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Canberra Today 7°/10° | Sunday, August 14, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Must-see Sidney Nolan work as never before

Sidney Nolan, “Mrs Fraser and the Convict.”

Art / “Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise”, Canberra Museum and Gallery, to October 22. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

SIDNEY Nolan is one of Australia’s most iconic artists. In this exhibition, which is unique to Canberra, Nolan’s artworks that were fuelled by a lifelong fascination with the notion of paradise and the consequences of its loss, offer a stark reality into the human personality.

Startling, ghostly, and earthy best describes the transformative artworks of Sidney Nolan. In this exhibition titled, “Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise” at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, CMAG, shows the astounding effect this leading modernist painter of the 20th century has on the Australian psyche.

Like few other artists, Nolan leaves a viewer with a disturbing and uneasy feeling. His works look supernatural and real at the same time. His ghostly images of humans lost or caught in the landscape seem to haunt the eyes.

“Kelly and Armour, “detail

The two works, “Kelly and armour”, and “Mrs Fraser and convict”, that sit side by side in the gallery make a viewer question, are they human? There’s a strong essence of the unnatural in both these artworks.

That same feeling is in “Man and Monkey”, on the opposite wall. What is it about? What is it saying? Whatever it is, the strength of the colours, the shapes and forms confuse, yet it draws a viewer into its surreal construction.

A later work, “Young Rimbaud”, 1982, one of Nolan’s spray paints, offers the same spectre-like appearance and feel. It’s not poetic, it’s almost demonic.

Included in this exhibition is a video installation by Dean Cross, “Sometimes I miss the Applause”. Cross was raised on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country and is an artist of Worimi descent. He has a performance background in contemporary dance. His dual video portrayal of Nolan’s production design for the 1962 Kenneth MacMillan radical version of, “The Rite of Spring”, combines images of Nolan, his anti-hero Ned Kelly, and how ideas and gestures constantly shift, as they do in Nolan’s artworks.

So profound and pervasive is Nolan’s “Kelly” series in this country, that one could say these works are the Australian da Vincis. There are many iconic artworks in this exhibition, “Ern Malley”, the devastating surrealism work, “Drought”, his “Luna Park”, and, of course, the Kellys. But the selection of photos showing the connection to many of his artworks, and his time at Heide in Victoria, now the Heide Museum of Modern Art, where this exhibition comes from, reveal unique insights to the artist and the man.

“Nolan: Search for Paradise” is only on in Canberra at CMAG. No other gallery is going to get this exhibition, so it’s a must see for locals and all lovers of Australian art.

Sidney Nolan. “Young Rimbaud,” 1982.



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