Tag Archives: Ned Kelly

N- Sidney Nolan: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for this year’s A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian artist, Sir Sidney Nolan and will be focusing on his iconic Ned Kelly Series 1946-47. The series is held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Sidney Nolan will be accompanied by the great Peter Allen singing: I Still Call Australia Home

Sidney Nolan was born on the 22nd April, 1917 in Carlton, a working-class suburb of Melbourne and always saw himself as a member of the proletariat…a Working Class Man. In 1938, he married Elizabeth Paterson, but he started having an affair with Sunday Reed. In 1948, he married Cynthia Reed. In 1976, Cynthia Nolan took her life. In 1978, Nolan married Mary née Boyd (1926-2016),youngest daughter within the artistic Boyd family and previously married to artist, John Perceval. Nolan died in London on 28 November, 1992 at the age of 75, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.

Ned Kelly was a notorious Australian bushranger who has become something of a folk hero inspiring poets, musicians and artists alike. Sidney Nolan has said that the main ingredients of his “Kelly” series of paintings were “Kelly’s own words, and Rousseau, and sunlight”. Kelly’s words, including the Jerilderie Letter, “fascinated Nolan with their blend of poetry and political engagement”.Speaking of inspiration, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series has also inspired other works, including Tin Symphony, which was composed and performed by Ian Cooper at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

When I was growing up, my parents had a print of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon, which was wedded to the walls of three different houses. Indeed, by the time I left home, it had become a much loved member of the family. I’m not sure where it is now. Perhaps, it was buried in the family plot. However, it’s much more likely, that my father dumped it at the tip. He’s not what you’d call “a sentimental bloke”, and more of a “minimalist extremist”. Either way, the painting’s staying power, had me question how often other families change their artworks over, and rotate what’s on display? Or, do their paintings also become married to their walls… “til death do us part”?

Who Was Ned Kelly?

 “…some say that Ned Kelly was a courageous and fundamentally decent young man who was wronged by social conditions that he could not challenge except by violence; while others maintain that he was a common thief and a murderer who deserved only to hang and be forgotten. There is no simple truth of the matter[2]”.

Edward Kelly (December 1854 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, outlaw, leader of the Kelly Gang and convicted police murderer. He was born in Victoria, Australia, around 1855. As a teenager he was in trouble with the police and was arrested several times and served time in prison. In mid-1878, following his mother’s imprisonment on perjured police evidence and feeling that the police were harassing him, Kelly took to bushranging with his brother, Dan, Joe Byrne, and Steve Hart. They became known as the Kelly Gang.[3][4] After they shot dead three policemen at Stringybark Creek in Victoria in October 1878, they were declared outlaws. Reacting to the killings, the Victorian Government enacted the Felons’ Apprehension Act 1878 which authorised any citizen to shoot a declared outlaw on sight. A substantial reward was offered for each member of the Kelly Gang, ‘dead or alive’. Ned Kelly is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police at Glenrowan. This armour was made from stolen plough mouldboards. Kelly, the only survivor, was severely wounded by police fire and captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, Kelly was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out at the Old Melbourne Gaol. His last words were famously reported to have been, “such is life”.

Nolan has depicted bushranger Ned Kelly with a square, black box on his head with a rectangle cut out so he can see out and we can see his eyes, which are particularly graphic and expressive.

Kelly has been described as a metaphor for Nolan himself in this series. Nolan, like the bushranger, was a fugitive from the law. In July 1944, facing the possibility that he would be sent to Papua New Guinea on front-line duty, Nolan went absent without leave. He adopted the alias Robin Murray, a name suggested by Sunday Reed, whose affectionate nickname for him was “Robin Redbreast”. So when he created this series he viewed himself as the misunderstood hero/artist like the protagonist, Kelly. “Nolan like this Kelly figure has also been a hero, a victim, a man who armoured himself against Australia and who faced it, conquered it, lost it…. ambiguity personified.[3]

Kelly with clouds

My Favourite

Although Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon brings back precious childhood memories, my favourite is the one simply called Ned Kelly.What resonates with me about this painting, is that when you peer through the eye-slot in his helmet instead of seeing his eyes, there’s blue sky and clouds. This is me. I always have my head in the clouds. At least, I would if I could. I’m proud to be a dreamer.

