Death of Constable Scanlon , 1946

Death of Constable Scanlon (1946), enamel paint on composition board, 90.4cm x 121.2cm, National Gallery of Australia. Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977.

Professor Anita Taylor is an artist & Executive Dean, Bath School of Art and Design at Bath Spa University

“Observed fact and speculated fiction; speculated fact and observed fiction. An account pieced together and explored through image-making, enabling an understanding of the Australian bush, history, folklore and identity - and painting itself. Nolan’s ‘cast iron logic of paint’ elicits a narrative of discovery and provides a vehicle through which to piece together fact and fiction of the subject matter at hand.

The Kelly saga was described by Nolan as ‘a story arising out of the bush and ending in the bush’. The Death of Constable Scanlon represents a momentous episode in a major sequence of works that examine the life of bushranger and outlaw, Ned Kelly. A black sky, golden earth; a meeting of opposite forces. A foreboding atmosphere, and a catastrophic incident set in the vastness of the outback. The deep black of Ned Kelly’s suit of armour a shorthanded pictorial device forming a shadow presence, simultaneously floating, embedded, solid, and a cut out shape. Both present and disappearing. Redolent of stealth. And as everything tips and spins, horse and constable to his death, Kelly is still withdrawn from this dramatic moment.

Nolan’s inventive painterly language forms a visual equivalent to the events, sensations and settings, as he re-imagines, explores and realises, through a journey of mark-making - and consequent discovery of images, subjects, objects, configuring and reconfiguring space - a way to capture the past and develop a new understanding in the present of this particular Australian story. A subversive grand narrative, this compelling cycle of paintings reveals the Kelly story as freshly to us as it was revealed to the artist through the act of making. Seeing these paintings together in Australia is a special experience, and the Death of Constable Scanlon a pivotal picture in so many ways.”

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