Nada Herman, Scion of an Australian Art Dynasty
Beach Study, Paintings, 16 x 12The granddaughter of Sali Herman, one of Australia’s most famous painters, Nada Herman grew up in an atmosphere that nurtured art and started painting in oils at age eight, sharing a studio with both her grandfather and her father, “TED,” also an accomplished and admired artist. Although her grandfather courted controversy by painting the slums of Sydney in the 1950s, when civic boosters disapproved of such subject matter, his work, as Robert Hughes pointed out in his definitive volume “The Art of Australia,” was invariably upbeat.
“Is not happiness itself a philosophy?” Sali Herman famously declared, and his granddaughter, Nada Herman, continues the tradition of joyful exuberance in her landscapes, city scenes, marine scenes and floral studies bursting with life, color, and movement.
“I believe nothing is static,” she says. “A humble flower or piece of fruit has a life force.”
Her beachscapes, with their surfers, sunbathers, bright blankets and umbrellas are where she captures this life force most spectacularly. Employing a wet-on-wet oil technique, she uses both brush and palette knife, sometimes even squeezing pigment straight from the tube, to evoke a palpable sense of sweeping seaside vistas of sand and surf which are notable for their vigor and vivacity.
To take one splendid example, her oil on canvas “The Beach” is an especially animated composition in which many tiny figures are seen reclining on colorful blankets on the sand or romping along the shoreline, as gulls soar overhead and sailboats grace the horizon. Here, Herman’s painterly energy is especially apparent in the broad, free strokes of pigment depicting the curling white foam of the waves, and her coloristic boldness is just as evident in the streaks of luminous blue and pink hues that enliven the blue sky like runaway comets. The entire canvas evokes a festive sense of holiday pleasure that communicates itself powerfully to the viewer.
The populous intricacy of Herman’s compositions may remind one of the British faux-naive painter L.S. Lowry, although he employed a dingy palette influenced by the smoky atmosphere of England’s industrial north, while her ruddy, sunsplashed colors are closer in spirit to those of her countryman Sidney Nolan.
Particularly vibrant is “Manly Beach,” with its golden sand, shapely, curving surf, and green foliage in the background. Herman, however, can also delight us with more mellow blue hues reminiscent of Raoul Dufy when she so chooses, as seen in both “Lavender Bay Sydney, and “Neutrel Bay Sydney.” Especially lively is the latter, with its view of a bridge, the city skyline, and a procession of white sailboats evoking a sense of breezy excitement to the bay.
The large scale of Nada Herman’s work invariably increases the impact of her paintings, lending them an expansiveness that is notable in her multi-figure beach and cityscapes, as well as in less busy outdoor compositions, such as “Studio View.” In this relatively serene canvas, capturing sailboats on a lake, bracketed between gracefully curving trees, her subtle blending of pinks, yellows and blues suggests echoes of Cezanne.
Yet Nada Herman’s most constant inspiration is the memory of painting alongside her grandfather and father as a child in the studio where she still works, a formative experience that was celebrated last year in a three-generation retrospective at the Manly Art Gallery Museum and continues in the present exhibition through the work of the sole surviving member of that gifted trio.
–– Maureen Flynn
Nada Herman, Agora Gallery, Feb. 10–March 1, 2012. Reception: Thurs. Feb. 16, 6–8