That’s no doubt a very personal view of the painting, but isn’t that the point of art in the first place? That we develop a personal attachment and relationship with it and it’s not all about head knowledge and gobbledygook.

Sidney Nolan’s Approach to Art & Painting

During my travels today, I came across an interview with Sidney Nolan in the Australian Women’s Weekly, which provides some helpful insights into his thought processes as an artist:

“Like all the projects he discusses, it sounds as if it’s planned within an inch of its life. “I do that with all my paintings, sometimes years ahead, because I feel all the brainwork, so to speak, should be done by the artist, and should not show in the work. Painting is a celebratory process and an emotional one not quite suited to the conveyance of ideas.”

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about painting, says Nolan, and it tends to alienate some people.

“The average person, so to speak, shouldn’t have to be put through an intellectual process in order to understand paintings. The appeal should be immediate, like people one to the other.”

As far as he’s concerned, “it’s the same thing for all of us – an emotional response. You stand in front of a painting and the first thing you get is a wobbly sort of feeling in your stomach.”

To get his own paintings to that point of impact, he “rehearses” them in his head. “I’m always doing it, in a taxi, over break-fast. It’s like moving furniture – it’s so much easier if you’ve done it in your head beforehand, otherwise it’s heavy going.”

“….Yes, I do have rather a lot planned. And of course apart from the painting I have a lot more travelling I want to do. It’s not so much looking for themes – more just soaking things up, images, feelings, perhaps they’ll come together into some good ideas one day, perhaps not, but I doubt that I’ll ever stop doing it.[4]

A Letter To Sidney Nolan

Dear Sidney,

Our time together today was so rushed, but I wanted to thank you for help out with us on the Scout Sausage Sizzle and providing the kids with a few drawings. They will treasure them always. I also wanted to thank you for lending me your pen and your sketchbook during my daughter’s dance Eisteddfod and helping me alleviate my stress. Thank you very much, also for not laughing when we found out we’d left the tutu at home and I’d failed to sew on the last of the ribbons on top my daughter’s ballet shoe, forcing her to dance with a pin jabbing her in the foot. I really wish we could’ve spent the day at the art gallery. Or, perhaps you prefer being out amongst the people, and feast on the inspiration of the everyday. Personally, I’d rather load up a kombi and had up to Byron Bay and park illegally beside the beach. I think you’d be joining me in that, but you’d need to bring your own Kombi.

I know this is probably being rather forward of me, but I wanted to ask you how you managed to keep going after you lost your beloved wife Cynthia, in such tragic circumstances. I thought you might be able to offer some coping strategies and encouragement to those who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances.

Many thanks & best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Sidney Nolan

Dear Rowena,

I had a delightful day with you today. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and expect perfection all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, but most of them aren’t fatal and we can recover ourselves in some way. Indeed, I’ve found a bit of paint can cover up a multitude of sins.

Anyway, you asked me about those terrible years after I lost my beloved Cynthia with her famous kingfisher spirit.

For awhile there, it was very hard for me to go on. I wasn’t a young man and wondered whether  “my life had gone as far as it could go.”

“But you see I have some friends who have looked after me very well. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve been helped to survive, because I have been.”

“Lonely? Oh yes. Lonely. But alone? Well, you see, because of those friends I wasn’t really on my own, except with respect to that relationship which, anyway, I’ll have with me for the rest of my life.”

In a way there was a choice, recalls Nolan. “Either you went down, you went under – which in a way would have been all right, because I’d seen a lot of life – or you just came through it and painted harder than before.

“What I think now is that if you remain alive and you’re a painter, your responsibility is to become a better painter. What 1 have to do now is paint more into the paintings – which I’ve tried to do this time.”

I hope that helps. Anyway, I’ve been keeping you up and it’s well after your bed time.

Best wishes,

Sidney.

These quotes were taken from Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6.

Sources & References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[2] Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 3 April 1965, page 9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[4] Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6

 

 

Goodbye 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Goodbye 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Today, I’ve been going through my photos from 2014 and putting together an annual best of file, which has proved very enlightening. We have had so many amazing experiences such as sailing, skiing, going to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, trips to Palm Beach, wondering around Sydney’s Surry Hills. Yes, my health brought us stress but the chemo has worked and while there are still ups and downs as legendary Australian bushranger Ned Kelly said just before he went to the gallows: “Such is Life”.

