Nigel Sense: Workers and Wankers

Nigel Sense’s canvases of flat tones and reductive polychrome forms are both a commentary and celebration of the blue collar worker. Drawing inspiration from the pop artists of the 1960s, Sense’s paintings are immediate and striking, capturing the unique Australian experience of the working class. Construction workers and Ute drivers at the completion of their mundane tasks – pushing trolleys, lifting boxes, operating forklifts – becomes the focus of his compositions.

Nigel Sense, Real man drives Utes Macka, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 110 x 155cm. Courtesy the artist and Fox Galleries, Melbourne

‘Workers and Wankers’ displays Sense’s development of a contemporary iconography of common everyday workers. In this exhibition, Sense counters the traditional dismissal of the working class by wider society, dedicating his paintings to titular figures named Davo, Macka, Johnny, Lozza, Wazza, and Dazza. Paradoxically, however, whilst they are depicted as ‘heroes of the everyday’, the boiler-suit wearing, high-vis clad subjects are simultaneously trapped in the Sisyphean tasks of the 9 to 5 working day. Pastel tones and pigmented primary colours imply a playfulness that belie the drudgery of the Capitalist system.

Nigel Sense, Shorty, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 155 x 110cm. Courtesy the artist and Fox Galleries, Melbourne

Sense galvanises understanding and empathy for these figures, with titles such as Why is it only Monday (2018) or I used to be in a band (2018), which provides insight into the individual thoughts of the worker. Emphasising the idiosyncratic qualities of each individual workman challenges society’s tendency to collectivise the working class into a nameless, faceless, homogeneous unit.

Sense’s familiarity with his subjects reveals his own intimate connection to manual labour, growing up in a working class household. His paintings are an ode to workers and their hard work, an invitation to admire, respect, and applaud.

Fox Galleries
19 April to 12 May, 2018