Before vs. After: The Paintings of Nola Romano
The paintings of Nola Romano depict a personal iconography of self portrait- based narratives of multiple identities. Dual Jekyl and Hyde personas reside in layered panoramic landscapes. Ms. Romano’s work takes inspiration from a myriad of sources ranging from British children’s book illustration, to Renaissance painting, and natural history illustrations. The female characters, animal companions, and their narratives collide in a maze of mishaps in the cycle of life.
Ms. Romano’s work is deeply personal and also daring in her use of self-portraiture to explore the darker sides and contradictions of the individual and society. In the world of Nola Romano’s painting nothing is as it should be or seems. While the viewer might initially interpret the work as cute, sweet, even saccharine, a closer examination reveals a deeper psychological probing. As with the characters, the work itself has a contradiction, the girls and the animals can be reminiscent of Hallmark and the big–eyed, lonely girl paintings of kitsch. However, rather than placing the blonde female on a pedestal of desire, Ms. Romano’s paintings depict her in her utmost awkward moment. The vantage points and camera angles that Ms. Romano are chooses are the “outtakes,” the footage that lies on the cutting floor, hardly the fashion cover girl.
Ms. Romano is constantly inventing and expanding her personal system of symbols, such as the animals that represent male characters, and the females alternating from innocent, passive characters to “rotten” ones that are in a state of waiting, longing and fear. The paintings themselves also split into multiple surfaces, break off at the ends, verge to the side, into their own vignettes.
As Ms. Romano explains, The Manual of Age Appropriateness depicts the different stages of life – the chalkboard illustrates the cycle from birth to death. Images like the hand holding the goldfish symbolize our initial cognizance of death, a bent ruler indicates when we learn the rules of behavior, and the office worker in the foreground represent our state of perpetual work and frustration.”
While The Manual of Age Appropriateness is relatively straightforward in its narration, The Salt Marsh is denser in its stages of female figures in frozen states of frustration holding forlorn objects. The large green female appears guilty and of questionable intent. As with Caves and Holes, the viewer infers that beyond the edges of the painting, off center stage, the actual drama has occurred.
Ms. Romano’s paintings are a sophisticated, multi-faceted commentary on contemporary life, displaying it fully the good and bad, the incongruent and the ugly.
Mary Ting, Curator