Libby Edwards Galleries & Art Consultancy

Sidney Nolan

Born 1917, died 1992

 

Sidney Nolan’s finest hour was in the aftermath of the Ned Kelly series. With his soul almost captured by John and Sunday Reed, he left Australia and became the standard bearer of post-war Australian art. No other artist in the fifties and sixtes commanded so much respect, because he was as Barry Humphries famously put it, “Internationally famous in Australia”.

 

Nolan was fond of quoting his humble origins, “my father was a tram driver”, and found work wherever he could. He fell in with the Boyds and with the aegis of the Angry Penguins escaped the worst of the Second World War.  After the success of the Kelly series, Nolan was fortunate in that he not only achieved international acclaim, but found a willing patron in Lord McAlpine. Thus ensured the twin dynamics of a successful art career, cashflow and patronage. Nolan possessed an original mind and a flair for self advancement. His knighthood a crowning acceptance that he made the great leap from the “unwashed”, to “the establishment”.

 

Nolan's Kelly series began an exploration of landscape and imagery intrinsically tied to an Anthemic sense of ourselves. His skill was to re-invent iconic images as something new. Through a different eye, Nolan gave us, in as much as the Heidelberg school presented the bush, a dynamic super-charged distillation of our essential parts. The light, the outline, and a “washed out" palette. His figures and portraits were similar drained of detail and colour, resembling the impregnable and impersonal “silence” of the Australian landscape  And it helped when as Australians, we realised that someone else, ( the poms) could understand and appreciate the distinctiveness, which was as much as anything else a statement of post-colonial self consciousness. It always begs the question, when will Australia ever be post colonial.

 

Nolan’s competency, his fluidity, his encapsulation of that “other’ which blends expressionism with surrealism, and a controlled abstractionist delight in light, colour and form, established an epoch. We still live in the shadow of Nolan today. And the reason why, is telling, he broke the bounds of formalism and academicism.

 

David McCubbin, 2018