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Nancy Underhill

Nolan On Nolan: Sidney Nolan in His Own Words, edited by Nancy Underhill, is an important publication which elucidates the importance of literature and poetry in Sidney Nolan’s creative process. The collection also highlights the painter’s relationships with a diverse range of celebrated artists and writers, including Benjamin Britten, Robert Lowell, Samuel Beckett and Patrick White. Drawn from archives in Britain, Australia and the United States, the publication does much to rescue the artist from his overly valorised years spent with John and Sunday Reed at Heide. In place of the artist’s well-documented Australian associations, here we find Nolan the internationalist.

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The public legacy of the art patrons John and Sunday Reed endures in various ways. Their influence is a strand in the story of the notorious ‘Ern Malley’ literary hoax. They played a major role in the emergence in the 1940s of an important circle of Melbourne modernist painters, including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, and Arthur Boyd. Against the forces of conservatism and resistance, John Reed, in particular, was a public advocate in Australia for contemporary art from the 1940s until the end of his life. Janine Burke and the curator Deborah Hart have reminded us that the friendship and hospitality of the Reeds at Heide helped give expression to the untamed talent of the young Joy Hester. In 1979, John Reed remembered Hester at twenty: ‘a funny little synthetic blonde hoyden with very naïve ideas about the world.’ But, he added, she ‘was a rare and lovely person, one of our most beautiful artists and a natural poet’. Hester’s story, important in its own right, is inextricably a part of the larger story of John and Sunday Reed.

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