Challenging Out-Dated Ideas Of Femininity With Needle + Thread

Nicole O’Loughlin turns the classical genre of portraiture on its head in Reframing La Femme, a new exhibition of defiant hand-embroidered portraits.

Currently exhibiting at Sydney’s .M Contemporary, the Hobart-based artist re-examines out-dated notions of femininity, subbing in fierce, inspiring, pop culture heroines!

We find out who and why…

Elle Murrell

Hobart-based artist Nicole O’Louglin’s exhibition Reframing La Femme is now on in Sydney. Artwork KateNicole O’Loughlin.

Grace, starring Grace Jones. The vocal performers in this series were inspired by a conversation where someone said to Nicole that there were no good female vocalists – she definitely argued that point! Artwork – Nicole O’Loughlin.

Whitney, starring Whitney Houston. The exhibition was all stitched in the past six months. Artwork – Nicole O’Loughlin.

‘The women I have chosen for this series are individuals that I see as positive strong role models or challenge the out-dated notion of femininity,’ tells Nicole. Photo – courtesy of the artist.

Kylie, starring Kylie Minogue, who commented that she loved the work (a highlight for Nicole!). Artwork – Nicole O’Loughlin.

Muriel, starring Tony Collect as Muriel in Muriel’s Wedding. Muriel’s Wedding is one of the artist’s favourite films ‘because of the character development that occurs where she finally realises that getting married isn’t the be-all and end-all’. Artwork – Nicole O’Loughlin.

Rupaul gets the Klimt treatment. Nicole re-examines tropes of ‘the dangerous woman’, ‘the seductress’ and the ‘submissive subject’. Artwork – Nicole O’Loughlin.

Dolly, starring Dolly Parton. Some of the works took more than 150 hours to complete! Artwork – Nicole O’Loughlin.

Elle Murrell
30th of July 2019

When you think of the most esteemed portraiture and idolised fine artists across history. Women are largely left out of the picture. Thankfully, Nicole O’Loughlin is here to challenge that absence, appropriating Western fine art ‘where male painters were revered, and domestic arts were allocated to the back of the line’.

The Hobart-based artist’s Reframing La Femme brilliantly targets the tropes that have traditionally surrounded female depictions – she’s replacing demure, submissive and sexualised subjects with women who stare defiantly at the viewer.

For the current exhibition, she has enlisted a particularly fierce squad – see Rupaul as a Klimt subject, Grace Jones in strikingly powerful light, as well as Kath, Kim and Sharon donning pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance styles – to get the message across. Just as crafty about her medium, Nicole meticulously hand-embroidered each painting, subverting any ideas of embroidery as a lesser art form and instead, elevating it to the most ornate of frames!

‘Whilst some may argue that the male gaze doesn’t exist anymore, I think you only need to look at social media and the influence it is having on young women and girls.  As well in the political arena, we see an underrepresentation of females and female voices, I do believe that there is a large part of the population that perhaps still holds the view that females are the “weaker sex”,’ reflects the artist. ‘I would like to break down the toxic idea of masculinity, and also to see future generations being able to be who they are without being told that they can or can’t do something based on their gender.’

Following in the thimbles of centuries of women, who have used needlecraft as a form of expression, Nicole has been embroidering since 2013. Though, she really dove into it after the birth of her son in 2016, finding it to be the perfect pick-up-where-you-left-off practice. ‘I am self-taught in embroidery and one day in a half-awake/asleep state thought of a cross-stitch of Mr T surrounded by flowers,’ she explains. ‘It turned into embroidery after I realised that embroidery had a bit more freedom in its expression.’

First, Nicole works on tracing paper, making a colour reference list (à la Paint-By-Numbers), before transferring the design to artist linen. Next, she paints background elements and then begins adding the cotton, wool, beads, and sequins. Some of the larger works have taken more than 150 hours to stitch – along with fan Kylie Minogue, we’re super impressed with her efforts! Don’t miss this exhibition honouring the female form, not just as a body, but as an accomplished whole being.

Reframing La Femme by Nicole O’Loughlin
July 27th to August 10th
.M Contemporary
37 Ocean Street
Woollahra, New South Wales
Nicole O’Loughlin will also be exhibiting at Sydney Contemporary in September. Stay up to date with her art at and on Instagram by following @nicole_p_oloughlin.

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