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Noonan, David - 2014.15

David Noonan

Untitled 2014
silkscreen on linen collage, mounted on board
214 x 304 cm
Purchased 2014

The theatrical images in David Noonan’s monochrome screenprints come from a library of images from disparate time periods that he has built up from scouring second-hand shops. Many of them capture actors applying make-up, scenes from twentieth-century experimental theatre, and the Japanese theatre traditions of Noh and Butoh. This act of accumulating discarded images was a way Noonan came to know the city of London, after he arrived in 2005, and the publishing cultures of Europe more broadly; he notes how in Europe, different material was available to that which he previously amassed in Melbourne.[1]

His recombination of different images and eras is also reflected in the physicality of the artwork, particularly in the way the surface is built up through screenprinting images onto pieces of linen, then reconstructing the parts as a collage, often leaving the overlapping edges unfinished. In Untitled 2014, this approach follows the Japanese – predominately working-class – technique of boro repair, which uses a piece of salvaged fabric in a different design to the garment being repaired, and is often applied with a contrasting coloured thread. Where the original boro textile in the image was sewn, the reconstruction in Untitled is glued to the support, but appears to be sewn, referencing trompe l’oeil.

In addition to the theatre scenes, the collaged pieces of raw linen are screenprinted with images of patterns and surface texture of fabrics from Japan and, more recently, England and the United States. The artworks that include a large number of differently sized pieces of linen and patterns resemble ‘waggas’, the Australian quilts or blankets made from offcuts of old garments, swatches and flour sacks. The result is that the abstract composition in works such as Untitled 2014 appear to rely on pragmatism, as if the arrangement arose through sheer necessity and available materials, rather than the artist’s aesthetic choices. However, the artist has, in fact, sourced particular linens to create specific relationships between the abstract image of the textile and the figurative image that it is combined with.

The types of theatre Noonan reproduces in his artworks use pared-back set designs, so that the audience’s focus remains on the actors and their spatial relationship to the stage set; it is the audience who must conjure the context of the scene. Without the context of the play, it difficult to understand what is happening in the reproduced scene. The relationship between the three sets of performers in Untitled 2014, for instance, is unclear. In interviews, the artist evades pinning down the references for the sourced images. He aims to evoke an ‘atmosphere or tone’ and to keep the images ‘floating’ in free association, rather than explicate their meaning and close down viewers’ readings.[2]

Today, our screens are awash with free-floating digital images, and yet Noonan’s chosen sources and methods, though sometimes inclusive of digital technologies (such as scanners, cameras and computers), appear to fall on the side of the analogue and the handmade. This combination of technologies, and images that reference the breadth of the twentieth century, evoke something of the contemporary: the coexistence of multiple time periods simultaneously.

Ellie Buttrose is Curator of Contemporary Australian Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

[1] David Noonan, quoted in Anna Davis, ‘A Conversation with David Noonan’, Ocular, 15 November 2015,, accessed 19 December 2016.

[2] Mollie Frankel, ‘David Noonan’, Hunger Magazine, August 2015, pp.176–79,  and Davis, op. cit.