An invitation to a private view in Clerkenwell Green presented an opportunity for a day of culture in London. To help fill the day – it’s always fun to have a whole day in town – one exhibition caught my eye; ‘Australia’, at the Royal Academy. I put this to Cook (with her husband, also an invitee) and off we went.
As an art student in the 70’s, I’d tripped over a small, soft-back publication entitled Art And Australia . Dubbed the ‘Nolan Issue’, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series of paintings (besides informing me that the Kelly story was Australian and not, as I must have previously imagined, American) have lingered in the back of my mind ever since; in fact I’m looking at the ‘Nolan Issue’ as I type. Well, here was my chance to see if it was the paintings and not the Kelly story (reinforced by the 70’s film with Mick Jagger as Ned) that had got my attention.
I’m unable to reproduce any of the Kelly paintings here (time ran out emailing Australia) but here above is my depiction of the recurring image – Ned Kelly’s mask – in the group.
Obviously, the Nolan paintings were only a tiny part of an exhibition spanning 200 years of Australian art and whilst I agree with some of the critics’ comments regarding the authenticity of, for instance, examples of Aboriginal art, this dissonance didn’t detract one iota from the colour and spectacle of a very accessible and enjoyable show. Inevitably, there was the usual artbollocks (‘challenging our perceptions’, ‘exploring our relationships’ and so forth) which curators revel in, but that managed to confine itself to the 70’s – 90’s period. After that, things seemed to largely get back on track.
Our egress was punctuated with an interview by ABC – the Australian equivalent of our BBC – whose anchor man couldn’t believe his luck when he discovered Cook’s connection to the late Arthur Boyd – a dear friend and mentor to Cook’s artist daughter. Cook’s son, Jack, a city dweller, who’d joined the expedition partly as minder to the Visiting Country Folk, was both eloquent and balanced in his observations. I managed to hold my end up with an amusing anecdote about how I’d discovered the ‘Nolan Issue’ all those years ago and this had led me to …… blah, blah, fishcakes.
Well, I found it amusing.
And on to the private view where Lola Frost, a South African painter and friend, really did challenge us. I hadn’t seen any of Lola’s paintings in the flesh since a visit to Canterbury almost 20 years ago took Cook and me to her studio. I’d seen photos of them several times but nothing prepared me for the sheer endeavour that had produced these turbulent and formidable works. It was important to see and contemplate Lola’s paintings hanging in a gallery but I couldn’t get past my initial reaction to both their scale and the skill of their execution so I’ll spare you the intellectual posturing. I know I couldn’t live with any of them for five minutes but neither could I live with a Caravaggio – much as I love to see them.
Nolan’s Kelly paintings? I think this was a moment of both epiphany and catharsis. I was asked to leave 2 of the 3 art schools I attended and I think that after 7 years of boarding school (most of which was great fun) I was ill-equipped for the art school regime of the time. It was probably then that, subconsciously, the essence of the Kelly myth kicked in. Though interesting to see now, I don’t think the paintings impressed me then and I realise they’ve been just a marker in my memory until now.
A splendid Thai supper concluded Cook’s Tour.