PHIL BROWN

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - INSIDE - PHIL BROWN art­mu­seum.uq.edu.au

If Sid­ney Nolan hadn’t been a suc­cess­ful artist he might have made a damn fine used-car sales­man. The story be­hind the ac­qui­si­tion of works in a ground­break­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of his paint­ings done on slate roof­ing tiles high­lights this.

We who love: The Nolan slates, on show at Univer­sity of Queens­land Art Mu­seum, fea­tures rare works on slate tiles Nolan pil­fered from a build­ing site near his Mel­bourne stu­dio when he was a strug­gling young artist.

UQ owns 18 tiles of this largely un­known series. How Dr Nancy Un­der­hill, a re­spected cu­ra­tor and writer who was found­ing di­rec­tor of the UQ Art Mu­seum, came by them is a funny story and one she re­counts in this ex­hi­bi­tion’s cat­a­logue. The artist ex­hib­ited some of his slates at the In­sti­tute of Mod­ern Art in Bris­bane in 1977 and Un­der­hill was there. Nolan, who died in 1992, pre­tended not to know who she was. Un­der­hill, au­thor of Sid­ney Nolan: A

Life, pub­lished last year, says he was just mess­ing with her head.

“I asked him what he was go­ing to do with the paint­ings and he said there was a woman at the art gallery at the univer­sity who he thought might buy them,” she re­calls. “He was ob­vi­ously set­ting me up.” When Un­der­hill told him who she was he said: “I’ll sell them to you if you buy them right now.” The price tag was $20,000. Un­der­hill’s an­nual bud­get was $5000, but she knew it was the op­por­tu­nity of a life­time so she said yes and talked vicechan­cel­lor Zel­man Cowan into ac­quir­ing the works. The univer­sity set about rais­ing funds and Nolan soft­ened his hard-sell, giv­ing them time to pay. But they had trou­ble com­ing up with the money and even­tu­ally Nolan let them have the lot for $2000, which is all they man­aged to raise.

There are 33 works in this show (24 slates), cu­rated by art his­to­rian Dr Chris McAuliffe, who says the works are “a re­mark­able, even des­per­ate dec­la­ra­tion of artis­tic in­de­pen­dence”.

Nolan is revered for his Ned Kelly paint­ings, but who knew he painted roof tiles? We are lucky to have most of them and, at only $2000, they were a steal. You have un­til July 24 to have a look at them.

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