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Noel McKenna was born in Brisbane in 1956. Currently, he lives and works in Sydney. He studied architecture briefly at the University of Queensland, before attending Brisbane College of Art (1976-78) and Alexander Mackie College, Sydney (1981). He has been exhibiting since the early 1980s, and has had numerous solo exhibitions in both Australia and New Zealand. His work has been included in many group and touring exhibitions, and he is represented in many state, corporate and private collections.
About the works
Noel McKenna, in watercolours, etchings or oil on canvas board, reveals the world through the suburban familiar, a world most of us pass through because it is not a place we easily claim as our own, for reasons more complicated and numbing than mere alienation...
McKenna's paintings are strong and simple, like those of a child. With all the terrors and comforts of that time. Which is to say these are images with their roots in the unconscious mind; roots, which over the last thirty years have been bonzaid by the scorched-earth strategy of abstraction and conceptual art, but which are here revitalised. His images are simple but uncanny and compelling
George Alexander, catalogue essay, Melbourne 1997
Noel McKenna... has long been concerned with the many layers of interaction/communication between figures, objects and their ground... In their painterly language, their metaphysical cast and the psychological interplay between their often displaced subjects, the paintings take their cue from Carlo Carra or Giorgio de Chirico...
For years McKenna has painted enclosures: birds in cages, people in houses, houses gridlocked in suburbs, trees or horses contained in fields. His compositions are poetic renditions of these psychological spaces or locations. Only occasionally are these environments comfortable. They are the dreamscapes of an unsettled sleeper.
Gregory O'Brien, catalogue essay, Melbourne 1999
Noel McKenna's paintings focus on the ordinary aspects of life, but that is only half their story. As with the light that shines from his houses into the surrounding immensity of the twilight or night, so in these paintings of 'scenes' taken from the Sydney Morning Herald [the inspiration for a series of paintings in 2001], each moment is caught up in some larger drama, each individual engaged by the operation of forces greater than themselves. Newspaper photographs have this allegorical quality anyway. In them the general always lurks in the particular, however homely or familiar the image... McKenna's paintings of the photographs heighten their homeliness, their homespun quality, so that the sense of the ordinary in the grip of something powerful is even more intensely rendered.
Ivor Indyk, catalogue essay, Sydney, 2001
What is it about Noel McKenna's work that makes it different from the cultural production of the working class, the untrained and the practical? Maybe there is no difference. Like the cultural producers he paraphrases, McKenna makes pictures because he has to. This is what he wants, and needs, to say. They are celebratory of the ordinary lives of the subjects they depict. A tree seen through a window, a building balanced precariously on a headland. Although nothing here should rise above the mundane they do. They depict the noble poetry of the everyday. Of people going about the business of living extraordinary lives.
Glenn Bartley, catalogue essay, Sydney, 2002
Works in the Allens collection
Overpass, Hume Highway 1989
watercolour, 29 x 48cm
Tightrope walker 1992
oil on plywood, constructed box frame, 45 x 27cm
Train in landscape 1992
oil on plywood, constructed box frame, 25 x 36cm
City skyline 1992
oil on plywood, constructed box frame, 25 x 16cm
Lindy Lee, 1997
ink, watercolour on paper, 61 x 72cm