations in it. I went to Europe last year and noticed that the striations were commonly used not only in other paintings of that era but also in architecture and in even-more-ancient artworks, from Egypt for example. One of the reasons for all these stripes, I think, is to create an illusion of light or life-energy. Mountains, too, seem to have a special place in the paintings of the pre-Renaissance, and after too. Religious scenes often take place in mountainous settings - rocky and stark, blobby and abstracted.

I spent a year making paintings based on Berlinghieri's mountain form - the "Talking to the Birds" series - of which only a few were successful. I experimented with the blobby arch mountain form, and ways to create light by placing stripes within my pours. That's where the stripes in these current "Mountain Paintings" come from. They are flat, abstract paintings on one level but to me they are also landscapes with space and light, and though there are obstacles, you can travel through them.

Noël Skrzypczak, Mountain Painting #9, 2014
Courtesy the artist and Neon Parc

When people talk about your work, they frequently liken it to a Rorschach ink blot test. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that phrase used. Sure the works are abstract, and also kind of inky and blobby, but the problem is ‘Rorschach-like’ also implies that the paintings don’t mean or represent anything in particular. It suggests that they were made accidentally and that whatever one might see in them is accidental too; entirely in the eye of the beholder. So a few questions from that…

Are you paintings based on anything figurative or observed? Do you want viewers to see or feel something in particular?

Certainly some of my paintings directly refer to the Rorschach ink blot, for example Hourglass-aphids-aviatrix- from 2007 and Close of 2011. These works utilise corner spaces, with the painting symmetrically mirrored on the walls as though they had been folded and unfolded with the paint smeared between them. I wanted to allude to psychological space with these paintings, and to activate the corner. I suppose some of my other paintings that are inky or that have organic forms in them might tempt viewers to find a bunny rabbit or a hat or whatever in the forms, but this isn't really the point of them. There is almost always something that I want to represent in my paintings, a type of space or mood, and there are ways that I can try to communicate this by use of colour, scale, texture, and so on.

My paintings are often based on nature combined with a mood or sensation of space, or some other experience. For example one of my early series - the Dog Day paintings - featured big abstract panels that to me represented time, or life-span, or maybe death. These are real things that you can't paint figuratively.  In other works like "Monsoon" and "In the Woods" I found myself spending a lot of time looking at books about deep sea creatures, rainforests, caves, volcanoes and natural disasters. Mood is a big thing in my work too. My paintings haven't ever been, till now anyway, purely formal, though formal concerns certainly do come into it.

Do you ever scratch your head when people tell you what they think your work is about, or what they like about a particular painting?

It doesn't happen very often that anyone talks to me about what they see in my paintings (sad face) so if they did I'd just be happy that another human being spent time thinking and looking at my work! It's a great feeling when someone takes the time to really take in a painting that I've spent so long making, especially when there is so much else to take up one's time - Youtube, Facebook and everything else! This isn't to say I think painting isn't important, it certainly is to me.

You talk about wanting to ‘set the paint free’? How much is chance and chaos a part of your process?

My practice is largely about balancing chance and control. When I first used the phrase 'setting the paint free' I was still at art school, and I had come to the realisation that paint can be like a mini force of nature and colours can be more vibrant, more energetic, when used in a certain way. As an artist of course there has to be a direction or intention - it can't all be about observing what paint does - but allowing chance to play a part leads to surprising, delightful and sometimes powerful accidents, and it keeps me excited about painting.

Noël Skrzypczak, Mountain Painting #8, 2014
Courtesy the artist and Neon Parc

You’ve been doing more and more large-scale painterly installations - I’m thinking here of your work at Heide and GOMA. How have you been playing with your practice lately? How important is it to keep experimenting with scale and materials? 

Scale is a really important element of a painting. It changes everything - how colours behave, how we relate to the work, etc. Working on a large scale poses a very interesting challenge and whenever I am given the opportunity I try to take it. I have a lot of ideas about what to do on a large scale but it's not something you can do unless you have the space.

This exhibition at Neon Parc is a suite of new paintings on canvas. Do you discover anything new moving from buildings back to canvas (or vice versa)?

The works on canvas and wall works feed off each other and often ideas for wall-works come from paintings I've made on canvas. The different formats provide quite different challenges - on canvas, the edges establish boundaries to a self-contained space that I can go along with, or rebel against. With wall works, the architecture, light and function of a space are key elements that the painting has to work with or against, and that is part of the challenge. The new paintings at Neon Parc would translate amazingly into wall paintings - hopefully I'll get a chance to do this in the future.

>> Maura Edmond
>> Posted 12 February 2014

Noël Skrzypczak, Mountain Paintings, 2014 (install)
Courtesy the artist and Neon Parc

Noël Skrzypczak
Mountain Paintings
Neon Parc
1/53 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Wed - Sat 12pm - 6pm