Cover image of the review

Sidney Nolan and Elwyn Lynn: A Joint Centenary

26 Aug 2017
Charles Nodrum Gallery 17 Aug - 2 Sep 2017

A shared centenary, mutual admiration and a friendship spanning the final quarter-century of their lives are the ostensible justifications for the present joint exhibition of Sidney Nolan and Elwyn Lynn at Charles Nodrum Gallery, Richmond. Their friendship also extends to provenance. Fifteen years ago Nodrum showed a suite of over two-dozen drawings that Nolan made over the course of a single afternoon, in 1984, on Lynn’s veranda at Moncur Street, Woollahra, as the two men talked and drank (tea and coffee, we are assured, not grog). A further eight works from that series are shown here for the first time, providing a logical hinge for the joint exhibition. Yet, as the show reveals, Nolan and Lynn shared much more than simply friendship. Ideas, concerns and passions spark from one work to the next, while doubts about the nature of mark making, figuration and representation trouble the undercurrents of many of their works.
Among the most self-evident of correspondences is the surrealist delight in unlikely juxtapositions of objects and forms. Nolan’s Seated Figure with Faces presents a headless female torso with not one but four faces superimposed variously over her breast and hand and jauntily tucked under an arm. Four illustrations to Robert Lowell’s poems, dating 1966-67, evince a similarly surrealist conjoining and overlaying of male and female figures—their economy of line and limb resulting in barbaric biomorphs in various states of ecstatic union. They sit well alongside three suites of Nolan’s lithographs inspired by Dante’s Inferno, in which predominantly armless men and women tumble awkwardly down or across the page like so many bound cadavers, bodily parts intermingling and—in some cases—covered in weeping red and blue stigmata. This is a relatively well-known version of Nolan, though it is worth underscoring the surrealist intent that persists throughout his mature work.

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