“I find the desire to paint the landscape involves a wish to hear more of the stories that take place in the landscape.” – Sidney Nolan, 1948
In 1948 Nolan began a journey through the more remote parts of Australia. This artwork is what Nolan called a ‘composite impression’ of the aerial views of the inland desert areas of Australia he saw. The vast scale and silence of the desert made a great impression on him, and he combined his visual observations with visionary imagery to create a sense of this almost alien encounter.
I’ve picked this work this week as it’s Australia Day on Thursday. January 26 marks the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Britain at Sydney Cove in 1788. This complex anniversary has a link to Tate, as Tate Britain stands on the site of the old Millbank Prison on the north bank of the Thames. Between 1843 and 1853 anyone being transported to the colonies was first held at Millbank, and there is even the suggestion that the Australian slang term for British people, Pom, is an acronym from “Prisoner of Millbank (though the Oxford English Dictionary says there is actually no evidence for this, and it’s most likely a much later shortening of pomegranate. It doesn’t mention where the “whinging” bit that normally goes with it might have come from though).
Sidney Nolan is perhaps Australia’s most well-known modern painter. Born in Melbourne in 1917, his most famous works are an early series of paintings inspired by the outlaw Ned Kelly. He painted these in the 1940s, while he was part of the Australian avant-garde movement with the finest name for any artistic group ever; Angry Penguins. The group took its name from the Angry Penguins magazine (first published in Adelaide by Max Harris in 1940), which featured contemporary and surrealist Australian literature and visual art and took its name from a line in one of Harris’s poems.
Do you know anything more about this work? Have you travelled in these desert areas of Australia that Nolan was so struck by? Can you tell us how accurately this work matches your experience? I’d love to hear if this work sparked off some stories “that take place in the landscape” for you.