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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Self-nature is subtle and mysterious - Tree Woman / Woman Tree

2023
Nell, Warwick Edgington (studio assistant), Annette Blair and Belinda Toll, Canberra Glassworks (glass), Crawfords Casting (bronze) and Eveleigh Works (steel)

bronze, patinas, stainless steel, hand blown glass (overall (irregular): 81.0 cm x 324.0 cm)

Born in Maitland, New South Wales in 1975, Nell is a multidisciplinary artist working across painting, sculpture, video and performance. Through a unique signature style influenced by the fusion of religious iconography, rock 'n' roll aesthetics and Buddhist philosophy, her work explores the intersections and oppositional aspects of the human existence – birth and death, sacred and profane, sorrow and happiness, light and dark.

Throughout her practice, Nell uses reoccurring and repetitive symbolic motifs as a tool for communicating the binaries of human existence. Her works are created using an array of materials and objects, ranging from the sacred to the pop with symbols such as smiley faces, ghosts, tear drops and lighting bolts conveying universal meanings of each icons. Often, a range of egg shapes are used to represent ideas of rebirth, regeneration and consider concepts of mortality. This fusion further highlights Nells interrogation and concern with time, death and impermanence. Music and art are inseparable for Nell, with the iconography associated with rock 'n' roll and pop culture heavily influencing her works. Objects such as band T-shirts, posters, album covers and guitar picks are considered personal devotional items and are often repurposed to be given a new life within an artwork. Through both large-scale immersive installation to intimate objects, Nell's practice embodies the nuances of the human condition while simultaneously amplifying the tensions, and differences to create new everyday rituals through the prescription of meaning to objects.

Across two decades, Nell's work has been included in over 300 exhibitions in Australia and abroad. Early in her exhibiting career, she was selected for Primavera: Young Australian Artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (1999), the annual curated exhibition of Australian artists aged under 35 years. Her early solo exhibitions – often collaborations with Mel O'Callahan - were in small venues in Sydney, Los Angeles, the Netherlands and Mumbai. In 1999 she founded the Rubyayre artist-run gallery in Sydney. Her first solo show at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery was in 2001and she has exhibited regularly there since. In 2003 and 2012 she exhibited Nell and Hometown girl has wet dream at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery. In between, in 2006 she gained her master's degree from Sydney College of the Arts, partly completed on a scholarship at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Her other awards include the Pat Corrigan Grant in 1999, the National Association for the Visual Arts Marketing Grant in 2001 and the Rome Studio of the Australia Council in 2003. She has several times been a finalist in the Blake Prize for Religious Art; her projects include a collaboration with the fashion label Romance Was Born in 2011. In 2011 and 2012 her work was included in the exhibitions MONANISM and Theatre of the World at MONA, Hobart. Well-known around Sydney as the long-term partner of celebrated chef Kylie Kwong, in late 2012 she was curator of the MCA ARTBAR. In 2013 she won the $50 000 University of Queensland National Artists' Self-Portrait Prize with a video of herself using a cricket bat to destroy a huge plastic fly (initially exhibited as Fly as high as me in 2002).

Other significant exhibitions include: Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art 2016: Magic Object, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2016); The National: New Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2017); and Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2021). In 2016, Shepparton Art Museum presented an eponymously titled survey exhibition of Nell's works, NELL. A monograph on her work, published by Thames and Hudson, was released in 2020.

Purchased with the assistance of funds provided by the Portrait Dinner Series 2023
© Nell courtesy of STATION

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Related portraits

1. Portrait of Nell #15, 2009. All Richard Larter.
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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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