Black and white ocean scene with clouds
August 19, Calendar, July 19, Painting, Sculpture, September 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Princeon and Hold On!

19 Jul – 8 Sep @ Mundaring Arts Centre ·
Presented by Joan Johnson & Kate Hallen ·

Two new exhibitions on display at Mundaring Arts Centre from 20 July – 8 September explore the landscape of dementia from the perspective of a loved one. The distinctive  solo exhibitions by local artist Joan Johnson and Brisbane based artist Kate Hallen underscore the impact of the condition on both the individual and their families.

These artists tell their unique stories with distinctively different outcomes,  Johnson working with sculpture and Hallen paint; to present a multi-layered and emotive response to a condition which affects many.

Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday & Sunday 11am – 3pm

More info

Pictured: Kate Hallen, Going back (detail), 2019, oil and charcoal on canvas, 106.5 x 76.5cm.  Credit: Adam John Waters.

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Shearers at work in a shed shearing rams
April 19, Calendar, February 19, July 19, June 19, March 19, May 19, Painting, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Tom Roberts’ Shearing the rams

13 Feb – 28 Jul @ Art Gallery of WA ·
Presented by Art Gallery of WA ·

AGWA is home for the next few months to one of Australia’s iconic colonial-era paintings. Tom Roberts’ Shearing the rams on loan from the National Gallery of Victoria until late July, in return for the loan of one of AGWA’s much-loved paintings, Droving into the light, which features in the NGV exhibition Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art.

Shearing the rams hangs alongside AGWA’s own Down on his luck by Frederick McCubbin, and gives you a rare opportunity to see these two great nationalistic narrative paintings side-by-side. Both works take rural subject matter as the starting point for their images of Australian identity, but Roberts presents a positive vision of the pastoral industry, far removed from McCubbin’s image of a struggling pioneer.

Roberts based his painting on sketches made in a shearing shed in country New South Wales.  The close observation of details and atmospheric effects, together with the sense of this being a snapshot of a fleeting moment, gives the painting an aura of ‘truth’, which has helped to secure its popularity for many generations. It is a great example of Roberts’ statement that if art is “the perfect expression of one time and place, it becomes art for all time and of all places”.

More info

Tom Roberts Shearing the rams 1890. Oil on canvas on composition board, 122.4 x 183.3 cm; 170 x 230.4 x 9.5 cm (framed). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1932.

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Painting of a reflection of Perth's council house by Clay Bradbury
News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

The ordinary seen anew

Review: Clay Bradbury, “Sidewalk” ·
City Arts Space, Northbridge Piazza·
Review by Varnya Bromilow·

I was waiting at a bus stop this week, when I was suddenly taken by the sheer beauty of the thing. Not the fact that it was shielding me from the elements, or the seat I was able to rest my lazy ass upon, no, the object itself. The curves of the concrete; the little peek-hole where one can spy the ever-elusive bus; the simple shape of the shelter itself. Admission – this was not an original thought, it was a reflection prompted by a visit to the weekend opening of “Sidewalk”, an exhibition by local artist Clay Bradbury.

A painting of traffic lights, looking up from the ground
By taking urban objects … and recasting them in a distilled, focused light, our everyday architecture is rendered new. Pictured: ‘Green Light’ by Clay Bradbury.

Bradbury specialises in revisualising the familiar. By taking urban objects that Perthites have grown up with and recasting them in a distilled, focused light, our everyday architecture is rendered new. Bus stops, water towers, shipping containers, traffic lights, fire hydrants, post boxes… all the quotidian physical markers of our time made somehow lovely, cast in new light.

Bradbury initially trained as an engineer before drifting into painting. (One kind of wishes he’d expedited the drift when one witnesses the talent.) He uses oil on wooden board for the most part, sometimes constructing frames that are of a piece with the work. My favourite pieces are painted onto plywood, the polished grain of the wood almost as much of a feature as the paint itself. The works are starkly realistic, save for their unnatural settings. The graffitied hydrant is set apart in the world, there’s nothing around it; it almost exists in a void. The bus stop’s sharp shadows are its only accompaniment in the vacant streetscape. Bradbury has a clear love of the 60’s brutalist style that echoes through much of Perth’s vintage infrastructure. The works are nostalgic, but they’re also lonely.

