Words by Aaron Fell-Fracasso
Despite a late start to making art and his own claims of being a hobbyist, Frank Nowlan has captured the attention and support of some prominent figures in the art world, including curator and artist, Glenn Barkley and curator and collector, Peter Fay. He has also been included in a number of Regional Gallery exhibitions such as the Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, Wollongong Gallery and Hazelhurst Regional Gallery. He has had articles published in magazines such as Art Collector and Artist Profile and yet Nowlan has denied himself the title of "Artist".
So if not an artist, what does this retired schoolteacher from Thirroul see himself as? And perhaps more importantly, for what purpose does Frank Nowlan paint?
After the sellout exhibition "Locale" at The Egg & Dart last year, which was largely a selection of paintings depicting old quirky houses from the local area, I was keen to put together a show of works exemplifying the other side of Frank. The artworks that reveal that there is a lot more to Frank's practice than pulling up a stool and easel in the studio on a Sunday and 'just doing it'.
It didn't take long during my studio visit to put together a collection of artworks that scratch past the mild persona of the man. Within five minutes of sifting amongst paintings of houses, rugby league games and cockatoos, I'd found a series of artworks that suggested more. Paintings depicting children being lead by an adult figure into a dark ominous church with clouds gathered overhead. Images of schoolgirls lined up in a military march formation and children locked in cages. Portraits of men dressed in suits, wearing Livery collars with the Wollongong City Council insignia, each with their own prop suggesting a narrative.
Sorting through each painting that I'd put aside, Frank told me their stories. Recollections of events that happened during his own childhood and school days, newspaper articles, stories from places he had visited and from our own town. All not unusual of Frank's work, however there was a difference in Frank's manner when he told me their stories. A nervous giggle, a hushed voice and a finger to the lips gestured, a stoop of the head and even a glance over the shoulder as if someone might be listening. These were serious issues that were being confronted.
In an article by Glenn Barkley, Nowlan expresses "...occasionally I feel I am close to being an artist where the paintings are a little more thought provoking." (Artist profile, Issue 28, 2014) This, to me, is exactly what makes Frank Nowlan an artist, he continuously strives to develop his craft and do more than 'just paint a quirky picture'.
Things We Don’t Talk About opens June 12, 2015 at The Egg & Dart.