April the 22nd is the centenary of the birth of one of Australia's leading 20th century artists, Sir Sidney Nolan. His work is diverse, from intense detailed outback landscapes, portraits influenced by children's art and 20th century modernists, to large scale murals inspired by the 'finger-and-thumb' drawing technique of Indigenous Australian sand painters.
He is best known for a series of paintings featuring legends and iconic figures from Australian history. The most famous and contentious of these is Ned Kelly, and Nolan's depiction of Ned and his armour has become an icon of Australian Art. Kelly was an outlaw, but many Australians see him as a 'Robin Hood' figure - one that represents a nostalgia for a freedom and way of living replaced in modern Australia. Historian Geoffrey Serle called Kelly and his gang 'The last expression of the lawless frontier' in a modernised and educated country, 'the last protest of the mighty bush'. Still, over a hundred years later, Ned Kelly remains a controversial cultural icon, a part of the national psyche inspiring countless works of art. Some celebrate him, whilst others depict him as a criminal undeserving of hero status.
The Kelly series was painted throughout a tumultuous time during the Depression and WW11. Nolan wanted to explore ideas of nationalism in this period of struggle, to define a hero as a fighter resisting tyranny with his desire for freedom.
The Kelly works show Nolan painting the Australian landscape in new ways and the combination of the land with this icon of folk law imbues it with meaning. Kelly is always the centre of the painting but the vibrant colours of the bush make his image stand out even more. The paintings show the world just how beautiful the Australian outback is, but they represent natural resistance, this great untamed wilderness and rebellious figure in his home made armour is a powerful symbol of man's fight against overwhelming odds and changing times.
Pallant House Gallery in Chichester have a wonderful selection of Nolan's work in their current exhibition, as well Ned Kelly's armour that was made for the 1970 film starring Mick Jagger!
This wonderful show is on until June - well worth a visit. http://pallant.org.uk