Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Somerset House, London until October 25th
Infested Carpet, Oil on linen 152 x 122cm
Nicola Bealing enjoys absurdity. She likes the moment when characters or objects in her paintings flounder because their expectations have been tipped upside down. It happens to the viewer too. At first sight across the gallery this is an eye-catching carpet. Why not? After all it's the NOA exhibition so why not add textiles fairly and squarely among the fabricated steel, digitalised Baryta photographs, paint, galvanised steel wire, wax and charcoal which are just some of the materials other artists use?

But this is no carpet, it's an exquisite and surprising oil painting on linen.

We all know that carpets can be national (and international) treasures: expensive, precious, signalling wealth and prestige. But here have they met their come-uppance? The artist tells how she read her way through the world's fairy tales and mythologies as an eight-year-old at school in Kuala Lumpur ‘I still have a powerful sense of the world inside those books,‘ she says, ‘alternating dark and light, blood and forests, wind and sky and sea, eyes and teeth, long roads, high mountains, talking birds'. And here she paints insects - with eyes and teeth no doubt - tiny invaders of the sort that infest carpets and might chomp their way through with military efficiency.

On the one hand the insects are pinned down in patterns as if scientific specimens. Is that the walnut orb-weaver or the lace-webbed spider I see before me? Or are they imaginary?  Either way they are transformed from despised creepy crawlies into jewel-like creatures, some weighty and scarab-like, others so delicate they might flutter up into the air at any moment.
Infested Carpet is one of many works of art currently on show in London's Somerset House, short-listed by a distinguished panel in the annual National Open Art Exhibition, now in its 18th year. With prize money of  £60,000, it aims to nurture creative talent from both emerging and professional artists.
You can see the exhibition in Chichester at the Pallant House Gallery from Dec2 - 14
and at the Minerva Theatre Gallery, Chichester Festival Theatre from Dec 17 - Jan 3
Also back in London at the Works on Paper Fair at the Science Museum from 5-9 Feb


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