‘He could not expel the trauma’: Sidney Nolan’s Auschwitz paintings revealed in landmark show | Holocaust

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‘He could not expel the trauma’: Sidney Nolan’s Auschwitz paintings revealed in landmark show | Holocaust

A A previously unknown dark chapter in Sidney Nolan’s life and work is in the limelight, revealing early paintings recording the horrors of Nazi Germany that Australian artists did not want to show throughout their lives. ..

The obscenity of Nazi German concentration camps has plagued the artist for over 20 years, putting him in a personal crisis and seriously questioning the role that art should play in the face of the complete lack of humanity. Did.

After more than half a century of burial in the vast Sidney Nolan Trust collection on the outskirts of Presteigne on the British-Wales border, 50 of these works were unveiled for the first time at an exhibition at the Sydney Jewish Museum in Australia. Inspired by his heart: Nolan’s Auchwitz secret story.

Sidney Nolan’s Holocaust paintings were exhibited for the first time in Australia. Photo: Jessica Fromas / Guardian

Sydney researcher Andrew Tarley began learning about the existence of his work in 2012, collecting materials for the next book on Nolan’s African series, which was created during a tour of Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania in the early 1960s. I did.

Tarley questioned the theory that Nolan was increasingly obsessed with the decline of Western civilization. He eventually learned that the seeds of his prejudice were sown by artists when he barely left his teens, and a few years before he embarked on the famous Ned Kelly series. I did.

In Nolan’s archive, Tarley was one of the first and largest concentration camps opened within the German border since January 6, 1938, and is a political enemy of the Third Reich, the mentally weak, Roma. Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, and ultimately tens of thousands of Jews.

Nolan filled a photo of the Buchenwald inmate with his first Holocaust photo, called a prison camp. The words “Camp … Tears (St Kilda Beach)” were engraved on the back of the image.

He was 21 years old.

Andrew Thali
Andrew Taree first discovered an old clipping of the internment camp that Nolan overcoated at the age of 21. Photo: Jessica Fromas / Guardian

“That is, Melbourne has a boy who lives on the edge of the world,” says Taree. “And he writes this. In general, everyone in Europe is working on this, not to mention in the art world, before everyone in Europe is working on it. This is one of his major contemporaries. In front of Francis Bacon, which is in front of Picasso. “Both the three figures of bacon for the crucifixion base and Picasso’s ossuary were created around 1944.

In the second newspaper clipping, Nolan wrote: “Divine Comedy, Pitt Confinement Camp” refers to Dante’s 8th and 9th hell circles, representing crimes against humanity and betrayal, respectively.

In 1944, Nolan painted Lublin. Lublin portrayed a Jewish ghetto in a Polish city in the same year, freed by Russian troops from the German occupation. The work was acquired by the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1974, but for the next 20 years the Holocaust continued to plague Nolan, making his portrayal more literal.

Sidney Nolan painting
The Holocaust continued to plague Nolan, and his portrayal became more literal. Photo: Jessica Fromas / Guardian

Last year, outside the small exhibition of the Sidney Nolan Trust at the artist’s UK home, these works were not open to the public and surprised those who knew Nolan with the Australian iconography Ned Kelly and Anzac’s paintings. Probably.

However, while the connection between the 1950s artist Troy and the Galipoli series is generally accepted, Thali is Nolan’s third lesser-known metaphor, the Holocaust is actually the artist’s fine tapestry thread. It is said that it was a “vertical weave”.

“Connecting Anzac and Auschwitz”: Year of the Watershed

In 1961, Nolan wrote in his diary, “Connecting Anzac and Auschwitz.”

That same year, Adolf Eichmann, chief architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem,” was captured in Argentina and brought to trial in Israel. The nine-month trial was enthusiastically reported in the international media and, unlike the Nuremberg trials, relied heavily on graphic first-person testimony from dozens of concentration camp survivors.

Adolf Eichmann during the 1961 trial in Jerusalem.
Adolf Eichmann during the 1961 trial in Jerusalem. Eichmann was found guilty of a war crime against Jews and executed the following year. Photo: Popperfoto

The press brought Nolan’s interest and fear to the forefront.

In the last few weeks of the trial, the artist painted dozens of pictures, capturing the harsh thin lip mouth of a war criminal sitting behind bulletproof glass, a receding hairline, and distinctive round glasses.

On December 15, 1961, Eichmann was sentenced to death.

“This gave Nolan the release he needed … a few weeks of work spilling over. It was like a valve with the lid removed and steam spewing out,” says Taree. ..

He painted 120 paintings from mid-December to early January 1962.

“Smoke begins to come out [in Nolan’s paintings]The paint is scratched and a scream appears in the mouth, “he says.

“By December 29, the head had become a skeleton, like a skull and a bone.”

Details of Sidney Nolan's work are on display at the Jewish Museum.
Sidney Nolan’s work is on display at the Jewish Museum. Photo: Sidney Nolan

Nolan seemed to be absent for nine days from late December to early January. Next, “two-day torrent,” says Taree.

“Consistent tortured images, 90 skeletons, trolleys, smoking crosses, smoke crucifixions pouring from the top of the skeletons on the cross … he simply couldn’t get rid of the trauma.

“It’s a rambling, rolling work mess.”

In just four weeks, Nolan created 220 photos.

A photo of the Auschwitz archaeological site taken by Sidney Nolan in 1962.
“Auschwitz was more than anguish for Nolan”: A photo of the site taken by an artist in 1962. Photo: Sidney Nolan Trust

Earlier in the same year, Nolan’s friend and observer poetry editor Al Alvarez proposed that the artist accompany him on a trip to Auschwitz. Alvarez was planning to write an essay at the camp and he wanted Nolan to provide the images.

The Iron Curtain culminated, and the Berlin Wall cut through the center of the German capital just a few months ago, causing a Cuban missile crisis. Nolan’s belief that Western civilization was collapsing under a distressed moral ulcer was deeply embedded in his consciousness.

“He is now completely immersed in this human suffering,” says Taree.

“The concept of civilization failure was enormous, and Auschwitz represented that failure … revealing a potentially terrifying future reality.”

Faced with such an abominable disgust, after taking a series of photographs for Alvarez in Auschwitz, Nolan decided to never promise to put another image of the Holocaust on canvas. He resigned from the Observer Commission, and the overflow of his work, created over a four-week period from 1961 to 1962, was driven into the dark, invisible corners of the artist’s work for the next half century. I did.

“Auschwitz was beyond pain for Nolan, and it was a place where psychopathies were completely real,” says Tarley.

Works from the collection of the Sydney Jewish Museum.
A “consistent tortured image” unleashed from Nolan’s paintbrush for four weeks in the early 1960s. Photo: Jessica Fromas / Guardian

“The reality of Auschwitz, with its crematorium piled up with prostheses, hair, suitcases, eyeglasses and iron trolleys, and the layout of a Mondrian grid-like camp designed to house hens awaiting slaughter. It was a reality far beyond his previous imagination, and he could not accept its inhumanity. “

Therefore, Nolan, who regarded art as a Geiger counter of civilization, like the early warning system, could not accept the art created in the Holocaust.

“He no longer knew how the illness was portrayed, and he didn’t portray or talk about it for decades to come.”

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