“Sidewalk” is Bradbury’s third solo show. Like the two that preceded it, most of the works had sold by the end of the first day. I bought one of a bus stop. It makes me feel sad and cosy at the same time, but more importantly, it makes me see my city anew.

Sidewalk is on at the City Arts Space, Northbridge Piazza until October 7.

Pictured top: “council in reflection” by Clay Bradbury.

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Calendar, October 18, Painting, Visual arts

Visual Arts: sidewalk – an exhibition of paintings by clay bradbury

October 1-7 @ City Arts Space ·
Presented by Clay Bradbury ·

An exhibition of oil paintings exploring themes of isolation, functionality, and decay via depictions of familiar utilitarian objects and infrastructure related urban landscapes. Through a process of extraction, reflection and displacement, the works capture still moments in a constantly changing built environment, speaking to the essence of place, and preserving what will inevitably be lost.

The exhibition is open from 10am to 4 pm daily at City Arts Space, Northbridge Piazza, corner Lake and James Streets

More info:

Green Light by Clay Bradbury

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A man and a woman sitting in front of a painting
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Connecting generations

Review: Martumili Artists & Spinifex Hill Artists, “Pujiman” ·
The Goods Shed ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

“Pujiman” is a travelling exhibition presented by Form, featuring works created during a two-year collaboration between Martumili Artists and Spinifex Hill Artists, two Aboriginal art centres from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The title “Pujiman”, a word which means “desert born and dwelling”, refers to the last living generation of Aboriginal artists to lead traditional lifestyles. This collaborative project links pujiman painters, including Nora Wompi and Jakayu Biljabu, to a younger generation of emerging Aboriginal artists, who have been encouraged to develop their creative practices.

Presenting the results of such a valuable community project, “Pujiman” emphasises the importance of sharing knowledge and culture within Aboriginal communities, honouring senior artists, and celebrating intergenerational learning. In the words of senior Martumili artist Nola Ngalangka Taylor, “There’s so much lost, but we need to keep sharing to keep it alive.”

MMulyatingki Marney and May Wokka Chapman, 2017, 'Wilarra', 125 x 300cm, Acrylic on Linen.
Mulyatingki Marney and May Wokka Chapman, 2017, ‘Wilarra’, 125 x 300cm, Acrylic on Linen.

A week-long artist camp was arranged as part of the project, which saw 26 artists travel to Punmu community to work with creative facilitators including, Steven Aiton and Andy Quilty. The exhibition includes some video footage from this camp, which gives insight into the communal creation of the large-scale paintings, and the charming stop-motion sand animations that are also screened. In this documentary footage, viewers can watch the development of many of the exhibited paintings including Wilarra, a three metre long work by Mulyatingki Marney and May Maywokka Chapman.

Featuring gestural dotwork around fields of wide, emotive brushstrokes, this stunning painting depicts the site of Wilarra near Punmu, which is adjacent to the salt lake Nyayartakujarra (Lake Dora). In the wall text accompanying Wilarra, Mulyatingki explains the Jukurrpa (Dreaming) story of the site and the salt lake, emphasising the deep connection between culture and land.

Many of the paintings in the exhibition have been created to encompass the traditional significance, uses and narratives of different landscapes within the Pilbara region. Karlamilyi, Big Country, Big Area, a tall painting by Wokka Taylor and Nancy Karnu Taylor, functions as a husband and wife’s collaborative depiction of Nancy’s ngurra (home country).

Other artworks illustrate recent events and stories, such as Doreen Chapman’s energising Camel Chase, and the Captain Hedland comic book page by teenage artist Layne Dhu Dickie who featured in the “Revealed” exhibition at the Fremantle Arts Centre last year. Equally captivating are the smaller figurative works, which include Wendy Nanji’s stylised pencil portraits of senior artists, and Owen Biljabu’s acrylic paintings of community leaders.

“Pujiman” brings together an engaging and diverse collection of contemporary Aboriginal art, celebrating the art centres of the Pilbara region as hubs of continued cultural collaboration and creative excellence.

“Pujiman” shows at The Goods Shed until September 27.

Pictured top: Husband and wife Wokka Taylor and Nancy Karnu Taylor in front of their collaborative ‘Karlamilyi’ painting. Photograph by Sarah Stampfli, Serene Bedlam photography.

