Ern Malley (Self-Portrait), 1973

Sidney Nolan, Ern Malley (Self-Portrait), 1973, oil on board, 121.5 x 121.5 cm. Collection of the Sidney Nolan Trust; © Sidney Nolan Trust

Isabella Boorman is Curator at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

“I have to admit when I first turned up to The Rodd in 2017 I simply did not know what to expect. I had begun to plan our exhibition in St Davids, Wales, for Nolan’s centenary, with images from books of Ned Kelly and the Outback floating around my mind. Our exhibition is titled Sidney Nolan and Graham Sutherland: A Sense of Place, and I had prepared myself for an exhibition of landscape painting. What I encountered completely caught me off guard. In I walked and there staring at me was this huge head, its bright blues and yellows bouncing off the surface.

This painting is believed to have been created in 1973 as part of an Ern Malley series, the fictitious poet whose creators set out to undermine the modernism of the Angry Penguins. Nolan boldly stated in 1975 that: “I think that without Ern Malley there wouldn’t have been any Ned Kelly. It made me take the risk of putting against the Australian bush an utterly strange object”.

This work is highly significant to me, as it will be exhibited for the very first time (outside The Rodd) in September 2017 at Oriel y Parc. Both Nolan and Sutherland were directly responding to their sense of environment in distinct and inventive ways. Visiting The Rodd gave me the rare experience of seeing where the artist worked, his materials, his surroundings, his home, and how this all infiltrated his art in such an original way. Nolan’s time spent at The Rodd was an intense period of creativity, surrounded by the natural landscape, and what emerged were further intriguing series of heads.

The spectacles suggest this is in fact a self-portrait. As ever I was in the midst of worrying about and planning the exhibition when all of a sudden I turned around in the store and saw his tongue mischievously sticking out at me, in typical Nolan fashion. All I could really do was laugh! Having the opportunity to visit Sidney Nolan’s studio, to see his artworks in situ and the place he chose to live late in life, is an experience I will forever treasure.”

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