John Kelly | Sunshine and Moonlight

John Kelly unites in an exhibition with Sidney Nolan, and the artist's seminal work on Kelly's practice, Nolan's 'Boy and the moon'.

Curated by Dr Damian Smith, Sunshine and Moonlight will present works by both John Kelly and Sidney Nolan at Australian Galleries, Melbourne.

When Sidney Nolan presented ‘Boy and the moon’ (1939 – 1940) the luminous form was a point of controversy in the Australian art scenes. Created by Nolan after seeing his friend’s head silhouetted against the moon, the minimalist painting sparked debate concerning it’s function and meaning set against the artistic Canon. In it’s reductive form, the image holds allusions to art’s primordial origins as a totemic device, and the ritual connotations associated with it. And later on, the bold colour and shape of the golden face was viewed as another logo for Nolan, set alongside the iconic square black helmet of the Australian bushranger Ned Kelly. As Smith states, “it certainly functions as a brand, or if one prefers as a logo. And it was likely conceived as an ironic dig at Modernity, even as it championed its values”.

For John Kelly the reductive image, and its rich history, was the perfect symbol to use in reaction against the conditions of arts funding in Australia in the 2000s. ‘Boy and the moon’ formed the inspiration behind an extended series of paintings, prints and sculptures. The totemic symbol was once again engaged in a form of ritual action, this time in a political and economic debate.

Overtime the totem has became embedded in Kelly’s personal identity, its bulging eyes and large bulbous, alien-like face resonating with the artist’s own feelings as an outsider or alien in Australia. As a symbol it is laden with multiple meanings for the artist.

The appropriation of this image by Kelly speaks to another sensibility – his focus upon minimalist abstraction. The clean bold shapes are disrupted by his application of thin layers of paint upon the canvas. Space and light fluctuate and move against dense spaces of tone and colour.

For an artist that is well known for his landscapes, this exhibition presents a critical personal focus for Kelly. And on a greater level Sunshine and Moonlight invites us into a collective conversation with two Australian artists about the icons that make up Australian identity.

John Kelly | Sunshine and Moonlight

3 October – 22 October, 2017
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Courtesy the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne. 

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