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Penny Coss, Purple Stain, 2018, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 160 x 180cm. Courtesy Art Collective WA
Mixed media, News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

A reward for attention to detail

Review: Penny Coss, “From Someplace Else” & Susan Flavell, “Golden Flowers”·
Art Collective WA, Cathedral Square·
Review by Miranda Johnson·

Penny Coss’s “From Someplace Else” and Susan Flavell’s “Golden Flowers” exhibitions, both currently showing at Art Collective’s Cathedral Square space, are two quite different shows that, nonetheless, both speak to themes of materiality and environments.

Coss’s exhibition consists of a series of canvases, many unstretched, applied with acrylic paint. Some are pinned to the wall, hanging straight; others are looped or draped fabric, combined with wooden support structures. Coss, whose practice arises from an interest in responding to the natural environment and the memory of place, uses these fabrics to inspire a reflection upon landscapes, particularly those stained with troubled histories. This concept of staining resonates through the works, which are crumpled, traced and dipped in acrylic paint, resulting in an interestingly uneven and inconsistent tone across the canvas. They’re the kind of works that appear peaceful and simple from far away, but upon closer inspection are more complex, the shapes, colours and textures combining to create landscapes of their own with multifaceted materialities. Works such as Untitled Blue (2018) and Sediment Flat (2018) gently pull the viewer in close, allowing for an interaction and exploration of various textures, patterns and hues that is deeply engaging.

Susan Flavell’s works, occupying the other side of the gallery, are similarly engaging in their exploration of material and form. However, where Coss focuses her exploration of this concept to canvas for the most part, Flavell expands her reach to a multitude of objects, mostly found objects, combining the unexpected detritus of suburban life to create pendants, hanging sculptures, medallions and, in the case of Golden Flowers (Fire Goddess) (2018), a tall free-standing sculpture of a goddess adorned with materials both organic and artificial.

Susan Flavell, ‘Witches Ladder with Trumpet’, 2018, found toys, papier mache, fencing wire, from fake gold leaf, baroque pearls, found beads, glue, wire, 68x20x26cm. Courtesy Art Collective WA.

Flavell’s works hang beautifully against the lengthy window, the various objects suspended in a long row, allowing the viewer to examine the intricacies of the materials used in each individual one. Many of the work’s titles also refer to spellcraft and witchery, such as Witches Ladder with Golf Ball (2018). Upon further research, I discovered that a “witch’s ladder” is indeed a practice from folklore that refers to an object made from knotted cord or hair that contains within itself a spell. This is indeed exactly what these objects resemble, with many materials sourced from a site similarly imbued with folklore and spiritual power, Beeliar Wetlands. However, the addition of unexpected modern-day talismans – such as the golf ball, a plastic dinosaur, a found peace sign and a tiny Monopoly hotel – add a playful touch. These talismans are, in themselves, imbued with a particular power in our society, and Flavell combines folklore’s traditions with our modern-day symbols of peace, capital gain and social power, which may not be quite the same but nonetheless reinforce the weight we place upon the material good-luck charms we all keep and carry, in one way or another.

In this way, Coss and Flavell’s works are concerned with similar pursuits – that of the meditative, ritualistic way we engage with the material aspects of our lives, and the significance we can place upon the small details within a larger whole. Both artists’ works display a thoughtful reflection upon the way we look, touch and feel in response to materials, in an engaging exhibition that rewards close viewing and attention to detail.

Penny Coss, “From Someplace Else” & Susan Flavell, “Golden Flowers” show at Art Collective WA until September 8.

Pictured top: Penny Coss, “Purple Stain”, 2018, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 160 x 180cm. Courtesy Art Collective WA.

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Sidney Nolan 
Stringybark Creek 1947
from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947 enamel paint on composition board 90.70 x 121.50 cm
Gift of Sunday Reed 1977
National Gallery of Australia 

News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

Tension, humour and high drama

Review: ‘Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series’ ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

“Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series”, currently at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), is firmly embedded in our collective cultural consciousness, an exploration of the folk hero’s life as well as a unique insight into the landscapes of the Australian bush. This exhibition brings together the 26 paintings of the National Gallery of Australia’s Ned Kelly collection, displayed as part of AGWA’s “Rebels, Radicals and Pathfinders” series.

