The Arts Company through August 31
WORDS Margaret F.M. Walker
Laura Nugent’s paintings are often easy to spot for their meditative geometry dominated by small, irregular rectangles of color that weave through and stack upon each other, cohering into larger shape relations that stretch to the edges of the painting surface.
There never seems to appear a strong diagonal, but one will often notice lines that gently list with and against each other. In Between His Skin and Hers these slight slants create an element of interest to pull the eye across the canvas, but they ultimately balance each other. Similarly, in The Importance of Going Grey, thick blocks of color that abut one another tilt slightly in the manner of books on a shelf fighting the resistance of a bookend. Nugent creates her paintings entirely with a free hand. She never employs a straight-edge or tape and instead allows lines to find any straightness and levelness through a buildup of layers. This approach, though, with its inherent remaining imperfections, will remind viewers of the painter’s active hand and, indeed, the time and focus spent creating each of these works.
Nugent has been working in this abstract, pattern-focused manner for almost a decade now. She expresses an attraction to the aesthetics of Minimalism; their restraint, she feels, demonstrates maturity and confidence. On philosophy, emphasizing the removal of the artist, she differs from these mid-century artists, though. One of the first reactions that people often have to her paintings is regarding their patchwork quality. Nugent shared that her work used to be more precise and that people would actually think them to be quilts from afar. In reaction, she has sought ways to maintain the geometrical and folk qualities while emphasizing that these are in fact paintings. One of her methods has been “allowing paint to be paint.” Notice in In Reaction to His Life and many others how the dripping paint adds vertical lines that are consistent with the overall aesthetic and yet wholly different for their source in gravity rather than Nugent’s own invention. She has found that this emphasis on allowing her hand to be evident and allowing the materials to work naturally actually creates a need for more decision-making on her part regarding what to cover and what to leave as the layers of paint build. These small inconsistencies, she finds, “create more energy on the canvas and challenge me to practice a different kind of restraint as an artist. In the end it is exciting because there are always some surprises, even for me.”
In a work like Floridan one will notice that the geometrical focus rotates. Just as Nugent seeks to create energy in these purely abstract works through layers, color harmonies, and little imperfections, she seeks the gravity of a canvas while creating it. While she often begins a new canvas with ideas in mind, the layout and orientation are not planned in advance. With this painting and others like it, she turns the painting as she goes until she feels that it develops a sort of gravity. And yet, if the buyer finds the weight in a different orientation, they can easily rotate the painting to discover a new way of viewing it.
One element of Nugent’s work that is striking in person and yet difficult to grasp in an image is the surface texture. Thick layers of paint serve to straighten lines, make color subtler, and create a sense of depth. She often works with a palette knife, drawing it across the surface to catch the eye in varied ways and sometimes even bring about the idea of shadow. Sometimes sandpaper is the tool of choice to add more life to an area through texture.
The Undiscovered Countries series highlights Nugent’s emphasis on layers and texture, which are all the more evident for these paintings’ small size. Originally intended as color and compositional studies, these works are most often painted on the covers of books. There is often a harmony among them, resulting from the fact that she will work on several simultaneously. This will manifest in color, often more vibrant than in her larger works, and geometry of lines. These Undiscovered Countries are akin to the building blocks that fit together on her larger canvases but stand alone well for their dynamic surfaces.
In her own words, Nugent expresses, “My job as a painter is to take small moments and make them spectacular,” and she does just that through a committed focus on geometrical and color harmonies, while allowing for the humanity of her hand and the inherent qualities of paint to remain in unpredictable ways. These paintings are well worth an in-person look at The Arts Company, where she is represented.