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Iconic Australian Images Essay Sample

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Iconic Australian Images Essay Sample

Australia’s national and cultural icons range from natural landmarks to man-made wonders. They are instantly recognisable, have special significance and are uniquely Australian. (1) Two Australian artist’s that created cultural iconic images through their artworks, were Sydney Nolan and Russell Drysdale. During the 1940s cultural, social changes and the Second World War influenced them to depict issues in their works. Both artists were affected by the war, had an interest in the bush, its people and the harsh drought at the time. This encouraged them to reflect on national themes which they personally could associate and identify with. Their background, heritage and personal struggles, played an important part in their choice of theme and subject matter. Nolan and Drysdale sought to portray a unique view of Australia, its history, people and landscape. Sidney Nolan best known for his iconic depictions of the outlaw Ned Kelly, become one of Australia’s most recognisable and famous artists through his development of the Kelly image.

He created a symbol for Australian history, identity and character.(2) Around the same time Russell Drysdale provided a new insight, vision and portrayal of outback Australia. He depicted people struggling on the land, living through harsh conditions in the vast interior and before this time, few Australian’s had seen any pictures of the centre. (3) Together with Sidney Nolan, Drysdale transformed Australian painting, both providing a rare view of life in Australia. Their individual modern ideas and perceptions, provided national and international recognition, successfully creating iconic Australian images. (4) Nolan’s fascination with Ned Kelly was clear, he saw himself as a rebel, an outlaw and his disertion from the army reinforced this. (5) Although from childhood he had always identified closely with the Irish Australian bushranger and heard first hand stories of the Kelly gang, from his Grandfather who was a policeman involved with the pursuit of Ned Kelly. (6) He read historical documents, newspapers and reports on the Kelly story and travelled through ‘Kelly country’ of northeast Victoria.

(5) Encouraged by Sunday Reed, Nolan’s friend and lover, he developed a modernist and alternative view of the Australian bush. (2) He created a combination of narrative, symbolism, depiction of the landscape and the drama of Kelly, played out in a series of 27 paintings. Nolan considered that it was a story arising out of the bush and ending in the bush. ‘Death of Constable Scanlon’,(Image 1.) is a good example of Nolan’s depiction of the drama and narrative of the Kelly story in the bush. Although it was Nolan who sought to make use of Australia’s history and Ned Kelly a universal symbol, using the masked bandit in his images, as well as representing Nolan’s own identity and lifes experiences.(2) He reveals to Elwynn Lyn, You would be surprised if I told you. From 1945-47 there were emotional and complicated events in my own life. It’s an inner history of my own emotions, but I am not going to tell you about them.

(7) Nolan was dealing with personal issues of identity and at the same time wanting to pursue the cause of Australian modernism. (2) Although not recognised at the time, Nolan’s paintings were of real importance to a sense of Australian culture, history and identity. (8) His friends John and Sunday Reed stood by Nolan, helped him develop as an artist and promoted his works. (9) The first exhibition of the series took place at Velasquez Gallery, Melbourne and John Reed’s introduced the artist and his works,…. it is a remarkable achievement indeed, necessitating as it has the most sensitive and profound harmony between symbol, legend and visual impact’. The Australian public were not impressed by Nolan’s paintings at first, until he showed the paintings in Paris the following year, with French and English critics gave Nolan considerable acclaim. Sydney and Melbourne newspapers soon heard of the news and quoted the words of Monsieur Cassou, head of the Musee’ national d’art modern, … the work of a true poet and true painter, .. and a …striking contribution to modern art.

(5) Later in 1949- 1950, Nolan travelled throughout central Australia and made a similar change to Drysdale before him. Documenting the harsh drought for the Courier mail and travelling through rural Queensland. Nolan travelled throughout the worst hit areas where he found thousands of carcasses strewn over vast areas, drying and decaying in the intense heat. In addition to the many drawings he made, Nolan also took numerous photographs of the horrific loss of cattle. The painting ‘Carcass in Swamp’ 1955, (Image 2.) is one of many which Nolan based on his preliminary studies.

