#Nolan 100

No.10 Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell


No.10 Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell

Kelly is riding alone, across an open plain.

The sharp sunlight delineates all the forms before us - the horse, Kelly’s gun, the distant tree line on this yellow sandy expanse.  Everything is clearly and quickly articulated except for that famous body armour and helmet, which magically absorbs all  light. Indeed, it is as if light particles are ‘bailed up’ and robbed by the event horizon of this formal black hole. Kelly’s helmet and armour become unknown volumes: both flat and a window into infinite space. Apollo’s order and sunlight is no match for a Dionysian Kelly, who in this instance may be simply riding, but if needed, he will dismount, disarm, endure 20 rounds of bare knuckle boxing and win.  

This painting of Kelly is arguably the most well known of all Nolan’s works, and certainly the most recognisable of his initial Kelly series. Nolan depicts Kelly riding freely and, more importantly, for his own sense of freedom. We are given a vision of Kelly, the firebrand anti-establishmentarian, in a very precious moment. We are alone with him, away from the gang and all the transpiring drama.  From this moment of solitude, we envisage our outlaw riding into his destiny.  

Nolan’s image is a technical mirroring of its subject matter. It is also painted ‘freely’, in the spirit of our great anti-hero, Kelly. Nolan's technique dances above and around the strict academic laws of volumetric illusion, typically achieved through tonal modelling, accurate proportion and perspective. Nolan instead plays the game of figurative representation in his own idiosyncratic way, subverting artistic convention in the creation of  a very ‘modern’ composition.

The image has such a graphic intensity that it burns into one’s retina, and even deeper into the individual unconscious. Soon enough, this image of Kelly gallops directly into the collective imaginary of an entire nation and the primers of art history. The 1946 Kelly will effect a shift from being one of many representations of Kelly to possibly the most recognised artistic symbol of this man. Even in terms of other dramatisations of Kelly, can the film interpretations of Mick Jagger or the late, great Heath Ledger, or Julian Schnabel’s ‘plate painting’ of Kelly, ever come close to claiming the iconic power of Nolan’s 1946 Kelly?    

A great mystery of the painting is the much speculated upon visor in Kelly’s helmet. To see directly through the helmet form (which we know from Nolan’s statements, was inspired by Malevich’s black square) is to enter a wonderful representational dilemma. Is Kelly hollow, or a ‘body without Organs’ as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze would put it?  Is ‘Ned’ constructed purely of mythic surfaces? Nolan would later famously state that every painting of Kelly was in fact a self-portrait. The transparent visor in the helmet suggests that we can all inhabit this empty armour and ask ourselves: do we have it within us to be so wild, so passionate, so revolutionary?

The see-through helmet also destabilises the otherwise clearly defined figure/ground relationship.  Kelly is stark against the immediate surroundings, but this vivid nature is also within him.  Kelly’s agency is extended into the sky through this very powerful pictorial device. To be simultaneously solid and transparent – a dark Dionysus framing Apollo’s light. Given Nolan’s great interest in poetry, I cannot go past images conjured in T.S. Elliott’s ‘the Hollow Men’ (1925). While this poem might not be comparable in thematic, as far as imagery goes the poet’s utterances of “shape without form, shade without colour…”, “The eyes are not here, There are no eyes here…”, “Behaving as the wind behaves” and of course, the poems title, are all evocative of Nolan’s eventual 1946 Ned Kelly portrayal. 

We simultaneously look at Kelly and look through him, but from behind, as with Casper David Frederich’s Wander Above the Sea of Fog (1818) (this time on a plain rather than a peak).  As with Frederich’s figure, we assume we are seeing what Kelly is seeing before him – a vast open expanse.  However, instead of us simply looking at Kelly who in turn ‘looks out’, Kelly is looking back at us through the sky itself.  He is there before us and already away, taking Nolan with him, into the afternoon, then evening, and into a posterity of open sky and brilliant stars. "

Shaun Gladwell was born in 1972 in Sydney, Australia and currently lives and works in London.  He is widely considered Australia’s foremost video installation artists but also works across, performance, choreography, painting, photography, sculpture and writing.

Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly, 1946, enamel paint on composition board, 90.8 x 121.5 cm, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Sunday Reed 1977

