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On Our Collections

Rod McNicol

The Roses (2024)

Gael Newton AM, 2nd June 2024

A rare new addition* to our home gallery is a colour photograph of a posy of bright red rose heads with one bud peeping atop, in a sensuous glossy black bottle shape vase. The work is from a recent series of still life floral studies by Melbourne photo artist and long time friend Rod McNicol.

The series revisits his still life studies from decades before but with greater skill intensity and distillation.
The work is a genre of flower and fruit studies known as ‘still life’ or ‘nature morte’ which has a long history.




There was a particular golden age when 17th century Dutch republic artists using the realism possible with oil paint made small paintings for a middle to upper class clientele. All sorts of symbolic religious or even political meanings have been built into flower studies. All flowers and fruit die - picking them merely hastens the process. So they give delight then easily become meditations on mortality.

Rod is better known to many for his pared back front on portraits of friends associates or residents of his urban village in Fitzroy. McNicol usually invites people to sit for him in his loft studio in an old commercial building. He has never been the portraitist for hire or aggrandise a sitter.

Our picture is of course literally a ‘stilled- life ‘ but also a portrait of a posy of flowers as intense as the human faces looking back to camera and us, in McNicol’s portraiture. He has selected and purchased the flowers and is the director of the play. The arrangement is unusual the close packed roses merge as one rounded shape no stems are visible.

The rose image is against the grain of floral arrangements that splay out flowers and visible stems or artfully counterbalance them as in ikebana. It looks almost as if the vase is the wrong shape as it is larger than the flowers. The light of two loft windows makes two lozenge shapes on the right hand swell of the vase.

They capture attention and animate the scene by reminding us of time and light changing while the vase is motionless and the flowers in reality minutely decline day by day. The background is a soft deep dark grey. You have to think this is the light from one of those high side windows in paintings by the Dutch artists that McNicol savours and studies.

The picture too changes as the light changes in the room over the course of the day and into the electric light of night. It has a living presence. I get it.


* 'Rare new addition' in that we have just downsized and now have limited space for new works - having dispersed parts of our collections before the move to Melbourne. However when we saw the line up of new flower portraits that Rod was working on, we had to have one. This one, The Roses, was not an easy choice given how seductive and beautiful the rest of the new works are. We will leave others to contact Rod about other new still life photographs that we know he is working on..


>> for more on Rod McNicol


more of Gael Newton's Essays and Articles


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