#NOLAN100 - NO.53

Randolph Stow postcard

Suzanne Falkiner

In March 1963 the poet and novelist Randolph Stow—‘Mick’ to his familiars—had resigned from teaching at Leeds University and, after wintering in Scotland, was on his way home to take up a position at the University of Western Australia.

Stow had met Sidney Nolan in London early the previous year, after Geoffrey Dutton had suggested to the painter that he illustrate Stow’s poems for Dutton’s publication Australian Letters. The two became friends, sharing a passion for the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and an abiding love of the Australian landscape. Stow, still in a fragile condition after a traumatic period in the Trobriand Islands a few years before, was also taken under Cynthia Nolan’s wing. ‘We were so late talking I finished staying the night. I do like Sidney - and Cynthia too, though she scares me a bit’, Mick wrote to his mother. To mark the friendship, Stow dedicated to Nolan one of his best-known poems, ‘The Land’s Meaning’:

        The love of man is a weed of the waste places.

                     One may think of it as the spinifex of dry souls.

A year later, as Stow left for a sojourn in Malta en route to Perth, Nolan presented him in turn with a small, impressionistic sketch on a cardboard postcard, apparently made while the artist was on a train, entitled ‘Stow as Rimbaud as Stow’. Inscribed on the back, ‘For Mick, Greetings from the Nolans, 24 March 1963’, the image was closely based on a portrait photograph of Rimbaud that strikingly resembled the young, blue-eyed Stow. ‘Nolan told Mick that while painting it he had two poets in mind, one being him and the other Rimbaud, the French poet’, Stow’s sister Helen recorded.

Of the few portraits made of the notoriously shy Stow, this is the most evocative.

Suzanne Falkiner is a writer. Her biography 'Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow' was published in 2016 by the University of Western Australia Publishing and was shortlisted for the 2017 National Biography Award. Her #Nolan100 choice is part of the University of Western Australia's 'My Collection' project. See also #Nolan100 - No. 38 and No. 23. Part 2 of Suzanne's choice follows at No.54. 

Sidney Nolan, [Portrait of Randolph Stow], c. 1962-63, watercolour, 14x9 cm, The University of Western Australia Art Collection, Gift of Mrs Helen McArthur, 2011

Supported By

Arts Council England