The paintings, displayed here in standard chronological order, take us through the familiar dramatic circumstances of Kelly’s life. As has been frequently pointed out, however, the images are not intended to realistically represent the facts of Kelly’s life; rather, they are a blend of semi-autobiographical and imagined fictions, placed together to create an extended consideration of culture, landscape and the influence of a single person on a larger version of history.

Sidney Nolan The defence of Aaron Sherritt 1946 from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947 enamel paint on composition board 121.20 x 90.70 cm Gift of Sunday Reed 1977 National Gallery of Australia
Sidney Nolan, ‘The defence of Aaron Sherritt’, 1946 from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 121.20 x 90.70 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977,
National Gallery of Australia.

Nolan’s deliberately naïve depictions of Kelly take us through the story with a skilful hand. We move from the seemingly idyllic landscape painting that marks the beginning of the drama, through to the murder of a policeman at Stringybark Creek, the police chase, the marriage of spy Aaron Nevitt, the siege of Glenrowan Hotel and Kelly’s trial, which ended in a death sentence. The combination of Nolan’s inventive details and the quotations on the didactic panels (taken from historical news sources as well as the Royal Commission Report of 1881 conducted into the police force’s hunt for the Kelly gang) further help to combine history and fiction. Some of the paintings are so familiar they’re embedded in my brain, but I found that it was the minor details that fascinated me – Kate Kelly being pulled onto the constable’s lap, her face a deliberately controlled canvas of tension and watchfulness that I’m pretty sure most women would recognise, or the image of a police horse tumbling off a cliff, its upside-down state of suspension both darkly absurd and incredibly haunting.

Sidney Nolan The slip 1947 from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947 enamel paint on composition board 90.70 x 121.10 cm Gift of Sunday Reed 1977 National Gallery of Australia
Sidney Nolan, ‘The slip’, 1947, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 90.70 x 121.10 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977, National Gallery of Australia.

The paintings are hung quite low, presumably to help to engage children, as is also suggested by an extra series of didactic panels, with questions for children. As a fairly short person, I actually found the low hang to be refreshing, as it enabled me to stand quite close to the paintings without having to crane my neck! As I moved around the room, I found that the gap in the wall that leads to the next room was slightly distracting, so embedded in Nolan’s Kelly narrative was I that it felt jarring to almost accidentally find myself in another room, right in the middle of the drama. I suspect, however, that this was a deliberate choice, as the glimpse into the next room shows Australian landscape portraits from AGWA’s historical collection.

This glimpse, then, links Nolan’s paintings with a wider tradition of painting that attempts to capture the vagaries of the Australian bush landscape. But Nolan’s paintings are so reliant on a particular myth and narrative, as well as an immediately recognisable style, that I felt like they deserved their own, slightly larger space. It takes time to absorb the series, and a larger, single room would have given visitors space to do so.

This opportunity to see the Kelly series is deeply engaging, nonetheless, as Nolan’s paintings combine vivid details of high drama, tension and dark humour with a fascination of the landscape of the Australian bush.

“Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series” shows at the Art Gallery of WA until November 12.

Read more about Sidney Nolan in David Rainey’s fascinating essay, “Sublime Sid and Ned: the painter and the painted”.

Pictured top: Sidney Nolan, 
”Stringybark Creek”, 1947, 
from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 90.70 x 121.50 cm, 
Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977
, National Gallery of Australia.

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Sidney Nolan The trial 1947 from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947 enamel paint on composition board 90.70 x 121.20 cm Gift of Sunday Reed 1977 National Gallery of Australia
Features, News, Painting, Visual arts

Sublime Sid and Ned: the painter and the painted

Ned Kelly was not just Sidney Nolan’s subject, but his alter ego, writes David Rainey.  To coincide with the opening of “Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series” at the Art Gallery of Western Australia on August 11, Rainey provides a fascinating insight into the work of one of Australia’s most iconic artists.

Ned Kelly is visiting the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA); or to be more precise, 26 Kelly-themed paintings are making their first visit to the West. A recent excursion by Kelly himself to these parts, however, went largely unnoticed and eluded the vigilance of many.

