A mammoth work of staggering brilliance: Nolan’s Snake

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If anyone knows anything about Sidney Nolan, they know his Ned Kelly series: an Australian bushranger immortalised in enamel on hardboard, many painted on the kitchen table of Heidi on the outskirts of Melbourne while Sunday Reed made steaming cups of tea and writhed in the bedsheets.

I thought I knew the works of Nolan. I was wrong.

One wing in MONA is dedicated to Snake, over 1600 illustrations of abstract creatures and people, marked with simple lines and colours that when put together form this curved serpent that is simply overwhelming.

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This close up of an individual work. What I can’t comprehend is putting all these individual pieces in your mind, mapping it out in your head and knowing it would come out like this. I think it must have been nearly impossible to see it in its entire majesty and find it incomprehensible that Nolan himself ever saw his own work all laid out.

This work absolutely left me dumb-founded. Not just because of the scope of the work, but because I had never encountered such a significant piece of one of Australia’s most significant artists.

Put Snake on your agenda, as I don’t think it’s on permanent display.

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