Thursday, June 04, 2009

... sidney nolan

i was channel-surfing after the end of law & order: criminal intent tonight and i hit upon a documentary about sidney nolan. i really don't know much about the man, aside from the iconic paintings of ned kelly, but i learned one or two interesting tidbits. chief among these was that he died on my eighteenth birthday.

he had a rich and varied life. he was a painter from a ridiculously early age - wiki has him working on advertising displays with spray paints during the mid- to late-1930s - and went through periods of intense absorption of his surroundings and experiences which later translated in intense bursts of creativity. one person interviewed in the documentary said something about some flak that nolan faced for spending seemingly so little time on his work, capable of producing three or four paintings in only one morning. he'd made a comment to nolan who (typically having an answer for everything) said something along the lines of "five years thinking about it, half an hour painting it".

his personal life was something of a disaster area (a wife, child until an open and marriage-rending affair with sunday reed, during which time he created the kelly series of paintings) it seems until he married cynthia reed in 1948. the two sounded like they were great for each other and they travelled the world, he becoming quite the internationalist artist, seeking to become a world-citizen, while cynthia wrote constantly, producing several books of memoirs of their lives together. she died in 1976 and her daughter jinx, nolan's step-daughter, remarked that "he didn't mourn her... no, i don't mean that, that sounds terrible... i mean that he simply... closed a door. he closed the door on that part of his life, on those feelings..." (or words to that effect). in 1978 he married mary boyd, with whom he remained happily married until his death... on my 18th birthday.

my birthday in 1992 was a little less than a week after my end-of-school exams. i was thinking of little besides Christmas, a new year's eve party in sydney, then flying to china for two weeks' holidays before uni began in late february. i certainly wasn't thinking about this man who'd led such an (apparently) interesting and full life, of travel, of creativity, of reckless and feckless disregard, and of passionate commitment to his craft. he seemed to want to suck the marrow out of life and wasn't content to wait for the body to be carved up first. i didn't have the words then for what i wanted from life - i thought i knew what i wanted but that turned out to be not so.

"a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou" - i don't need a car or mortgage or ladder-climbing career for these things. i do know that, for a Christian, they are both too much and not enough. in the bewildering array of life goals in the world today, mine barely rate, which might uncharitably be called the end result of western consumerist apathy and human selfishness. i know how much my selfish wants loom large, interfering in my relationship with God - i am not separated by miles and time from God, i so often simply have my back to him.



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