Ned Kelly on a telegraph post
Ned Kelly sighted at Lower Chittering.

Here is a little known tidbit of bushranging history: Joseph Johns, aka Moondyne Joe, was a childhood hero of Kelly, who revered the Welshman-turned-bushranger. Seesaw can now reveal that Kelly, weaned on the teat of Moondyne bravado, posthumously visited the West in search of his alter ego. He was captured, so to speak, whilst surreally taking cover behind a telegraph pole outside the Lower Chittering Volunteer Fire Station.

Children's pictures of Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly portraits at Toodyay Primary School

Later that day he bailed up the Year 3 class at Toodyay Primary, holding children hostage until they painted his portrait. The images collected here seem to corroborate the Chittering sighting.

Kelly’s appearance at AGWA, then, is a return visit, but one that is much better publicised than his first. More seriously, it is fascinating to  consider “Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series” in terms of what will and will not be seen. Nolan said that Kelly’s own words were ingredients in these paintings, and so here I borrow Nolan’s own words to tell the tale.

First though, a more conventional summary.

In April 1946, Nolan visited Glenrowan, the site of Kelly’s capture, with fellow “Angry Penguin” Max Harris. He had already painted at least one of the so-called “first series” Kellys and would complete them over the next 15 months. With one exception they were painted on the dining table at Heide, the home of wealthy modernist art enthusiasts John and Sunday Reed with whom Nolan had lived in a ménage à trois since the collapse of his first marriage in 1941.

In July 1947, soon after he painted The Watch Tower, Nolan left Heide, and would return only briefly. The parting was strained, and his relationship with the Reeds became increasingly acrimonious over time – his second marriage, to John Reed’s sister Cynthia in March 1948, but the first barrier.

At the time he readily conceded, “I do not even feel that the Kellys belong to anyone else other than Sun” (1) and cooperated with the Reeds in selecting 27 paintings from the total of about three dozen which remained at Heide. He assisted in providing text for their initial public hanging at the Velasquez Gallery in Tye’s Furniture Store in Melbourne in April 1948.

By 1971, however, his attitude had very much changed. In his poem “Fidelio” he lamented “the man with the iron mask and the robin on the fence” being in a bank vault “buried without being dead.” (2)

Do try to locate that robin in this exhibition. It’s there to be seen in one of the works, a visual signature by Nolan referring to the alias “Robin Murray”, which he used when absent without leave during and after the war.

Do try to locate that robin in this exhibition. It’s there to be seen in one of the works, a visual signature by Nolan referring to the alias “Robin Murray”, which he used when absent without leave during and after the war. As he explained it in 1991, “that was maybe Sunday’s idea … she always called me Robin, that’s robin red breast.” (3)

In 1977, Sunday Reed gave 25 of the 27 Kelly paintings, “with love” as she insisted the deed record, to the National Gallery of Australia – one, Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek, having been privately purchased from Nolan when it was first exhibited in May 1946; and a second, First Class Marksman, having been re-acquired by Nolan.

First Class Marksman has been exhibited with all the others on only a few occasions, the last in 1997.  Marksman will not be making an appearance at AGWA.  It has always been the outlier – the only one not painted at Heide but at Vassilieff’s home “Stonygrad,” the only one not in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia but rather with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the only one that reverted to Nolan’s own possession. It holds the record for the highest price achieved at auction by an Australian artist – $5.4 million in 2010.

In the mid-1960s, Max Harris railed against British critics who lionised the Kelly paintings as “a deep and complex interpretation of a myth of Australian nationhood, and a unique view of the relationship of the Australian man to his environment. Australians, say the subtle London critics, tend to lose their identity, become iron masks behind which is nothing, in the harsh Australian landscape”.

“Bum!” exclaimed Harris, “…. Kelly is, in this famous sequence, purely Nolan’s alter ego, a virility symbol, and the series exists as a catharsis of Nolan’s basic insecurities.” (4) Later in life Nolan admitted, “Really the Kelly paintings are secretly about myself. You would be surprised if I told you. From 1945 to 1947 there were emotional and complicated events in my own life. It’s an inner history of my own emotions.” (5)

Later in life Nolan admitted, “Really the Kelly paintings are secretly about myself … It’s an inner history of my own emotions.”

