#Nolan 100

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


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

Coming from Sydney’s western suburbs, a sprawling empire of parochial masculinity, a certain durable, resilient intellectualism committed me to understanding the cultural gulf between a cramped suburban vision of Australian colonialism and the internationalism inherent in Australia’s post-war view of modern art.

From this vantage point, I never quite came to terms with a celebrated painter like Nolan, with his deftly economic mark-making, naively distorted figuration, and his quirky interrogation of narrative and environmental myths emerging starkly from the harshest zones of the Australian landscape. To me, Nolan frequently seemed like an icon of Australiana, sometimes forlorn, sometimes telling.

Like many of Australia’s greatest artists, the question at the heart of Nolan’s work is an inventive and occasionally poignant pursuit of both understanding and articulating Australian identity, what it means to be Australian and what makes Australian identity unique, valuable, or special. Nationalism is a constantly self-referential enterprise, that may explain or at least provide some insight into the profound effects of dislocation or the pronounced lean towards physical extremities in untamed lands.

The colonists’ rejection of indigenous culture as anything close to authentic, the immediate, outright, and ongoing denial of Aboriginal rights, meant that the settlers were up against it from the outset, attempting vainly to impose their will and their vision of genteel colonialism within a uniquely foreign nature. Searching constantly for their own strains of authenticity, it was not simply a struggle for survival in an unforgiving land, it was also a struggle to assert power and control against impossible odds of a fierce and fatal environment.

The prescience of Nolan’s project, where courage, heroism, masculinity, and folly are all encapsulated into the drama of Australia’s national creation myths, is to ensure the personal wreckage is lauded within the idealism of the pursuit. In this context, Nolan is a history painter, but an extraordinarily imaginative one, a painter of legends, a maker of legends, legends set in the barren wildness of the Australian plains and desert, amongst the scrubby farmland or in the wasteland mining sites. A documentarian of damned pursuits and failed enterprises. 

In a remarkable painting of stark, moving presence, Burke and Wills’ Expedition ‘Gray Sick’, we see a doomed explorer perched upon an imperturbable camel which is stalled in a rutted, barren landscape. The figure, Burke or Wills, seemingly strapped to the continuously strange, non-indigenous species, presumably to prevent falling off his saddle, is set against an enormous, completely cloudless sky.  The explorer and camel are both rendered in a monochrome kind of camel-like/sepia tone, the earth hatched in burnt crimson, and sky yellowing, like dusk, the beginning of the end of the day. This is a painful image of fallibility and failure, where the rider wears an expression of incomprehensibility towards inevitability.  He has lost his hat, always a mistake in the desert, not thinking ahead, not reckoning on the tragic outcome of this misadventure.”

Gary Sangster, Bath Spa University, © 2017.

Sidney Nolan, Burke and Wills expedition, 'Gray sick', 1949, Ripolin enamel and oil-based red ochre on hardboard, 91.5 x 121.5 cm, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Gift of Edron Pty Ltd 1995 through the auspices of Alistair McAlpine. © The Trustees of the 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