No.1 - Four Abstracts - Alexander Downer

No.2 - Self Portrait - Angus Trumble

No.3 - Arabian Tree - Kendrah Morgan

No.4 Riverbend I - Francine Stock

No.5 - Desert - Andrew Logan

No.6 Dog and Duck - Jane Clark

No.7 Vivisector - Tim Abdallah

No.8 In the Cave - Rebecca Daniels

No.9 Young Soldier - Clare Woods

No.10 Ned Kelly - Shaun Gladwell

No.11 Bird - Deborah Ely

No. 12 Hare in Trap - Nicholas Usherwood

No.13 Untitled (Catani Arch, St Kilda) - David Rainey

No.14 Death of a Poet - Simon Martin

No.15 Study for Samson et Dalila - Elijah Moshinsky

No.16 Rimbaud at Harar - Edmund Capon AM OBE

No.17 Quilting the Armour - Jackie Haliday

No.18 Snake - David Walsh

No.19 Angel and the Tree - Dr Nicky McWilliam

No.20 Brian the Stockman at Wave Hill Mounting a Dead Horse - Damian Smith

No.21 Steve Hart Dressed as a Girl -Jennifer Higgie

No.22 Women and Billabong - Anthony Plant

No.23 Agricultural Hotel - Philip Mead

No.24 Policeman in a Wombat Hole - Kay Whitney

No.25 Peter Grimes - David Lipsey

No.26 Self Portrait in Youth - Barry Pearce & Duncan Fallowell

No.27 Riverbend I - Ian Dungavell

No.28 Drowned Soldier at Anzac as Icarus - Paul Gough

No.29 Thames - John Tooley

No.30 Girl - Amelda Langslow

No.31 Ned Kelly and Policeman - Daniel Crawshaw

No.32 Tarred and Feathered - Nick Cave

No.33 Self Portrait - Denise Mimmocchi

No.34 Peter Grimes's Apprentice - George Vass

No.35 The Emu Hunt - Roger Law

No.36 Luna Park - Paula Dredge

No.37 Rose in Coffee Pot - Anthony Collier

No.38 The Cardplayers - Nevin Jayawardena

No.39 Bathers - Lesley Harding

No.40 Aboriginal Girl - Jennie Milne

No.41 Pretty Polly Mine - Michael Brand

No 42. Roses in a Merric Boyd Vase - Jack Galloway

No 43. Brett Whiteley - Jonathan Watkins

No 44. Island - Nick Yelverton

No 45. Luna Park - Bill Granger

No 46. Face of the Damned - Kate McMillan

No 47. Central Australia - Leanne Santoro

No 48. Crane - Brian Adams

No 49. Myself - Simon Mundy

No 50. Going to Work, Rising Sun Hotel, 1948 - David Ferry

No 51. Figure at Harar - Andrew Turley

No 52, Greek Figures - Simon Pierse

No 53. Randolph Stow - Suzanne Falkiner

No 54. Landscape No.27 (Convalescence) - Suzanne Falkiner

No 55. Self portrait - Oliver McCall

No 56. McMurdo Sound - Mike Clements

No 57. Faun, Woman, Rider, Horse - Mark Fraser

No 58. Season in Hell (Benjamin Britten) - Anne Bean

No 59. The Slip - Humphrey Ocean

No 60. Central Australia - Chris Drury

No 61. Riverbend - Christina Slade

No 62. Head - Celia Johnson

No 63. Myth Rider - Desmond Browne

No 64. Stockman - Bridget McDonnell

No 65. Untitled (flower) - Roma Piotrowska

No 66. Chinese Landscape - Celia Perceval

No 67. Untitled - Des Hughes

No 68. Crucifixion - Rod Bugg

No 69. Icebergs - Laurence Hall

No 70. Bather in a Lily Pool - Amanda Fitzwilliams

No 71. Breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head - Michael Berkeley

No 72. Carcase in Swamp - Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva

No 73. Ern Malley - Isabella Boorman

No 74. Mrs Reardon at Glenrowan - Adrian Kelly

No 75. Landscape Carnarvon Range, Queensland - Catherine Noske

No 76. Abraham and Isaac - Sarah Bardwell

No 77. Rosa Mutabilis - Catherine Hunter

No 78. Artist drawing nude - Victoria Lynn

No 79. Boy and the moon - Natalie Wilson

NO 80. Explorer and Township - Helen Idle

No 81. All Tastes Like Dust in the Mouth... - Carolyn Leder

No 82. Young Boy Who Was Good at Latin - Roxy Shaw

No 83. Mrs Fraser - Anne Carter

No 84. Paradise Garden - David Oliver

No 85. Leda and the Swan - Marilyn Sweet

No 86. Burke and Wills at the Gulf - Jenny Watson

No 87. Dream of the latrine sitter - Ryan Johnston

No 88. Footballer - Gerard Vaughan

NO 89. Sketch for Ned Kelly - Amanda Fuller

NO 90. Woman in Lagoon - Jinx Nolan

No 91. Cherries in a bowl - Peter Blake

No 92. Fountain - Heywood Hill

No 93. Artist and painting - Charles Nodrum

No 94. Death of Constable Scanlon - Anita Taylor

No 95. Untitled (abstract) - David Jaffe

No 96. Digital image - Joe Studholme

No 97. Seated figure and bird - Sally Aitken

No 98. Burke and Wills expedition 'Gray sick' - Gary Sangster

No 99. Kangaroo at Ayers Rock - Pru and Anthony Napolitano

No 100. The Galaxy - Elizabeth Langslow