Dated 1958, Untitled (Kelly and Face)’ is a code to decipher. It contains two of Sidney Nolan’s most iconic motifs - Ned Kelly and the abstracted, yellow face first unveiled in ‘Boy and the moon’ (c. 1939 -1940). This face, round and radically blank, polarized viewers. It announced Nolan’s arrival onto the Australian art scene, returning in this work as a wraith.
The Ned Kelly is harder to decipher. His helmet lies on the work’s right as an apparition - a motif repeated in the circa 1958 work ‘Untitled (Kelly and Horse)’ (in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia and illustrated on page 43 of ‘Sidney Nolan: works on paper retrospective’, 1980). Rendered through a wax crayon rubbing technique, both this work and ‘Untitled (Kelly and Horse)’ appear drawn on rock. They treat their subject matter as myths scrawled upon a cave wall.
Art historian Kenneth Clark has described Nolan’s extreme simplicity as “urgent and real”. Indeed, there is a pressing quality to ‘Untitled (Kelly and Face)’ - as though resurrected from antiquity, this yellow face addresses us. Perhaps he is the sun, casting Kelly’s shadow, coaxing us from Plato’s Cave. Nolan’s language is one of myth and mystery, told in deceptively broad strokes.
‘Untitled (Kelly and Face)’ is a riddle in need of a cipher. It is simple yet strange, an open palm alive with lines. For admirers of Australian art, works on paper and Modernism, this museum-quality, early work will be the crown of your collection. It is newly framed and accompanied by the rare catalog Sidney Nolan Literature: Buckley, J., Sidney Nolan Works on Paper Retrospective, Australian Gallery Directors Council, Canberra, 1980.
Sidney NOLAN (1917 - 1992)
'Untitled (Kelly and Face)' 1958
wax crayon and wax crayon rubbing
Image Size: 30 x 25 cm
Framed Dimensions: 60 x 54 x 3 cm
Comes with Letter of Provenance and Collector Essay
A similar work featuring the Kelly Head motif is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia Accession Number: 83.3057
Literature: A similar work is illustrated in Sidney Nolan Literature: Buckley, J., Sidney Nolan Works on Paper Retrospective, Australian Gallery Directors Council, Canberra, 1980, cat. no. 113 page 45 entitled Untitled (Kelly and Horse) 1958
See also Colin MacInnes, Sidney Nolan, London, 1961 for three examples of works dated 1958 using similar technique.
© Sidney Nolan / Copyright Agency 2021