Born Brisbane, 1956, lives and works in Sydney
Noel McKenna’s ‘unstudied’ looking, spare, almost nonchalant paintings are most frequently rendered with an apparently simple directness, onto small framed and glazed plywood panels (and occasionally ceramic tiles or larger, conventional canvases). McKenna’s long-term fascination with the most ordinary of daily details; domesticated animals, lost pet posters, vernacular construction techniques (Queenslander houses on stilts or suburban Melbourne for example), the number and location of public toilets or other municipal utilities and specifics, transform his work beyond any restriction of nostalgia or the confines of cultural specificity, towards a common and important reading of universal liminality. McKenna’s observational choices may come from the normal, the ordinary everyday – the super-normal as he describes it – but they come out the other side as extraordinary, metaphysical, unconcealed. His work simultaneously retains the sophistication and knowingness of the highly trained professional artist, yet inherently articulates the innocence, urgency and necessity of the self-taught.
Almost a national institution in his own right, McKenna has staged numerous solo exhibitions throughout Australia and New Zealand over the last 30 years and is regularly listed in the Australia Art Collector’s ‘50 Most Collectable Artists’. The Queensland Art Gallery and Museum of Modern Art opened, Landscape – Mapped, a solo presentation of Noel McKenna’s large scale map paintings, in November 2017. McKenna’s fourth solo exhibition with mother’s tankstation, The Moon is kinder than the Sun, opened in our London gallery in March 2020. Further recent solo exhibitions include The Popular Pet Show, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Robert Wilson’s Watermill Centre, Long Island, and Ten Cubed, Melbourne (both 2016). mother’s tankstation staged a solo presentation of McKenna’s work at Solos, Taipei Dangdai (2019), Discoveries, Art Basel Hong Kong (2014). Notable recent group exhibitions include Living Rooms, Musée du Louvre, Paris (2014); South of No North, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2013). In 2020, McKenna’s entry for the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Prize (JADA), Hamlet (2019), was acquired for the Grafton Regional Gallery, New South Wales’ collection of contemporary drawing. In 2021, McKenna won the 2021 Trustees’ Prize for Watercolour, awarded by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with his entry Tree, Headland (Ottoman Rose) (2021).