Australian painter, draughtsman, printmaker and stage designer. Australia’s most honoured and internationally acclaimed modern painter, he worked prolifically in a variety of media on themes that often related closely to the story of his own life. Alternating bright moods with blackest drama, reviving formal elements and iconography from previous works and maintaining a spontaneous style by devising new painting techniques.
Nolan was enrolled twice at the National Gallery of Victoria’s School of Art (1934 and 1936) while employed as a commercial artist, but he preferred to educate himself in the public library. He wrote poetry and read omnivorously. From 1938 he was encouraged and supported by Sunday and John Reed, patrons and publicists whose house, ‘Heide’, became a focus for a close-knit avant-garde group. He was a founder-member of the Contemporary Art Society in that year and subsequently helped produce the radical Reed and Harris journal Angry Penguins.
Nolan was conscripted into the army in 1942. By then he was working almost exclusively with ripolin, a fluid fast-drying, commercial enamel. He began to paint his immediate surroundings. In 1945 Nolan began his first paintings on the theme of Ned Kelly.
From 1953, Nolan began travelling extensively from his new base in London. He returned repeatedly to the Kelly theme, each time in a different technique and mood. He produced a series of Chinese landscapes, mine workers of north-west Australia, Rimbaud’s Africa and drawings or the poems of Dante, Shakespeare, Robert Lowell and the fictitious ‘Ern Malley’. In 1987 he was made ARA.
Info: Tate Gallery