The Year of Sidney Nolan

WARNING the following post contains unbridled gushing. Uselesslines apologises in advance for any nausea caused.

2009 has been the year (although it is only three quarters through) I’ve decided Sidney Nolan is my absolute favourite Australian painter of all time. (Possibly even absolute favourite Australian artist hands down, but let’s not be too hasty.)

The love affair began very early in the year, upon seeing the work Burke and Wills Expedition (left) in the stunning exhibition Open Air – Portraits in the Landscape at the newly opened National Portrait Gallery. 

I had long been familiar with Nolan’s work, and being a Canberran have repeatedly worshipped at the altar that is the Kelly series at the National Gallery of Australia, but it was Burke and Wills that really swept off my feet.

The painting has a liquid shimmer, with forms that are simultaneously defined yet elusive. It’s amazing how much sadness, anxiety and desperation Nolan captured in this simple, brightly coloured composition. Forgoing the legend, he exposes his subject as vulnerable, almost pathetic, and unshakably real.

Then, just last week, I went along to the opening of Sidney Nolan: The Gallipoli Series at the Australian War Memorial. Unsure of what to expect from art in this setting I was hugely unprepared for what is actually one of the finest exhibitions I have seen in this here city.

AWM image ART91445

The works on display are AMAZING. From the weighty portraits of the series Head of a Gallipoli Soldier (like the one on the right) to the sparse, fleeting sketches and fluid works on paper, there is not a single piece that did not hold me entranced.

The subject is not spoon-fed to us; the works do not preach or condescend, there is no romanticism and there are no heroes. These paintings and drawings could be referencing anything and everything that is dark and difficult about humanity.

Distorted yet incredibly real, these are the kind of artworks that leave you scarcely breathing, unable to tear yourself away.  It’s although the images burn into your brain, visible long after your eyes have closed.

If you love Nolan as much as I, it is absolutely essential that you get to the Australian War Memorial to see this exhibition. I know I will be heading back at least once, before its time is done.

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