Nolan’s carcass paintings impacted on Australians minds ,as well as the great scale and majesty of the interior, in ‘Inland Australia'(Image 9.) for example and ‘Durack Range’.(10) Nolan,s success changed when British art historian Kenneth Clark was interested in his ‘Abandoned mine’ (Image 3.) in the 1949 Wynne Prize exhibition. Clark sought Nolan out in Sydney, bought one of his paintings and offered to help him get into a London gallery. With Clark’s help Nolan decided to move to England in the 1950s. The British art world embraced Nolan and his paintings of the outback, drought and the series of history paintings, the 1950s ‘Burke and Wills’, (Image 4.) the second ‘Kelly’ series, ‘Mrs Fraser’ and ‘Gallipoli’. (10)

Page 2. Nolan has had great success winning many prizes and awards, including knighthood in 1981. He is represented in the national gallery, all state galleries, The Tate gallery, London Museum of Modern Art, New York, numerous private and corporate collections, both nationally and internationally. (16) Nolan’s ‘First class marksman’ (Image 5.) painting sold for $5.4 million at auction, by NSW gallery. Which made Nolan’s Kelly painting ‘Australia’s most wanted’ Together with Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale created iconic images of the Australian outback. Prior to Drysdale, landscape painting had concerned itself with the pretty country and not ventured far from the coast. (11) He chose to portray the difficult life on the land, the ugly side of hardship and the empty vast interior so few had previously seen.(12) Drysdale’s career changed when in hospital his drawings and talent was noticed.

This led him to study at Bell art school and began the foundation for his future life as a painter. Both realistic and expressive, his works signaled a complete break from the early landscape traditions that had dominated Australian art in the 18oo’s.(15) The 1940s greatly affected by the Second World War saw social and cultural changes, which affected the whole nation. Drysdale had lost an eye which made it impossible for him to enlist in the army and so he decided to serve his country by painting during the war. (17) War themes, drought, bushfire, rural hardship and indigenous Australian’s were common subjects for Drysdale, and in these paintings the viewer is confronted with disturbing aspects of human existence. (12) Schooling at Bell studio in Melbourne and Sydney’s society of artists, Drysdale was influenced by artists such as Ian Fairweather, Peter Purves Smith, Donald Friend and William Dobell. Purves Smith style and artworks of pole-like trees, elongated figures, sheets of iron, and low horizons provided models for Drysdale’s deserted landscapes and outback towns.

(12) Drysdale’s ‘Sunday Evening’ painted in 1941 depicts the hardship of an outback family, it is not a pleasant family portrait, but reveals a family struggling during a devastating drought on the land. Immigrant Australians going about their normal daily activities on the barren surroundings of the outback.(12) His family experience on the land, it’s people and later personal loss of his wife and son, influenced him to express a unique and personal view of life. (15) He also recognised that he needed to engage with the indigenous Australians, to portray the environment and true Australian themes. (15) Klepac describes Drysdale’s vision and paintings, by saying ‘an inner turmoil is reflected in the harsh, grey, desolate scenes of country life, made even more sinister by the lean, elongated stick figures which share the landscape with thin, limbless trees. (13) They revealed hardship and the ugly truth about life and the conditions at that time.

Drysdale became known for a series of imaginative outback paintings such as ‘The Drover’s Wife’, (Image 6.) ‘The Cricketers’,(Image 7.) ‘West Wyalong’ (Image 8.)and some exceptional paintings of Aboriginal figures. He was a skilled draughtsman, and also used photography for his work. (12) From quick sketches, photographs and his own memory of the conditions, outback landscapes, stark images of people struggling the environment, Drysdale portrayed a combined realist, expressionist and surrealist approach to Australian landscape. (15) He would return to his studio to use numerous drawings, photographs and memory to create his final works. ‘The cricketers’ is perhaps Drysdale’s most famous painting, and one of the most frequently reproduced images in twentieth-century Australian art. In 1944Drysdale travelled to western New South Wales commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald to illustrate the effects of the harsh drought. His dried up earth suggested that man had lost control of the land – nature had fought back and taken back, writes Radford. Drysdale’s carcass paintings, like Nolan’s reinforced the power of drought and the affect on life in the outback. Drysdale portrayed the outback as red, hot, isolated, desolate and threatening.

His painting ‘The Drover’s Wife’, 1945, (Image 6.) standing, staring, waiting in a deserted landscape, where life had dried up, has been imprinted onto the minds of Australians. (10) Drysdale observed: ‘…these curious and strange rhythms which one discovers in a vast landscape, the juxtaposition of figures, of objects… Add to that again the peculiarity of the particular land in which we live here, and you get a quality of strangeness that you do not find, I think, anywhere else. This is a very ancient land, and its forms and general psychology are so intriguing…’(18) He created a ‘new’ vision of the bush and its identity. It was no longer a place of freedom and opportunity, but reflected lost hopes, struggle and decay.

