#Nolan 100

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


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

Sidney Nolan’s manner of seizing an image might have earned him a similar reference to his contemporary Willem de Kooning as a slipping glimpser.

With his eye’s aperture Nolan would blink before a motif, turn quickly away, and embrace a prey that may never have been snared with an orthodox gaze; like the shapes and glimmers of a spirit world snapped by ghost hunters. Nolan, swift, impatient, preferred this process over time-honoured construction through drawing and a slower rationale of layering, vouchsafing him an original place in the story of modern Australian painting. 

He had discovered a counterpart in the hallucinatory visions of the nineteenth century French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud in the late 1930s. Rimbaud became disheartened when he felt unable to make the ultimate transition into his parallel universe, and gave up poetry altogether at the age of twenty. Nolan came as close as possible to such an idea of disembodied transition in the spray paintings of Chinese mountains and mists and pure abstractions made during the last decade of his life at The Rodd.

Amongst them was the remarkable Self portrait in youth, of 1986, interpreted by some as a reflection of the artist’s fading reputation. However to discern the intention of this ambiguous, valedictory spectre of himself, attired perhaps in the long Irish coat with fur collar Nolan so loved to wear in winter, we need to ponder an earlier version of 1943, in which horizontal stripes of colour on his forehead, palette and brushes like weapons of intent, emanate the stance of a rebel. Four decades later the stripes have become vertical, shifted to the periphery, the rebel in retreat. It is as if the artist has walked through the portal of a Jean Cocteau mirror, turning back to us whispering that he had always, like his hero Rimbaud, only ever wanted to become immersed in the other side.

Barry Pearce is the former head curator of Australian Art at Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Duncan Fallowell

When I visited Sidney and Mary at The Rodd in 1985 he told me that he wanted to do a series of libellous paintings for posthumous release, 'which tell it like it really is because it's a bit difficult to come out with it when you're alive.' Just before Mary died I asked her if he'd ever got round to these libellous paintings and she said no, he hadn't. So I guess this had been the playful mischief in him talking (which it often did). Such pictures would have been interesting of course but they weren't really necessary, because for me his greatest quality wasn't 'coming out with it' but an eeriness, even a sense of the occult: the pictures convey far more than they portray. I reminded him that Kenneth Clark once compared Nolan's pictures to the music of Benjamin Britten, in their sense of menace, of something very strange just over the horizon; and I added 'But I think your work is more sinister than Britten's.' He flinched: 'Oh dear - really?' 'It's a compliment,' I said. 'Yes . . . ' he murmured distantly, 'I suppose it is. With that in mind, I would like to draw attention to this disturbing and beautiful Self Portrait of 1986, in which dream, terror, and warm physical reality shift ceaselessly. As with so many of his works, one keeps on looking, trying - and failing - to solve the questions it raises.

Duncan Fallowell is an English novelist, travel writer, journalist and critic.

'Self-portrait in Youth' (1986), Sidney Nolan, enamel spray on canvas, 183 X 160.5 cm, © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

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