The Sidney Nolan Trust recently interviewed Australian contemporary artist, Anthony White about his practice and current online exhibition, showing virtually inside the former home of renowned Australian artist, Sidney Nolan.
Tell us a little about your creative style?
I’m interested in the ethics of aesthetics, the role that art can play today. How can artists’ reinterpret history by calling into question major narratives being played out in the media and in our cultural sphere?
Essentially, I’m interested in the gestural mark as an act of dissent. How do art and politics intersect? Visually speaking in the studio, I experiment a lot with different paint applications.
How much of this stems from your Australian heritage or are other influences far more dominant? Perhaps it is an amalgamation of many things.
My Australian heritage is deep down and I have been living in France for 10 years now. I identify with the Australian mentality and the French mentality and I am somewhere in between.
Tell us a little about the series of works on display at The Rodd.
This series of work was shown in Informality Gallery late last year and they were starting a period of interest in researching the role of culture in democratic systems. It drew multiple reference points. I am interested in utilising these materials already tagged and altered by anonymous authors which symbolise collectivity in the community and it highlights the increased need for collective types of communication, reflecting upon the fact that we are interdependent upon one another.
The contemporary experience of emerging discrepancies within society is now becoming culturally relevant. How does social unrest affect creative movements? It’s through the artist recapturing the radical act of the gestural mark that I am inviting people to consider how later capitalism and democracy are failing and reflecting on ideas of justice and unequal punishment.
What does Sidney Nolan mean to you?
I think Sidney was in fact, ahead of the curve in this respect, as using art as a political and social tool. He was deeply moved by creating work that elicited an emotive response in the viewer. I think this is exactly why Sir Sidney Nolan became the artist he was. He tapped into something in the Australian national ethos, he showed Australians something about themselves that wasn’t fully in view. For me, that’s the role of the artist.
Is there a particular series of Nolan’s work which interest you most, and if so what and why?
Sidney Nolan’s response to the 1982 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody would definitely be the reason that I would come and spend time in The Rodd. During 2018 I made the painting ‘The landscape is never Innocent (After Mannalargenna)’ this work was a homage to Mannalargenna, an elder of the Palawa Nation and leader of the Aboriginal resistance during the Black War. During this time the explorer and grazier John Batman set out on expeditions throughout Tasmania tracking and killing Aboriginal people in exchange for government land grants. Mannalargenna led the Palawa resistance which included a daring rid in which he freed four Aboriginal women and a child who had been held captive in Batman’s residence for over a year. Mannalargenna was later betrayed by George Augustus Robinson “protector of Aboriginals” and exiled on Flinder’s Island.
Since moving from Sydney to France I have discovered the extent to which the history of Australia’s First Nations People post European vision of dominant Colonial narratives of bushrangers and this idealised explorer archetype. In school, there was non-existent education to do with the plight of the Aboriginal situation in Australia.
What would you hope to achieve when you spend some time with us at The Rodd?
At The Rodd, I would research and find how Sidney Nolan transformed his ideas into visual imagery, for an artist it can be a little thing that’s been said, written or detail in a painting that speaks to you on multiple levels. The experience of being at The Rodd would be to differentiate between the myth of Sidney Nolan and to get to the original intention, the social reason for the creation of his work.
Has the lockdown been a creative opportunity for you? Has it in any way made you rethink about art, your style and what you might produce in the future?
Yes art practice regardless of a lockdown or not, for me is about the reflection looking backwards and forwards through time. Drawing upon personal archives and contemporary history. There is always something to do!
Anthony White has exhibited internationally over the past decade with solo exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, Paris and Hong Kong. His work has been included in over 40 group exhibitions Internationally including important group exhibitions in Hong Kong at The Cat Street Gallery. His work has also been hung among major art prizes for contemporary landscape painting in Australia including, The Paddington Art Prize for Landscape Painting, The Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship and The John Glover Art Prize. In 2007 Anthony White was the recipient of the Marten Bequest travelling scholarship. He has received international residency programmes in Paris, Leipzig, Vermont and Latvia in both art centres and museum contexts.
White’s work is held in major public and private collections internationally, including the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Latvia, Soho House London and The Tweed Regional Gallery Tweed Heads, Australia.