So after much reflection and despite the very bad things that have happened, for us personally, we have pronounced 2014 a “jolly good year!”

Now, we launch into another New Year…2015 The UN Year of Light…with the usual optimism that a new year brings about a new beginning. That’s right. We all start off the new year with a perfectly clean slate without so much as a smudge.

Love & Blessings for the New Year,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo & Lady xxoo

PS The photo was “prepared earlier” at Byron Bay Lighthouse, Easter 2014.

A Blank Canvas…

I don’t know whether I would call it procrastination, avoidance, hyperactivity or just too much prednisone because today I actually managed to clean the fridge.

There has to be some psychological term to explain my latest cleaning frenzy…a category all of its own in DSM IV or whatever the good book is called. I am quite ideologically opposed to cleaning and I only do it when I really have to. That said, I have also realised that now I’m a grown up, I can’t just throw all my crap in my cupboard, force the door shut and believe it’s all just going to magically self-sort. These days, it turns out, I have become the proverbial fairy, wielding my not so magic wand…clunk!

I think I might just blame the prednisone. I’m blaming it for everything right now! It’s a bit like being pregnant!

Anyway, before you get all excited about what rotten remains I’ve “discovered” in the fridge, I haven’t reached the inside of the fridge yet. I’m just talking about the fridge door.

So I’ll get you to sit down with your cup of tea and just think about fridge doors for a few minutes…

The more I think about it, the fridge door is actually something of a canvas. It’s blank. It’s white. You can let your imagination run totally wild.  Sure, like any canvas, of course there are boundaries…limits…a frame. Yet within that space, anything is possible although I would just advise against a completely literal interpretation of my “fridge door as canvas” concept. I strongly advise against painting on the fridge door itself. My daughter has written on our fridge door in permanent marker which at this point of time, is looking way too permanent. After all, the whole point is to be ephemeral. Your canvas is constantly changing, evolving…a melting pot of things past, present and maybe even future.

However, this “fridge door as canvas” concept is a long way from where I started out this morning. This morning my fridge door was looking something in between a dog’s breakfast and a very chaotic whirlwind. As I looked at everything stuck on top of it, I’m sure I could even detect whirly patterns. It was rather disconcerting as I wondered what the state of the fridge door actually said about me? Was this my reflection?

Then I got a bit stuck. I didn’t quite know how you are supposed to arrange all those fridge magnet thingys. It seems a bit anal having them all lined up in neat little rows like Monopoly houses but my ephemera was looking like it had been in a whirlwind. You know how it is. The magnets fall off and you just put them back anywhere before they get stamped on by the hoardes.

In an act which could only be described as desperation, I pulled absolutely everything off the fridge until it was completely and utterly naked…bare. It was actually quite a strange sight and all that white actually looked pretty glary. I needed my snow goggles on to deal with such vast expanse of white. I was in very unfamiliar territory. I, as you will come to know, am the Clutter Queen!

I re-discovered this message from a friend who had helped declutter my kitchen a few years ago.

As much as my fridge door might be messy, it is also glamorously eclectic and bursting with meaning, history…just like me! My entire life story is on that fridge door much of it preserved in the actual fridge magnets themselves. Not that I officially collect fridge magnets but maybe I do after all.

After

Perhaps, the oldest fridge magnet I have, is a hand-painted ceramic painting of a border collie. I bought that at Glebe Markets about 15 years ago when I was living in a converted warehouse apartment just off Broadway and I thought anywhere beyond the inner city was the outback and to avoided at all costs. We are now onto our second real Border Collie.

There is another series of fridge magnets, also from Glebe Markets by artist Liza Paizis. They are heavenly inspired. I love, love, love her work. She has subsequently moved back to South Africa but she is online. I was seriously distracted looking her up!! You can check her work out at http://www.zhibit.org/lizapaizis

Last year, I discovered the Flower Fairies by Cicely May Barker. You can see that I live in my imagination but her illustrations of local village children as flowers as so beautiful…more superlatives! See: http://www.flowerfairies.com/ I have a series of flower fairy fridge magnets which I picked up in Sandford, Brisbane when visiting my cousins.

