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  • Writer's pictureJohn Michael Bennett

Sydney Nolan Trust, English /Welsh border. 8-13 July 2019.

LeavingAberystwyth with my head full of ICF, especially Wendy and Brandon work, I took the train to Shrewsbury, to catch the chamming country bus, through biscuit box hamlets and villages. To arrive 4 hours later, at sunset on Rodd Court, to the enchantment of peace and stillness, in the long summer night, on the Welsh borders. I had joined a party of Cardiff Met’s MFA students for their Sydney Nolan trip. This was a wonderful setting and with a new family, of fine artist, to explore, and celebrated this Australian Artist. I had no knowledge of Sydney Nolan, work or history.

‘Sydney Nolan pursued his own path. His predominantly figurative style has been at aesthetic refuge for eye and minds bored by abstraction. His imagination is endlessly questing and artistic and technical invention perhaps unparalleled” Jane Clark 1987.

Sydney Nolan, (1917-82), identified with the great Australian robin hood outlaw, Ned Kelly, (1854-1880.) Ned Kelly, who’s wilderness embodied the wild Australian outback. Sydney has bought Rodd court toward the end of his life. Where he lived there for 10 years. It was here, imbedded in this landscape; of 16-century mansion, 180-acre site, with 50 acres of native forest, that he planned this legacy to support art and society. Dr James Green led the group, as we camped, eat and lived art by day while our nights were illuminated by campfire, marshmallows and good company.

In a barn by the gardens, I found an old potter studio and an ancient wheel. Some grogged terracotta and the most perfect studio view. I engaged with learning, the sensuous ecology, the gardens, the night skies, the peace and the memories. In an old poetry book by Blake I re-discovered, an old friend of image and word. I embarked on slab building with combining thrown vessels. I followed the artists foot prints and moulded my reflections directly to clay. I gave my first lessons to three eager students. Realistically, I could only work and present in green ware, this was a lesson in impermanence. For this reason, the material took on a different presence, I connected deeper with the tactility of the drying process, with light and temperature of the moving day.

The time went two quick, to a Thursday night where we had to display our work to the public and the Sydney Nolan trust committee. The venue was in a massive agricultural barn. I had five combination pieces and wild flowers. I was able to relate my experience as an installation, an expression with presence, movement and metaphor. Everyone’s work was really good and interesting, there was a nice overlap with word and display, collages and combination. I recognised the qualities of collages, visual jigsaw and concepts in collision, the mechanics of metaphor. There was an interest dynamic with this group with breaking for the frame, into 3D, objects carved and selection of found objects.

This experience benefited my practice, it presented the opportunity to respond to an artist, through the materials, he had left behind. An artist who worked from his imagination, who in his later work, perceived himself within the mask of Ned Kelly. This was a perfect opportunity to engage my practice within the platform of fine art, and to open conversation into haptic clay, as a medium of expression. I also found a peace here, in the woods, along the hedgerow, in the tent on the hard-forgiving earth. A breath of clean air, before I embark on the last pages of my Master in Ceramics. I am grateful to James Green and the MFA’s, what an assume adventure and to the wonderful and generous staff and trustees of the Sydney Nolan Trust.

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