Artist and Painting, 1984

Sidney Nolan, Artist and Painting, 1984, pastel on paper, 57 x 76.5 cm. Private Collection, Melbourne. © Sidney Nolan Trust.

Charles Nodrum is a qualified art valuer for all periods of Australian paintings, sculpture and works on paper (including graphics) with the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.

“This is one of 30 to 40 drawings Nolan made in an afternoon whilst talking to his friend Elwyn Lynn. Some were easier to read than others and this one was clear and simple: a one armed headless artist is painting a man wearing a hat and backpack. The talk with Lynn was serious, not just chit-chat, so would have required Nolan’s attention. That being the case, he was engaged in multi-tasking (new-speak) and automatic drawing (old-speak) and this seems to give a clue towards a simple interpretation of this work: automatic drawing has no need of the head, and in this case it almost seems as if the brush itself is working independently and using the artist to accomplish its own ends. For an artist who could (and all too often did) slide into slickness, it exemplifies on a formal level the exact opposite. It’s engagingly awkward; the lines are slow and a bit wobbly, as if wondering where to go. It’s not making a statement, it’s asking a question; it’s even puzzling over how to ask the question in the first place.”

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