I also have not one but three Kombi magnets. I have very fond memories of my first visit to Byron Bay back in 1995 and seeing rows of Kombis parked beside the beach. I had sold my artistic soul out to the corporate sector back then and had found visiting Byron so liberating!! Byron was still fairly  hippy.

I have been dreaming of running away in a Kombi ever since. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ultimate midlife crisis vehicle. I mean if you’re really going to run away from it all, you can’t fit everything into a teeny red convertible. Moreover, a sports car towing a trailer just isn’t a good look! You could literally fit the kitchen sink in the back of a Kombi. It’s my kind of vehicle!

Back when I was still breastfeeding and an active member of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), we made our own fridge magnets as a fundraiser. We brought in photos, which were turned into fridge magnets in much the same way you’d make badges. That was about 8 years ago and I thought they were so cool. There’s one with my son and aunty posing in front of the laughing clowns at the Marburg Show when he was only weeks old.

Just like getting married, there’s something old and something new…

It seems I have added quite substantially to the fridge magnet collection this year. You know that fabulous feeling when you’re on holidays and buying a fridge magnet has been my way of letting that moment extend… or even last forever.

In January, on our way to Byron Bay, we visited the Pet Porpoise Pool at Coffs Harbour. I just had to buy a couple of magnets there so I could look at the seals and dolphins when I got home. We’d been so up close and personal that we could almost smell their fishy breath from the stands. We all enjoyed seal and dolphin kisses as well although I can assure you, we all washed our faces thoroughly afterwards.

There are also some postcards from Nelson Bay. I went there on an adventure camp with Muscular Dystrophy NSW and went parasailing, quad-bike riding, dolphin watching and chatted and chatted with an inspirational group of people.

Lastly, just a few weeks ago, I bought a couple of fridge magnets from the National Gallery in Canberra, on our way back from the snow. There’s The Rose 1958 by Salvador Dali. I really liked this painting with a huge reddish rose hovering in the sky. I have always been a fan of Keats whose Ode to Melancholy suggests:

“But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud…
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose…”

I particularly liked Dali’s less conventional take on the classic rose. I stuck that on the fridge as a reminder to bounce back when the going gets tough (which it inevitably does for everyone eventually).

I also couldn’t resist Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly 1946. This painting shows a rear-view of Ned riding a horse and there’s a “window” cut into his helmet and you see the clouds in his head. This surrealist image has always appealed to me, as my own head is often in the clouds. We took the kids to see the Ned Kelly Series while we were at the gallery and our son tripped over the protective gutter and literally crashed into Constable Fitzpatrick and Kate Kelly. Fortunately, no alarms bells went off but a copy of painting is also plastered on the side of the fridge. I’m a bad mother!

There is also a magnet from Questacon. We all loved Questacon!!

I also have a few magnets with motivational sayings. There’s the Footprints poem. “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well. – Joe Ancis and a photo of an elephant’s foot about to step on a mouse with the caption: “It could always get worse!”

I did throw a few magnets out today but even though our son is 8 and Thomas the Tank Engine isn’t quite so cool anymore, I couldn’t throw poor Thomas out. He stays.

I also added a photo of our family taken down at the snow as few weeks ago.

Our daughter’s artwork

But no fridge door is complete without artwork…especially when you have young kids. Our daughter loves drawing rainbows and they really are very good at turning your mood around. How could you ever look at a rainbow and feel sad? I have a self-portrait by our son up as well as something he calls the never-starting never-ending picture. He ended up putting a bloodshot eyeball in it. He’s rubbed dirt in his eye that day and ended up off at the doctor and returning looking like Pirate Pete.

Our son’s drawing: The Never-starting, Never-ending Picture”

As much as I’ve been steadily collecting these fridge magnets over the years, I’ve never thought about them like this before. Done an inventory and joined all the dots. It’s quite amazing really when you consider what a simple fridge door can say about who you really are.

Well, just one last word about what isn’t on my fridge door.

I have a magnetic whiteboard beside the fridge and it is the organiser albeit with a huge paper sunflower made by our daughter stuck to one side. I just can’t seem to stick to the straight and narrow!

What do you have stuck on your fridge door? I’d love to hear your stories too!