Young Boy Who Was Good at Latin, 1982

Sidney Nolan, Young Boy Who Was Good at Latin, 1982, spray paint on canvas, 182.7 x 159.5cm, Collection of the Sidney Nolan Trust, ©Sidney Nolan Trust

Roxy Shaw was a member of Caban Sgriblio at Gwernyfed High School. Arts Alive Wales is an educational arts charity based in Crickhowell, South Powys, using the arts to engage, inspire, and enhance the quality of life of people in local communities. Working across Mid and South East Wales with professional artists Arts Alive Wales provides opportunities for active participation in the arts, particularly for children, young people and vulnerable groups

“In July 2018, I was lucky enough to be invited to two of Arts Alive Wales’ Portfolio days, centring around the work of Sidney Nolan. On the first day, we went to the IKON gallery in Birmingham, where we saw an exhibition of Nolan’s work from the 1980s.

The first part of the exhibition was a series of portraits, or “heads” (as Nolan referred to them), produced in 1982. The images are based on individuals who were significant to Nolan, such as Francis Bacon and Brett Whiteley. I thought the immense canvases were breathtaking. All the works in the room were created with spray paints, and the effect of the bold, expressive strokes on such a large scale was awe-inspiring. We were told to try a technique called ‘slow looking’ - we had to stand and look at a painting for one minute. I found it fascinating how my interpretation of the image changed over the minute, as it made me focus on details I would not otherwise have noticed, like the way the paint was textured and layered, or how the dots of spray paint in a particular portrait looked like stars and galaxies in outer space. It was also interesting how the image changed depending on how far away I stood from it: from a distance, it appeared clearly as a face, the lines and features blurred but impressively detailed. However, as I got closer, the overall picture got harder to see, and I saw instead the texture of the spray paint, how it had been applied in great dramatic sweeps across the canvas. I saw more of the small details, but the bigger picture was lost.

The second day I visited Sidney Nolan’s house and studio. Nolan bought the property because of the view - there is a deep valley surrounded by jutting hills, and from the bottom of this valley you can look along to where strange hills rise suddenly, places where the rock is harder and so hasn’t eroded away. Once we had toured the farm, we had a look around the gallery at several of Nolan’s paintings. One in particular caught my eye; it showed some drops of blood at the very moment they were about to hit the ground, with shadows just beneath them. I was intrigued by this image, showing a moment you could never actually see except with a (perfectly timed, very difficult to capture) photograph.”

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