#NOLAN100 - No.49

Myself, 1988

Simon Mundy

"Nolan was never afraid of revealing himself in his art but equally he liked to play hard to get, teasing the viewer or reader to guess whether the revelations are true or part of an elaborate game of false trails, fiction and reference back. You never know whether the enigma is there for you to decode or whether the process will just confuse you even more. Confusion is deliberate but then so is the idea that truth moves, shape-shifts and is never definite.

This last and surely great self-portrait is everything a summing-up should be. It is a good likeness – he stands with a half smile as a man in late middle age wearing a tie which is a fair approximation to one I remember him wearing at the time. Even here he teases, though; the John Lennon glasses and the shock of white hair are close to his own but could be David Hockney or Andy Warhol's too. The sky is blue but on either side crimson clouds threaten his ears. Does he hide behind the black prison of Ned Kelly's mask, forced into staccato lines with the violence of graffiti, or is he emerging from it? For this and the background he uses the spray paint that was the symbol of 1980s antisocial behaviour but that he had been using as an artist since the age of fifteen.

If Myself was a summation, painted at The Rodd four years before he died, it needs an introduction and that is why it sits on the cover of my short biography in which I try to do just that. The man I knew was very like the one in this picture, perhaps even more so than the man I have uncovered since. He would have enjoyed my ambivalence."

Simon Mundy, broadcaster, poet, novelist, biographer, Trustee of the Sidney Nolan Trust. Simon's new biography of Nolan is available from the Trust gallery or online here

Sidney Nolan, Myself, 1988, spray paint and oil on hardboard, 122 x 91.5 cm, Collection of the Sidney Nolan Trust, ©  Sidney Nolan Trust

Supported By

Arts Council England