#NOLAN100 - NO.11

BIRD, 1984

Deborah Ely

"From the 1980s Sidney Nolan spent nearly every Australian summer at Bundanon, Riversdale and Eearie Park, the properties now in the custody of Bundanon Trust and gifted to the Australian public in 1993 by Nolan’s brother-in-law, fellow Australian painter, Arthur Boyd.  The isolation and the heat, the Stringybark forest and surrounding escarpment, all contributed to the heady artistic milieu which developed in this landscape along the Shoalhaven River in rural New South Wales.

Photographs from the time show breakfasts and lunches out-doors, casual garb (sometimes nightwear) and a relaxed, convivial, atmosphere. At Christmas time images were exchanged: ‘From Mary and Sid to Arthur and Yvonne” and the other way around. Nolan shared Arthur’s studio. Together they drove or hiked to remote places on the Bundanon property to spend the day painting ‘plein air’. The paint is still on the rocks if you know where to look. The local shop-keepers recall Nolan coming in to buy spray-paint and Ripolin (the house paint he favoured and a conservator’s curse).

Animals persist throughout Nolan’s work. A giant snake; monkeys, lions and elephants; cows and their carcasses; Ned Kelly’s horse. But birds have a special presence. The persistence of the famous parrot Polly, Leda’s swan. This vibrating black, red and green felt-tip pen bird, of no particular type, was drawn at Bundanon in 1984. It has an incredible energy flowing from its confident line and the strobe effect of the colours shadowing each other and creating a vibration. It’s thread-like legs and, just at the edge of the page, a plant and a butterfly rendered in a dash are both playful and highly skilled at the same time. The drawing reminds us of what a brilliant draftsman Nolan was and how his restless creativity drew him to so many subjects leaving us with a visual trace of his keen intellect."


Deborah Ely, the CEO of the Bundanon Trust is an artist and art historian. She was formerly the Visual Arts and Craft Program Manager for Arts NSW and has been Director of Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, EXPERIMENTA and Watershed Media Centre in Bristol. 

Sidney Nolan, Bird, 1984, felt pen. Bundanon Trust Collection.© Sidney Nolan Trust

Supported By

Arts Council England