Sidney Nolan – The Gallipoli Series – Samstag Museum of Art
Amidst the phenomenal capacity of our media to find yet new war stories for Anzac Day and the maintenance of strong support by young and old for the occasion, this year citizens of Adelaide have another way to get involved in the awful memories of valour and loss of that campaign. The Samstag Art Museum is hosting a portion (about one third or 80 works) of Sidney Nolan’s Gallipoli series til 1st June.
Two years ago, the Samstag at this time hosted works by Australia’s first war artist, George Lambert, who was sent to Turkey by the Government a few years after the end of WWI to cover the scene. Those we noted then were remarkably apolitical yet moving as they catalogued where the fighting took place (the fearsome terrain and the like) and how battles played out.
Nolan’s works, started 40 years on and completed in the late 1970’s and free from the duty bound commission of recording it all, cut to the chase, layering on the emotion and driving home impact well beyond even what a photographer in situ may have recorded.
For Nolan, the Gallipoli campaign was fought by innocent but heroic young men. “I found the place on top of the hill where the Anzac and Turkish trenches had been only yards apart… I visualised the young, fresh faces of the boys from the bush, knowing nothing of war or of faraway places, all individuals and suddenly all the same – united and uniform in the dignity of the common destiny” he wrote in 1956.
Inspired by images in Greek mythology, especially the siege of Troy, Nolan’s diggers are often engaged naked but for their slouch hats; their environment is stark, often dark and foreboding , their faces, and particularly their eyes, possessed of shock and distance, in one young soldier’s case ‘he is neither dead nor alive. He is kind of stopped by war’ wrote Nolan. The depictions of bodies exploding under shell fire, the lines of troops mown down at The Nek and the like are done not in some heroic hue but muddy browns, blood reds and the stark white backgrounds of panicked minds.
His large diptych, Gallipoli, is especially moving; hazy dark figures both lost in the fog of battle and also releasing themselves in the waters on the beach notwithstanding enemy shells going off around them. And as part of the foreboding feel of the work, there are faces, clear as day, looking out at the viewer – are they the ‘young and innocent’ just arrived at the front or the spirits from those already lost? The work’s poignancy is rounded off by the portrayal of his father attempting to rescue his (Sidney’s) brother from drowning, an event that happened on his way home from battle, devastated his father for the rest of his life and in whose memory the entire Nolan collection was dedicated to the Australian War Memorial.
Though not well known, this is a significant collection from an artist which beyond the AGSA we don’t see much new of in Adelaide. War may not one’s favourite topic but the brilliance of this artist to take you there in so many ways is astounding and most rewarding.
For More Details go to the Samstag Exhibition Web Page by clicking here.
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