'Femme de la Nouvelle Calédonie after Piron' (detail) 2014, acrylic and oil on linen, 137 x 91 cm. Photograph Rob Little RLDI

Close Encounters

an exhibition by


Opening on Wed 13 July 2016, 6.30pm to 8pm
(To register your attendance at the Opening, please click here)

Alliance Française Eildon Gallery
51 Grey St, ST KILDA

Exhibition dates: 06 to 31 July 2016
This exhibition is part of the program of the Bastille Day French Festival Melbourne

In 1791 two French naval frigates, the Espérance and Recherche, under command of Contre-Admiral Bruni d'Entrecasteaux left Brest. Their mission was to search for the explorer La Pérouse, missing since departing Botany Bay in 1788. The D'Entrecasteaux voyage re-traced the last known route of La Pérouse in the environ of Australia, the Western Pacific and Indonesia. In addition, D'Entrecasteaux was instructed to 'take every measure to render the expedition useful and advantageous to navigation, geography, commerce and the arts and sciences'.[1] To achieve this, a group of well equipped savants were selected to accompany the voyage. Included was the gifted naturalist Jacques-Julien Houtou La Billardière. La Billardière later published his narrative account of the expedition accompanied by a richly illustrated Atlas. The engravings in the Atlas were derived from the works of expedition artist Jean Piron whose drawings were a very personal record of places, events and people encountered. In this exhibition Close Encounters, I quote and re-present many of the black and white Atlas engravings as paintings to explore the nature of various encounters between members of the d'Entrecasteaux expedition and Indigenous people during the voyage.

Three main aims directed the way I re-presented the historical imagery. First, I wished to allude to the European cultural framework that informed the way Piron constructed his drawings. The framework which is evidenced by Piron's use of idealised human forms in classical poses and the deliberate creation of balanced, harmonious images is preserved in my paintings. My second objective was to refer to the complex situation of encounter in which the original drawings were made. I satisfied this aim by re-presenting the Atlas images with various items of Indigenous material culture or Oceanic patterning. This strategy offers a new context for interpreting the Atlas images and a visual metaphor for the transformative experience of encounter. Finally, I believed including reference to the desire to exchange goods important. The survival of the voyagers depended on successfully bartering for water and food, such as the coconut. The painted coconuts installed in this exhibition point to the central role of the process of material exchange in the initiation of encounters between voyagers and Indigenous people.

Nicola Dickson, 2016

[1] La Billardière, Jacques Julien Houtou de. 1800a. Relation du voyage à la recherche de La Pérouse ... pendant les années 1791, 1792, et pendant la 1ere. et la 2de. année de la République française ..., 2 vols. Paris: H.J. Jansen, xv.

'Encounter -des Îles des Amis II', 2014, Acrylic and oil on timber panel each 60 x 40 cm, Canberra, Photograph Rob Little RLDI

About the artist

Nicola Dickson is a Canberra artist and graduate of the ANU School of Art. She uses painting and drawing to explore her long-standing interest in perceptions of the natural world in Australia. This interest was pursued in depth in her PhD research project at the ANU, which she completed in 2010.

Nicola exhibits regularly in Canberra and Sydney and was a finalist in the Sulman Prize in 2013 and Highly commended in the Waterhouse Natural Science Prize in 2013 and 2014. Her paintings and drawings are held in several public collections including Parliament House and the ACT Legislative Assembly

In 2014, as one of the recipients of the ANU's Vice Chancellor's College Visiting Artist Fellowships, Nicola joined a collaborative trans-national project investigating the collections assembled during the D'Entrecasteaux voyage to Australia and the Pacific in the late 18th Century. The paintings made within this project were initially exhibited at the Canberra Museum and Gallery late in 2015 and are now on display at the Eildon Gallery, Melbourne.

‘Calao de l’île de Waygiou after Audebert’, 2014, acrylic and oil on linen, 137 x 111 cm. Photograph Rob Little RLDI

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