Galleries - September 2010

focus. This is particularly apparent in the Sheridan Russell show which effectively forms a reprise of his worksince leaving college. Always intrigued by the tensions between painting and photo- graphy and with something of the directness of engagement of ur- ban art, Harrison has also shown himself to be refreshingly unafraid of entering into a direct emotional interaction with the spectator, making a wonderfully fluid and free use of paint to further his ends. He cites Giacometti, Matisse and Pollockas his touchstones here but his own distinctive voice would seem now to be steadily finding its feet. Interesting times! The splendid new Agnew's Gallery opens its doors this September with an exhibition by Sidney Nolan. Notable for the breadth and quality of workpre- sented the show ranges from one of his earliest known pieces – a small and intriguing collage – through to magnificent examples of some of the subjects he is most regarded for, namely the ‘Ned Kelly’ and ‘Burke and Wills’. The show encapsulates Nolan’s compulsive creativity succinctly, thanks to the careful selection of paintings, drawings and even textiles and stage designs that Having always had distinctly mix- ed feelings about the whole urban art phenomenon that has domin- ated so much figuratively based painting over the last decade or so – striking technically and some- what empty emotionally – it may, nonetheless, be having a distinctly interesting impact on the revival of a more painterly, traditionally based figure painting so apparent now in this country. These thou- ghts are further reinforced by two shows currently taking place this month; the first, at Woodbine Contemporary , is of three young painters all concerned with the human face or form – Antony Micaleff, Michael Kelly and Charles Harrison, the second a one-man show of the last-named artist at Sheridan Russell . All of them have had, or are beginning to enjoy, great success with coll- ectors – Micaleff’s punky/pop portraits have had sell-out shows in the U.S. recently and are achie- ving enormous 5-figure prices, Michael Kelly’s much quieter and more reflective figure studies are just beginning to attract attention while Charles Harrison, only 3 years out of Northampton Univer- sity’s specialist painting and drawing degree course, is deve- loping his powerfully expressive heads at a quite remarkable pace and with a highly concentrated serve to illustrate so well many of Nolan’s complex public and pri- vate concerns. He was restlessly experimental throughout his car- eer using materials and techni- ques to ‘see’ and bring his images to life, scraping and scratching away at any surface, more often working like a painter/archaeol- ogist – revealing, rather than con- ceiving images. Several of the flower paintings he made for the series ‘Paradise Gardens’ demonstrate the merci- less volatility of technique yet also reveal how often, whatever the subject, he gets to the psychic heart of the matter and delivers unblinkingly. It is this devastating candor which marks his best work and it's an encounter as danger- ous as any to be had. William Blake once said that he ‘drew better through imagination’ than he did from ‘real life’ and Nolan, too, transcends the world of appearances through what Yeats described as ‘imaginative insight’. Through an imagination that was fired by poetry and literature he was alerted to the mythic pro- portions of our own age – Ned Kelly, Burke and Wills to mention but two – metamorphose from fact to fiction to myth. We live in a cul- ture, which, with the remarkable exception of the visual arts, venerates imaginative vision. Without doubt then, Nolan is a man of our times. DOUBLE BILL N icholas Usherwood NOLAN Christopher P. Wood C harles Harrison ‘Reconoistre’ at Woodbine Contemporary Art. Sidney Nolan ‘Burke and Wills Expedition’ & ‘Roses’ at Agnew’s Gallery