Menzies Art Brands



It is indeed a simple image made by a famous painter; one that situates the dilemma of all painters as they reach out into the world. Is it a mask that they hide behind? In Face 1979, Sidney Nolan toys with his lifelong image of the Ned Kelly mask. He moves it from the stuff of myth, to the tormented reality and responsibility of how a painter is to bring images into the world. Especially for one so wracked by personal grief and hard-won salvation.

It was painted in the period after the tragic and sudden suicide of his wife Cynthia (1908-1976), and after his newfound solace and marriage to Mary Boyd (born 1926) in London in 1978. It was a marriage criticised publicly by his long-time friend, writer Patrick White (1912-1990), and became the source of an ever-widening rift between the two men, each later producing works to publicly humiliate the other.

For Nolan, this is a thickly textured canvas. Against an azure blue ground he has fabricated a universal face from the classical shape of the painters palette. The shape is encrusted with earth tones and mixings of yellow and blue- colours, perhaps symbolic of cowardice and honour. A nose and mouth are roughly sketched, but the eyes are darkly set, dark-rimmed, cast to the side, and holding an appalling silence.

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