Western cultural obsessions with collecting, analysing, documenting and measuring the natural world have always played a central role in Nicholas Pace’s artistic practice.
Known for his painstakingly executed paintings of the phenomena of natural history, in these new "dioramas"- a contemporary take on the ‘wunderkammer’- he stages three-dimensional spaces, seen in shallow relief, to create strange and hermetic vignettes.
Pace’s strikingly distinctive paintings derive their tension from an unsettling blend of surprising imagery and a refined, academic painting style, where he uses the language of natural history to frame his pictorial fictions, incorporating objects and imagery taken from or referencing a range of cultural sources, including the history of painting, pictorial information devices, toys, museums and zoos.
This is a highly staged artificial world in which a tension is created between nature and culture, this is further emphasised by the lighting, which references that of classical Western European painting, exemplified by an artist such as Nicolas Poussin.
A striking feature of Pace’s work is the use of colour coded graphic devices that allude to ‘meaningfulness’. The symbols are detached from their original context as might be found in encyclopaedias or museum display cases, and create a tension between the two pictorial layers, sharp edge against soft blur, colour against monochrome.
The juxtapositions in these works are based entirely on taste and aesthetics, and the paraphernalia of personal emotional importance. Like the arrangements in historical cabinets of curiosity, there are no distinctions made between the ‘low’ and ‘high’ associations with the objects – they are all considered ‘wonders’. The artist has an interest in that, which has been academically acknowledged and is therefore considered important, coupled with a strong interest in ‘low’ status objects that are often dismissed and so seemingly worthless. In the final paintings, it is often not possible to ascertain what has been gleaned from the natural world and what is manmade or mass-produced. Pace makes extensive use of the internet to source specific, hard to find objects.
Another important historical reference is the tradition of the ‘Sottobosco’, a sub-genre of 17th century still life painting which took the form of mini landscape of a highly selective view of a forest floor, teeming with life, and seen from a worm’s eye view. This mini landscape stands in for the wider world, of ‘creation’.
Pace’s paintings hold up a mirror to our preconceptions about ‘the order of things’.