There are certainly similarities between the painted and painter. Both were fugitives from the law –  Kelly a bushranger with a price on his head, Nolan absent without leave from the army; both had Irish roots, although Nolan’s much-vaunted Irish heritage was Northern Ireland Protestant, not the Catholic roots of Ned Kelly. Nolan never bothered to correct this misapprehension – over time it would serve him well.

Sidney Nolan, ‘Burning at Glenrowan’, 1946, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 121.50 x 90.70 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977, National Gallery of Australia.
Sidney Nolan, ‘Burning at Glenrowan’, 1946, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 121.50 x 90.70 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977, National Gallery of Australia.

Other images invite speculation. Does the figure of Mrs Reardon, seen in the Glenrowan paintings fleeing the burning inn with her young daughter, bring to mind Nolan’s first wife Elizabeth fleeing the conflagration at Heide with their young daughter Amelda?

Indeed, it is a remarkable coincidence that an untitled painting of this time, known as Mrs Reardon and Child goes to auction in Sydney just two days before the AGWA show opens. (6) This work adds credence to the above speculation. Nolan kept this painting all his life and on his death in 1992 it went to Amelda. Dated 27 January 1946, a period of intense personal turmoil for Nolan – in July 1945, Elizabeth had been granted a divorce on the grounds of his desertion, and two months later with Nolan deserted from the army, his young brother Boy drowned in Cooktown on return from active duty – the pervasive lyrical beauty of this painting reaches into this 21st century with a poignant tranquility.

We can also speculate as to why Nolan cut the original six-by-four-foot Glenrowan painting in half to produce the Burning (above) and the Siege. Was it simply because Peter Bellew suggested it was too large, or is there something more significant about the parting?

And, in The Watch Tower – based on a photo of Longreach in Walkabout magazine and the very last of the first series Kellys – did Nolan replace a very look-alike figure with a trooper? He painted it only a few weeks before departing Heide at a time when he was surely on the lookout to get out.

Sidney Nolan, ‘Steve Hart dressed as a girl’, 1947, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 90.60 x 121.10 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977, National Gallery of Australia.
Sidney Nolan, ‘Steve Hart dressed as a girl’, 1947, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 90.60 x 121.10 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977, National Gallery of Australia.

In 1961, at the time of his exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London, Nolan said that, “Kelly’s own words, and Rousseau, and sunlight are the ingredients of which they (the Kelly paintings) were made.” (7)

The Rousseau influence can be seen nowhere better than in comparing Rousseau’s painting War to the clouds of Nolan’s Encounter, and to the black steed of his Evening.

As for sunlight, few artists can hold a candle to Nolan when it comes to capturing the light and the colour of the Australian bush and the outback. In 1988 he spoke of “the implacable, beautiful landscape … How can one put it? It’s God’s gift to the world.  In Australia there’s a wonderful light that shines upon it and makes it ethereal…” (8)

Be sure to concentrate on the light when you visit these paintings. And if perchance, like quite a few others, you have trouble with Nolan’s rather naively styled portrayals of characters in the story, simply ignore them and imagine the paintings without any figures at all. Imagine just the landscapes.

Four years before he died Nolan linked the Kimberley to his famous Kelly image (pictured below) via Casper David Friedrich’s painting Monk by the Sea. He said,

It’s the same feeling you get with Friedrich and his famous picture ‘Monk by the Sea’. This shows a single figure of a man looking out by the sea; he’s seen from behind. That’s the same as Ned Kelly in that key painting where he’s on the horse looking out into nothing. (9)

Sidney Nolan: Ned Kelly
Sidney Nolan, ‘Ned Kelly’, 1946, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 90.80 x 121.50 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977, National Gallery of Australia.

Friedrich’s painting Monk by the Sea, the quintessential image of the Romantic sublime, brings to mind so clearly those marvellous last words in Randolph Stow’s novella To the Islands. Heriot, the ageing disillusioned mission station supervisor up in the Kimberley, has walked a metaphorical end-of-days journey to the coast with his young Aboriginal friend. He looks out over the Arafura Sea to the Aboriginal islands of the dead: “‘My soul,’ he whispered, over the sea-surge, ‘my soul is a strange country.’”  Could any words better evoke the ethos of Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea? or of Nolan’s Ned Kelly?

