Sidney Nolan (1917 – 1992), one of the most important Australian artists of the twentieth century, lived his last years on the Welsh-Midlands border. Between June and September 2017 Ikon presents an exhibition which brings to light a selection of extraordinary paintings by Sidney Nolan dating from the 1980s. This exhibition, organised in collaboration with the Sidney Nolan Trust, is part of year long celebrations to mark the centenary of his birth.
In early January to prepare for this exhibition, Ikon’s Learning team were hosted by the Sidney Nolan Trust. They stayed in the Trusts beautiful farm house, The Rodd, where the hospitality received was truly incredible. Here’s what Flora, James and Kerry got up to…
I think sometimes as consumers of the visual arts it is easy to forget that artwork has a life before being in a gallery setting, a life before Ikon. However I find it is this that sparks personality into an exhibition and connects us more with an artist’s work and process. We were given this rare opportunity to experience a selection of Nolan’s paintings that were made after moving to The Rodd in the summer of 1983. As Ikon will be showing a careful selection of portraiture, it was a great opportunity to experience the huge variety across Nolan’s archive, including numerous large scale landscapes.
Exploring the fields and beautiful wildlife surrounding the Trust gave you a real sense on how Nolan drew his inspiration from landscape and memories of his travelling. A highlight of the trip for me was the experience of taking a night camera down to a nearby stream, leaving it overnight to see what wildlife lurked in the woods (badgers…lots of badgers!).
By seeing the breath of his paintings it has deepened our understanding of the work, setting up the context for the selection of portraits to be hung in the gallery. I only hope that we can connect our visitors to the work of Nolan as well as Kate and Anthony at the Trust did for us. High expectations have been set and I am just looking forward to seeing those paintings again but here at Ikon.
We met with Anthony Plant, Director of the Sidney Nolan Trust and Kate Morgan-Clare, Learning Programme Co-ordinator, in the gallery space surrounded by some of the works Ikon will have on display during the exhibition. We were introduced to some of the key themes Nolan explored within these paintings and discussed how we may be able to build a programme of learning activities around them during the exhibition. Together, we developed ideas which will culminate as a series of different events and workshops for families, adults and teachers that will take place during summer 2017.
After our meeting, we took a walk around Rodd Farm which comprises 250 acres of farm and woodland that is owned and managed by the Sidney Nolan Trust. The land acts as a resource and an inspiration for artists and visitors and we definitely felt inspired. Not only were we surrounded by the land that inspired Sidney Nolan, we also had the opportunity to see their lovely family animals – cows, horses and chickens. A memorable moment shared by the team was being able to hold chicks that had hatched out the day before!
Later in the day we were given access to Sidney’s studio space and archive. We were amazed to find a curious collection of artefacts and ephemera related to his practice. For instance, Sidney adapted a pair of glasses to give the same visual effect as reversed binoculars. This certainly gave us an insight into his processes, which were clearly experimental and creative.
Sidney’s studio, on the other hand, is a dimly-lit barn conversion which appears to have remained untouched for the last 25 years. The artist’s assortment of paints – sprays, inks, oils, varnish and others – still lie on dusty, sagging shelves. As part of the centenary celebrations, the Trust will open this space to the public in May.
We left the Welsh countryside feeling refreshed, inspired and ready for a summer of events related to our exhibition and Sidney Nolan’s centenary. To find out more about the Sidney Nolan Trust’s centenary programme, visit their website here.
See Sidney Nolan’s work at Ikon from 14 June – 3 September 2017. To find out more click here.