‘Drysdale gives the same authentic feeling of the resolute humanity that has managed to exist in that terrible continent.’ (6) Drysdale’s portrayal of life in the outback created a unique view of the vast interior and he provided a rare insight into what it feels like to live in Australia. (14) According to Klepac, Drysdale was the first modern Australian painter who saw Australia as one continent. And also goes on to say Like all great art, the best of Drysdale’s work has metaphysical implications, emphasizing the tragic isolation of the spirit of man, it is an intimation of the loneliness of the soul dispossessed of the world and its home, the body, by ‘time’. It is a pessimistic yet moving affirmation of life.(17)

Page 3. By the time Drysdale was only 39, the Tate gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of New York had acquired his work, with his first show in London a success and his art in demand throughout Australia. In 1947 he won the prestigious Wynne Prize for Sofala, in 1949 ‘Woman in a landscape’ received the Melrose Memorial Prize and also represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1954. Drysdale like Nolan was knighted for his services to art in 1969 and in 1980, he was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia. Both Nolan and Drysdale contributed greatly to modern art and culture in Australia. Their portrayal of the landscape, the struggles of man in the environment, provided a unique view of Australia and its people. According to Robert Hughes, Drysdale and Nolan, working independently in Sydney and Melbourne between 1940 and 1947, made it possible for Australian painters to react freshly to their environment by showing them new relationships with it.

They pulled Australian landscape from the limbo of fleece and gumtree in which it had lain stiffening for thirty years.(19) Their paintings provided a new vision of life in Australia, rarely seen before. Both influenced by their background, heritage and personal experiences they chose to portray the landscape and its people, affected by war, drought and hardship. Nolan’s series of works exploring the Ned Kelly saga produced some of the most iconic images in Australian art. Drysdale’s iconography is such a well-established part of Australian visual culture, imagery that continues to define Australian identity. (20) Both artists have become well recognised and valued by many, for their unique view and portrayal of our nation. Their success in Australia and abroad, has made them infamous and their iconic Australian images.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Australian Government. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. ‘National Icons’, http://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/national_icons.html, 2/8/2012. Clayton Tremlett, Education Officer, Heide Museum of Modern Art. The artists, authors, designer and Heide Museum of Modern Art, 2006. http://www.heide.com.au/assets/files/Education/UnmaskedSidney-Nolan-and-Ned-Kelly-19501.pdf, 1/8/2012 Jaynie Anderson, ‘The Cambridge companion to Australian art, Cross cultural encounters’. 2011. P’8. Albury city council, Drawing on Drysdale Book Launch, http://www.alburycity.nsw.gov.au/www/html/196-eventdetails.asp?intEventID=2051, 30/7/2012 Marlow, J. ‘Mask & Memory’, A documentary by Catherine Hunter, in association with the Gallery of NSW. 2010. P’ 6. Thomas, D. Art Gallery of South Australia, ‘Creating Australia, 200 years of art 1788-1988, Convulsion and calm: Death in the afternoon’, by Jane Clark. 1988. P’ 212. Clark, J. Sydney Nolan: Landscape and Legends. Cambridge University Press, 1987. P’s71-72. CSU Readings, T1/2. Eagle, M. and Jones, J. ‘A story of Australian painting’. 1994. P’214. Bernard Smith. ‘Australian Painting’ 1788-1960. 1962 p’281. Wallace, C. Griffith University. http://griffithreview.com/edition-19-re-imagining-australia/clean-orderly-and-laminexcoloured/all-pages 1/8/2012. Dutton, G. ‘Russell Drysdale’. The world of art library, artists. 1969. P’ 30. ABC and National Gallery of Victoria, http://www.abc.net.au/arts/drysdale.htm16, 29/7/2012 Klepac, L. ‘Photographs and the imagination’. Russell drysdale. 1983. P’g 62 Anne Gray, National Gallery of Australia, http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=76616, 30/7/2012 Andrew Sayers, ‘Australian Art’, 2001, p 170. Iron outlaw.
www.ironoutlaw.com/html/gallery.html, 1/8/2012 Art Review. http://artreview.com.au/contents/7991497-russell-drysdale., 2/8/2012 Art Gallery NSW, Drysdale. http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/galleries/australian/featured-works/drysdale/, 28/7/2012 Australian Stories, Hill End Painters, http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/hill-end-painters Klepac, L. ‘Russell Drysdale’. http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/ras/article/viewFile/2445/2899 11/8/2012

Picture and Image References. Image 1. Sidney NOLAN ‘Death of Constable Scanlon’ 1946 Collection Title: Ned Kelly Series Heidelberg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Painting, enamel on composition board Primary Insc: not signed, dated l.r., pencil “April 25th 46” 90.4 h x 121.2 w cm Framed 91.5 h x 122.3 w x 2.7 d cm Gift of Sunday Reed 1977 Accession No: NGA 76.284 National Gallery of Australia, Art search, 6/8/2012 http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=28933

Image 2.