In the 1960s Nolan and Stow collaborated on a number of books including Outrider, an anthology of poems by Stow, for which Nolan did the illustrations. (10) One poem, “The Land’s Meaning”, Stow dedicated to Nolan. With what meaning has Nolan painted the land? Let Stow speak:

The love of man is a weed of the waste places,
One may think of it as the spinifex of dry souls.

…. What is God, they say,
but a man unwounded in his loneliness?

…. a skin-coloured surf of sandhills jumped the horizon
and swamped me. I was bushed for forty years.

And I came to a bloke all alone like a kurrajong tree.
And I said to him: ‘Mate – I don’t need to know your name –
Let me camp in your shade, let me sleep, till the sun goes down.’

Nolan always saw his Kelly paintings as more than the Kelly narrative, and so should we. As he put it in 1978, “I wanted a visual form of the ‘otherness’ of the thing not seen.” (11) And he told his friend Jack Lynn, “I like what an historian [Steven Runciman] said of the Kelly series: ‘They are really stations of the Cross’.” (12)

With time, perhaps Nolan discovered a personal Via Dolorosa in the Kelly paintings.

The best advice to take into this exhibition was given by Max Harris, who visited Kelly country with Nolan back when it all began. “Look at the painting by all means ….” Harris said in 1989, “but also look into the heart of the matter. If you miss that, you miss everything.”(13)

David Rainey is a Canberra-based independent writer and researcher with a particular interest in Sidney Nolan. He maintains the websites and

This article was first published by David Rainey: and is published here with kind permission from the writer.

“Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series” shows at the Art Gallery of WA, August 11 – November 12.

Pictured top: Sidney Nolan, ‘The trial’, 1947, from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947, enamel paint on composition board, 90.70 x 121.20 cm, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977, National Gallery of Australia.



1 Sidney Nolan, Letters to John Reed, 14 January 1948, Papers of John & Sunday Reed, Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria, MS 13186, Box 2, File 6.
2 Sidney Nolan, “Fidelio”, in Paradise Garden, R Alistair McAlpine Publishing Ltd, London, 1971, p. 53.
3 See Sidney Nolan interviewed by Michael Heyward, London, 5 April 1991.
4 Max Harris, “Conflicts in Australian Intellectual Life”, in Literary Australia, Ed. Clement Semmler and Derek Whitelock, F W Cheshire, Melbourne, 1966, p. 22.
5 Sidney Nolan, comments made to Elwyn Lynn on 6/9/1984 published in Elwyn Lynn, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly, ANG, 1985.
6 see , downloaded 2 August 2018.
7 Sidney Nolan quoted by Colin MacInnis, “The Search for an Australian Myth in Painting”, in Kenneth Clark et al, Sidney Nolan, London: Thames and Hudson, 1961, p.30.
8 Interview with Peter Fuller, “Sidney Nolan and the Decline of the West: A Modern Painters Interview with Sir Sidney Nolan,” Modern Painters, Vol.1, No.2 (Summer 1988); quoted in Nancy Underhill, ed., Nolan on Nolan: Sidney Nolan in his Own Words (New York: Penguin Group Inc., 2007), p. 344.
9 ibid., p. 349.
10 Randolph Stow, Outrider, MacDonald, London, 1962.
11 Sidney Nolan, quoted in Elwyn Lynn and Sidney Nolan, Sidney Nolan – Australia, Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p. 13.
12 Elwyn Lynn Papers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, from a tape recorded April 21, 1978 and from phone conversations in 1978, quoted in Nancy Underhill, ed., Nolan on Nolan: Sidney Nolan in his Own Words (New York: Penguin Group Inc., 2007), p. 267.
13 Max Harris, Introduction to Angry Penguins, and Realist Painting in Melbourne in the 1940s, Australian Exhibitions Touring Agency, Canberra, 1989, p. 6 .


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Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly 1946 from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947. Enamel paint on composition board, 90.80 x 121.50 cm. Gift of Sunday Reed 1977. National Gallery of Australia collection.
August 18, Calendar, November 18, October 18, Painting, September 18, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series

11 August – 12 November 2018 @ Art Gallery of WA ·
Presented by : Sidney Nolan, National Gallery of Australia ·

This must-see series is a Travelling Exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia. It is a rare opportunity to view these renowned works that depict the story of the outlaw Kelly, and evidence Nolan’s characteristic expressive landscapes and vivid storytelling techniques.

