Nicole de Mestre: Vessels of Mass Consumption

Nicole de Mestre’s recent exhibition at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown was a thought-provoking experience.

Nicole de Mestre
Pods; Urban stalagmites

First, the work itself. I’ve seen and written a little about it before (23-Oct-2016). This time it was seen en masse, in a bright, light, open space. Nicole had hung groupings of similar types of work together, the multiples providing coherence and structure, allowing the viewer to appreciate the variety and interest within a particular group while overarching themes and approaches to material became apparent.

Nicole de Mestre
Tales of the Sea series

Nicole’s process is driven by found materials. Living in NSW’s Central Coast area, tide debris on beaches, kerb-side piles of domestic discards, and social networks are rich sources. The worn and weathered surfaces are treated with care and respect to reveal their beauty.

Nicole de Mestre
left: It’s not easy being green.
right: Where the forest meets the factory

Nicole de Mestre
Ocean Nest series

The smaller upper entry level was a rainbow of colours. Most of these could loosely be called “baskets”, or of course “vessels”, I think generally coiled and stitched. Nicole’s extensive collecting habits are apparent, for example It’s not easy being green incorporates Xmas trees, shadecloth, wire, whippersnipper cord, fishing net and tent fabric as well as the more conventional cotton and rope.

I enjoyed the careful editing of materials so that each piece had its own story and identity, the detail and texture created by Nicole’s handling of materials, the use of found stands which gave baskets more presence and added a pleasing contrast of dark, hard, straight lines of manufactured forms backgrounding the more organic happenstance of the vessels.

Nicole de Mestre
The beach below was deserted

Also on this level were two small, framed collages using textiles and found materials. Nicole told me these had been made at the beach, sketches – a process she is keen to explore further. I found these fresh and exciting. The sense of place, of working quickly and intuitively with materials found to hand gives energy to the work. They come from an entirely different direction to Alberto Burri’s collages (29-Apr-2018), but there is an affinity in the textures and forms created. I’m slowly building a brief for my own investigation based on these, extending my past experiments in collage.

The long wall of the larger lower area of the gallery showed series of assemblages – Foundscapes, effectively landscapes, and Tales of the Sea which had two variants, sailing vessels and the scarcely seaworthy piecemeal improvisations of refugee boats. Two came home with me, although one only briefly.

This sailing boat has a sense of movement and urgency. The sails are full, the flag bends in the stiff breeze. I hope a welcome addition to a friend’s harbour-side home, responding to the views outside, the interests of the family, and the layered, textured, and varied collection of objects within.

Now hanging in my workroom, and catch the early steamer is one of the group of assemblages that reference the experience of refugees, risking everything in the hope of a new life in safety and security.

Nicole de Mestre
and catch the early steamer
(Tales of the Sea series)

It took some careful consideration before deciding that I could live with this day to day. I find it beautiful, full of texture and interest and movement, I love the combination of strange and mysterious oddments, but that aesthetic response must be shadowed by the history behind. There’s still a level of discomfort, but in an undoubtedly self-serving way I find comfort in being uncomfortable, in being reminded, in reflecting on the human ability to find beauty in dreadful circumstance (that last would be much more convincing if it wasn’t others’ circumstances). Nicole told me she tries to walk a fine line, exploring issues and raising awareness in her themes while still retaining the appeal in her work for a wider, potentially purchasing, audience.

Nicole’s assemblages and collages include snippets of text. I think all of Tales of the Sea include phrases from a book, Tales of the Sea. Keith Lo Bue is another artist who uses this sort of idea (for example, The story of a shadow), also using assemblage of found materials. It’s an effective way to provide additional depth and narrative to a work, and I think could provide both challenge and guidance in the many decisions that are made in the process of creating a work. Most of my reading for some years now has been information-based – history, artists, techniques. While not seeking narrative, perhaps I could attempt to add a poetic note… Scary thought, which makes me think I need to try it.

Nicole de Mestre
Totally wired

Totally wired has the energy and exuberance I love in pieces incorporating wire. This work reminded me of Tracey Deep (29-Sep-2016), who also finds inspiration in domestic discards.

