Kelly and Policemen, 1946

Sidney Nolan, Kelly and Policemen,1964

Daniel Crawshaw is a painter, he grew up in mid-Wales and has most recently been artist in residence at the Elan Valley. His paintings have a quality of photorealism, they rely on memory recall, painted in the studio after time spent walking in the hills and mountains.

"I was treated to a novel retelling of Kelly’s downfall on a Gippsland roadside a few years ago: “Ahhh they weren’t bad boys, it was that bloody Fitzpatrick” the farmer drawled, arm hanging from the window “They called on my great aunt…found a blacksmith up in New South Wales...poor buggers....they shot Ned in the legs”

As myths go Ned Kelly is a hard one to beat and the handmade armour a masterstroke, offering an image of the anti-hero in a cast iron frame. While notoriously illusive, the Kelly gang were ubiquitous and anecdotal sites of interest cover a vast area beyond Glenrowan, where I stopped to pick up a souvenir tea towel.

It could be said that Nolan took the Kelly myth and literally rode with him through all kinds of painterly twists, developing a rich, playful and disjointed narrative. Kelly is the trickster, constantly popping up in paintings of different compositional guises and underpinning Nolan’s haunting, visceral Australian landscapes.

In ‘Kelly and Policemen’ Nolan adopts a tall format and a high horizon reminiscent of the Northern Renaissance. Kelly’s iconic helmet becomes a keyhole in the lower composition. The policemen, feeble and fragile feel like they might slip, along with the subtle suggestions of trees, from the bottom of the painting.

Encountering this work at Pallant House recently I was struck that Nolan handles the medium of paint as if it is being subjected to some kind of mesmeric external control; the oil dragged, the light from within unique and luminous. I was reminded of my drive on out to Broken Hill, gripping the wheel against the hypnotic power of the outback."

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