From 1946-47, Nolan developed an original and starkly simplified image of Ned Kelly, which quickly became a national symbol—part of the shared iconography of Australia. Together, these 26 paintings provide a masterclass on Australian art history that relay the development of a new tradition of figurative and landscape painting in Australian art.

NGA Head of Australian Art Dr Deborah Hart says, “Nolan’s depiction of Kelly as a black form set against a stark Australian landscape revolutionised the way we imagine this national antihero. Ned Kelly only wore his homemade helmet toward the end of the drama, but for Nolan it was a vital, symbolic device from beginning to end. The helmet is a frame within the frame. The visor is a viewfinder – a slot to be seen through. This image has been replicated in popular culture and has inspired many artists through to the present day. It is a series that will inspire visitors of all ages and is not to be missed.”

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Pictured:   Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly 1946 from the Ned Kelly series 1946 – 1947. Enamel paint on composition board. Gift of Sunday Reed 1977. National Gallery of Australia collection.

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Sump System II Frontier
Features, Mixed media, News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

Dystopian by design

Review: Richard Giblett, “Frontier” ·
Turner Galleries ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Richard Giblett’s exhibition “Frontier”, at Turner Galleries, showcases the artist’s ongoing investigations into space, architecture and global branding. Giblett’s works are displayed sparsely and evenly throughout the front room of Turner Galleries; the industrial concrete-and-white space playing nicely against his canvases and lightboxes, which involve clean geometric shapes amid finely detailed lines.

A centrepiece to the exhibition is a Perspex miniature warehouse, emblazoned with the Chanel logo and lit from the inside, making its architectural lines glow like an unearthly, alien object. Luxury branding also appears as a recurring motif in Giblett’s gouache and collage canvases, with the Chanel logo again appearing in Sump System II (Frontier). Similarly, YSL System IV and V features collages of artistically slumped models woven throughout geometric, interlocking rectangular shapes – YSL referring to, presumably, Yves Saint Laurent.

'Enclosed System 4 refinery', gouache on card on found photograph, 65x80cm, 2018.
‘Enclosed System 4 refinery’, gouache on card on found photograph, 65x80cm, 2018.

The branding of these works contrasts somewhat with Bauhaus de Stijl block, the second sculpture in the exhibition, which is made from a number of steel set squares, layered on top of one another to form a structure and lit from underneath, adding another eerie glow to the work. It’s an interesting use of an architectural tool used for making straight lines; in this case, the lines themselves are formed by the square, and the humble, everyday tool transformed into an art object in itself.

The central piece, Sump System II (Frontier), forms the largest and most intricate work. Comprised of four canvases, the work shows a dense system of factories, homes and urban environments; some resemble ancient pyramids whilst others are as humble as a suburban swimming pool. Throughout the work, instantly recognisable global company logos top buildings: Shell, Esso, Xerox. The buildings float against a black background, interconnected by a system of pipes and tubes, many of which ooze slick, black oil. From this work, it’s clear that the artist’s interests lie within graphic design and his childhood years in Hong Kong; the patterns are futuristic yet industrial, suggesting built environments and concrete jungles.

Although the artist’s statement claims that his use of luxury branding, consumerist motifs and industrial pollution is not necessarily a critique, but is used to simply draw attention to the impact these have upon our lives, it’s hard not to view these works as critique. The images of corporate greed are so pervasive in Sump System II (Frontier) that, when combined with the geometric industrial pipes, angular, sullen models and corporate factories, the world created seems to me to be more dystopian than simply design-oriented. As a whole, the exhibition reflects to us our most greedy and corporate selves, holding up a mirror to our reliance on global energy companies and luxury capitalism. Giblett may not intend to critique this reality but, by reflecting it through his intricate, geometric works, he makes us realise that it necessitates critiquing.

“Frontier” shows at Turner Galleries until 4 August.

Pictured top: Richard Giblett ‘Sump System II Frontier’, gouache on paper 100x200cmx4, bottom left panel, 2018.

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