Nicole de Mestre
Cooler basket

This piece include parts from a fan guard, a recurring material in Nicole’s work. It can be seen above in some of the Tales of the Sea series, and in a more restrained way as a rim to a basket form. This year’s Sculpture at Scenic World exhibition includes an installation by Nicole, What lies beneath, a series of spheres constructed from fan guards (https://www.sculptureatscenicworld.com.au
/artwork/nicole-de-mestre/
), and apparently she has hundreds more stashed in her workspace. It’s a testament to the power of social networking (acquiring the material), and fascinating to see the variety of ways in which an rather bland form can be reinvented. (It happens I have one or two squirreled away in my garage, which may surface one day).

at Artisans in the Gardens

Another form and texture Nicole returns to in her work is the base of a tin can. They have been used in banksia-like forms in Artisans in the Gardens (23-Oct-2016), and in the current exhibition as the base of some baskets.

Nicole de Mestre
Some like it hot

On a larger scale is Some like it hot, which uses the base of an old water heater.

Detail

Above are a couple of shots to show the amount of detail that is included in the work, and this same care and attention is apparent throughout the exhibition.

Nicole is addressing serious issues in her work, here particularly environmental concerns and the plight of refugees, but it is done with a light and often quirky touch. Titles of works can be evocative – Ocean nest, The rising tide, Ghost bird – or jokey – Inglorious basket, Enough rope, Rabbit proof basket. Even the title of the exhibition has multiple meanings. Earlier I used the word “intuitive”, but in fact I think her skills in recognising potential in apparent rubbish and in combining materials in beautiful and interesting ways are the result of long and thoughtful practice. I was lucky enough to have a long chat with Nicole in the exhibition space, hearing about her somewhat eccentric and creatively rich childhood, her studies and work in woven textiles, her later training and work as an art and then special ed teacher. I’m hugely impressed by her work ethic and productivity – apparently list-making is key. I was also flattered that she invited me to the exhibition via a comment on this blog, and that she finds my writing inspiring and thought provoking.

In fact I’ve had such a strong and positive reaction to my whole experience of the exhibition that it’s been difficult to write this blog post. One concern was just being too gushing. I’ve had to tease out what exactly speaks to me that I want to bring back to my own work. The use of basketry techniques and metal, particularly wire, the weaving background, was always going to catch my interest. There is texture, variation, delightful details. The work is well done, but there is no attempt towards perfection – both materials and Nicole’s aesthetic sensibilities lead to the pleasure and beauty of imperfection. There is power in responding to materials, seeking out the best and the potential within them rather than just forcing them to your will.

Environmental concerns I find difficult and at the moment I don’t want to go there – or not in a major way. Tricky actually in basketry circles, as many makers are sensitive to environmental issues, harvesting their own materials or recycling. I have lived all my life in cities, I’m employed playing with numbers on a computer in a city office, I might be forced to but at the moment can’t imagine a life without plastic – in so many parts of my life I’m clearly a cost to the environment. Add in that I’m often cynical of claims that something or other is “environmentally friendly” or at least more so than something else. What does that mean exactly? How careful and thorough and complete and non-self-interested was any life-cycle assessment? So respect to those who do, and waste avoidance where I can, but no environmental themes for me.

Nicole asked me about this blog, saw me as a writer. Not the way I see myself. I write here because it helps me think. I write because I want to remember, and computers are better at that than I am. I write because it gives me a sense of progress (nope, I will not go down the rabbit hole of what progress is or whether we should seek it – this post is already long). For quite a while I used it as my learning log for OCA studies, my main means of communication with my tutors.

It turns out this blog is approaching ten years old. My first post was July 2008 and I wanted to record my learning as a beginner weaver (my 2008 posts); this will be post number 636. I’m pleased if my writing is of interest or use to others (a quick check shows my most viewed post by far was on diversified plain weave, back in October 2009, over 10,000 views). I’m mindful that what I post will be read. But really it’s all about me and all for me.

So now I’m faced with a recurring problem – how do I stop writing? (this post, not the blog generally). No grand conclusions. No clear takeouts for the future, although I think there are quite a few ideas scattered above I want to bring forward in a new brief. So for once I’ll lapse into the domestic. It’s my son’s turn to cook, I’m hungry and something smells interesting. Time to investigate.

Links
Council media release for exhibition https://www.innerwest.nsw.gov.au/news-hot-topics/media/media-releases/vessels-of-mass-consumption-at-chrissie-cotter-gallery
Nicole’s website: http://nicoledemestre.com/
Nicole on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Nicole-de-Mestre-artist-228097140561051/

1 Response to “Nicole de Mestre: Vessels of Mass Consumption”


  1. 1 Nicole de Mestre May 23, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Thank you so much for this glowing review…I was very excited to meet and speak to you after having admired your writing for some time!


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