#Nolan 100

No 51. Figure at Harar - Andrew Turley


No 51. Figure at Harar - Andrew Turley

There are only two works of art that have brought tears to my partner Rachael’s eyes. One was the roof of the Sistine Chapel. ‘Figure at Harar’ was the other.

Emerging from the shadows of Sidney’s ‘African Journey’, the figure may not be pretty but she is powerful. Swathed and roped in a hooded robe, dead centre on a dark butter-rich background, she was published more than any other African work in 1963, appearing in Time magazine, art magazines, newspapers and books. She was also the face of “African Journey” in every major retrospective - Australia, UK, Germany, Stockholm, Dublin, Paris and Chicago – from 1963 until 1978.

Leap forward to 2016 and Rachael and I were so seduced by her, we felt compelled to follow Sidney and Cynthia’s footsteps through the uneven, rubble-walled alleys of Harar, where hyenas once hunted down the sick and dying and still scavenge for butchers’ scraps today.

Ethiopia and the ancient city were the last major leg of Sidney and Cynthia’s African journey – which stretched from early September through to November 1962. Cynthia wrote of the Ethiopian experience “we alternated between being cast down to the depths of human degradation then were faced with such beauty that our spirits soared”.

Harar had been home to Sidney’s poet-hero Rimbaud, and on reaching the city his creative spirit did soar. His imagination was at fever pitch and Cynthia knew it. She wrote “Sidney also knew exactly what he wanted from this town (Harar), which he had first dreamed about when, as a boy, he was reading both the translation of the poems and those terrible cries of boredom, frustration and pain, Rimbaud’s letters to his mother”.

Proving equal to the task, Sidney wove Rimbaud’s themes of angst, chaos and poverty deep into “Figure at Harar”. He shunned pictorial references used in many of his other Ethiopian works, instead creating a visual amalgam of Rimbaud’s prose - “in the dives where we used to get drunk, he would cry when he looked at the people around us – poverty’s cattle” - and his own Ethiopian vision - “the men, the women, the children were grey, a combination of unwanted ghosts and lepers clad in grave clothes”.

This painting speaks to me because it is layered with vulnerability, menace and meaning. It is part of two older worlds finding a place in the new. And because, with single-minded clarity, Sidney took exactly what he needed from Harar to lock a pure, mythic presence behind “the cast iron logic of paint”.

Andrew Turley. Nolan collector, researcher and writer. Sydney, Australia. Author of "A day-by-day guide to the Adelaide ladies : 59 works by Sidney Nolan -  27 April 1964 to 11 June 1964".

Sidney Nolan, Figure at Harar, 1963, oil on composition board, 151 x 120.5 cm, private collection, © Sidney Nolan Trust 

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