Central Australia, 1950

Central Australia 1950 Ripolin enamel and oil on hardboard 122 x 152.5 cm Purchased with funds provided by the Nelson Meers Foundation 2004 The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Leanne Santoro is Assistant curator at Australian art Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

"Central Australia is one of the highlights of the AGNSW’s Nolan, and indeed Australian art, collection. Emerging from Nolan’s 1949 trip to Central Australia, the aerial perspective, with the rocky landscape disappearing into a far-off horizon reveals the monumental scale of the Australian outback.

Flying with pilot Eddie Connellan as he delivered mail on his long runs, Nolan was afforded an aerial perspective of the landscape, a viewpoint which had so impressed him two years earlier on his flights over Queensland and Fraser Island.

Nolan was one of the first non-indigenous artists to paint the vast, remote interior of the continent at a time when the majority of the population had never seen the country’s centre.

Today went on a mail flight for four hundred miles… It is a simple matter to trace in this old waterless and eroded surface of the earth the dreaming nature and philosophy of the Aborigines. In the morning the light on the hills was like gauze… Transparent and at the same time impenetrable, a fitting paradox for those who would look long at it and attempt to look through it to the coloured rocks and hills themselves. One must accept it as such only a little of it can be painted. The same as other things, only here the categories of light are clearly defined. Just so much you can do and just so much you cannot. It would be a mistake to erect any theories. Time and space are obviously welded together under those conditions here. Both are old. - Sidney Nolan diary notes, Alice Springs, 28 June 1949, Jinx Nolan papers.

The red ochre of the desert in Central Australia provides a striking colour change from much of the Australian landscape painting which had preceded it. The rich reds of the soil and lunar-like craggy outcrops must have been quite a shock to the city-dwelling art lovers accustomed to bucolic pastoral scenes.

For me, the most striking thing about this series is comparing Nolan’s photographs of the region with the paintings. The forms of the ancient land with its craters and shadows have been brilliantly rendered; there is little abstracted. Nolan has captured the isolated beauty of Central Australia’s colours and forms with honesty and great skill."

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