Sir Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) ‘Carcase in Swamp’, 1955 Oil on hardboard 914 x 1219 mm frame: 945 x 1250 x 51 mm Collection, Tate Acquisition, Presented by Lord McAlpine of West Green 1983, © The estate of Sir Sidney Nolan. All Rights Reserved 2010 / Bridgeman Art Library,License this image Tate Gallery, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/nolancarcase-in-swamp-t03555, 6/8/2012

Image 3.

‘Abandoned Mine’, 1948 Primary creator: Nolan, Sir Sidney (1917-92) Nationality: Australian Location: Private Collection Credit: Photo © Agnew’s, London, UK Medium: ripolin on board Date: 1948 (C20th) Categories: Australasia and Oceania Dimensions: 36×48 cms Credit: Abandoned Mine, 1948, Nolan, Sir Sidney (1917-92) / Private Collection / Photo © Agnew’s, London, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library, http://www.bridgemanart.com/asset/97742/No
lan-Sir-Sidney-1917-92/Abandoned-Mine-1948, 8/8/2012

Image 4

Sydney Nolan Burke and Wills Expedition, 1948 Ripolin on board 91.3 x 122.2 © The Sidney Nolan Trust The Sydney Nolan Trust, http://www.sidneynolantrust.org/gallery/burkeand-wills.php, 8/8/2012


Image 5.

Sidney Nolan (England, Australia 22 Apr 1917–28 Nov 1992) Title- First-class marksman Other titles: First-class marksmen, The Marksman Alternative title: Tiratore di classe Tireur de premiere classe Year- 1946 Media- Painting, Medium- Ripolin enamel on hardboard Dimensions- 90.2 x 121.2cm board Signature & date- Signed and dated l.r. corner, pencil “12.12.46/ N.”. Credit- Purchased with funds provided by the Gleeson O’Keefe Foundation 2010 , Accession number- 62.2010 Copyright- © The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust/ Bridgeman Art Library,Location- 20th and 21st c Australian art Art Gallery of New South Wales http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/work/62.2010/ 9/8/2012

Image 6.

Russell DRYSDALE The drover’s wife c.1945 Painting, oil on canvas Primary Insc: signed l.r., brown oil, “Russell Drysdale”. not dated 51.5 h x 61.5 w cm Frame 70.2 h x 80.0 w x 5.5 d cm Gift of American Friends of the National Gallery of Australia, Inc., New York, NY, USA, made possible with the generous support of Mr and Mrs Benno Schmidt of New York and Esperance, Western Australia, 1987. Accession No: NGA 87.1612 © Estate of Russell Drysdale National Gallery of Australia http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=76616, 9/8/2012

Image 7.

Artist:Russell DRYSDALE Born:1912, Bognor Regis, England Died:1981 Title:The cricketers Date Made:1948 Media General:Painting Media Category:Painting Medium:oil on canvas Dimensions (cm): 76.0 x 101.5 Credit Line: Private Collection National Gallery of Australia, Federation of Australia. http://nga.gov.au/federation/Detail.cfm?WorkID=26575 10/8/2012

Image 8.

Russell Drysdale ‘West Wyalong’ (1949) Vaucluse, Sydney oil on composition board 81.3 x 101.6 cm inscribed in red paint l.r.: Russell Drysdale Private collection ABC Arts, Russell Drysdale, http://www.abc.net.au/arts/drysdale/ paintings/42.htm, 10/8/2012

Image 9.

Title: Inland Australia, 1950 (oil & enamel paint on board) Primary creator: Nolan, Sir Sidney (1917-92) Nationality: Australian Location: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Medium: oil and enamel paint on board Date: 1950 (C20th) Categories: Australasia and Oceania Dimensions: 91.5×121 cms National Gallery of Australia, Sydney Nolan, http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=46894, 10/8/2012

Image 10. In 1944Drysdale travelled to western New South Wales commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald th to illustrate the effects of the harsh drought. Tuesday, 19 December 1944, National Library of Australia, 8/8/2012

Image 11. ‘The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 18 Decemeber, 1944, Russell Drysdale, National Library of Australia, 8/8/2012

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