by Andrew Lambirth
Nina Dolan’s paintings are like statements of belief, exuberant acts of witness to the glory of the world. Although reminiscent of things seen, they are by no means illustrative, being composed of strong colour and expressive linear forms in space. Resolutely abstract, they are pleasurable, beautiful, intriguing. They encourage the enquiring eye to make associational links with personal experience, and thus their imagery can find its way to the very heart of specific memories.
Despite giving an impression of shifting veils of paint, shimmering layers which appear and disappear through a permeable surface, Dolan’s paintings engage firmly with materiality – the physical presence of the paint on the canvas is as important as the formal language with which it communicates. She uses a wide range of media, including oils, acrylics and varnishes, and has invented and refined a variety of ways of applying them. Her methods of application, whether drips, squids or pours, are just as ingenious as the individual painting requires. She is knowledgeable about techniques and the individual properties of colours and paint types. She enjoys, for instance, the effects of traditional glazes layered over her images, or the sudden juxtaposition of a metallic modern pigment with a gesso ground.
She relishes the hard raised edges and thick lines she can achieve with enamel paint, which remind her of the outline effect of Japanese woodcuts.
Days of observation are countered or balanced by days of deliberation. These are not Action paintings – they’re thought out, planned in a way which embraces the instinctual but subjects it to rigorous analysis. Dolan likes the precise, discrete nature of her marks, the fact that they don’t overlap unless she wants them to. She likes that effect of crisp separateness. ‘I don’t really want them to bleed’, she says. Her images have the authority of maps, recording the past and present, puffing a shape to experience.
Sometimes something on the radio, a news item or piece of music, might trigger off an image. Sometimes she says: ‘I write stories to myself’. Dolan loves stories and reads constantly: Paul Auster, Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami. (Khaled Hosseini’s ‘Kite Runner’ is an especial favourite.) In the studio are pinned up drawings, newspaper cuttings, photographs, snippets of material, even sweet wrappers.
All these things can enter the world of her paintings, but only in an oblique fashion, and are transformed in the process. Dolan’s paintings contain only indirect references to life, not descriptions.
‘Wild at Heart’ and ‘Powamuya’ were painted after a trip to Arizona. There is an inescapable reference to dance in the vibrant swirling movement of these extravagant linear rhythms. It is no surprise, therefore, to discover that Powamuya is directly based on an Arizonan spirit dance of that name, and that Dolan herself trained as a dancer until she was 20. The discipline of that is evident in all her work; also the activity and moments of poise.
Besides Japanese prints, Dolan has looked with attention and understanding at other sorts of Oriental art, particularly those? involving calligraphy and hieroglyphics. Likewise she has been excited by cave painting. Dolan continues:
“Consciously, all my work is about tension and chaos or harmony?, but there is humour here too, and ambiguity“
*Andrew Lambirth is a writer, critic and curator. Currently the art critic for The Spectator, he has written for a wide range of publications including The Sunday Times and The Independent. From 1990 to 2002 he was Contributing Editor of RA, the Royal Academy of Arts magazine. He is the author of numerous art books, including Ken Kiff, L.S. Lowry Conversation Pieces, Craigie Aitchison, Kitaj, Allen Jones and Maggi Hambling: The Works.