Tony Albert on Sidney Nolan

Part of a series of new perspectives on portraiture commissioned for Archie Plus

Sidney Nolan

Self portrait

Ripolin enamel on hessian sacking
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1997
© The Trustees of the Sidney Nolan Trust/DACS
Licensed by Copyright Agency

When I look at this self-portrait, I think about the many hours artists work in isolation, pursuing ideas and confronting their own thoughts. This year we had to work in isolation because of the coronavirus, but wars, politics and environmental issues have isolated people before now.

I’m interested in the ways the Second World War influenced Sidney Nolan. With artists’ oil paints being scarce, Nolan decided to use house paint, and he painted on masonite instead of traditional canvas. The humility of the materials creates a raw and defiant immediacy.

It reminds me of the challenges faced by remote and regional artists, who have to be creative to overcome a scarcity of materials and bring their paintings to life. And it reminds me too of the experience of isolation this year, when I too used myself as subject matter.

At a time of war, Nolan used the materials at hand to present himself as a warrior for art. His Self portrait declares that, even if your materials are modest, art can change the world.

Tony Albert is an artist who believes art can change the world

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