Sidney Nolan


October 1983, Spray can enamel on canvas


182.5 x 160cms

Object number


Series description

Alongside the Australian landscape, one of the recurring themes in Sidney Nolan’s artistic oeuvre is portraiture, or more specifically images of heads, which he depicts in abstracted form, focusing on the character rather than appearance of his subjects. From the early stages of his career Nolan produced numerous portraits, and one of the first of these was Head of Rimbaud (1938-1939), which is based on the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud’s writings were an enduring source of inspiration for Nolan and they are likely to have been a catalyst for this particular series, Remembrances of my youth.

In these 14 images, Nolan mines the depths of his memory and subconscious to produce a series of heads which are highly individualistic. Drawing on the spirit of his muse, Arthur Rimbaud, in these images Nolan imaginatively recalls moments from his childhood which he fuses with memories of people or events in his life. For Nolan, memory was one of the most important aspects of his work. He observes:

“Memory is I am sure one of the main factors in my particular way of looking at things. In some ways it seems to shape the image in ways that cannot be achieved by direct means” (Haese, 1988).

In this series Nolan re-works and juxtaposes themes explored in earlier works which he imbues with new meaning.

These works are amongst Nolan’s most expressive and confronting. There is a freshness and immediacy to them which is partly achieved through the use of the spray can, which Nolan directly applied onto the white canvas. About his work and his artistic process, Nolan states:

“I’m very interested, in fact compelled and dedicated to transmitting emotions and I care for very little else. I care for that process so much that I’m prepared to belt the paint across the canvas much faster than it should be belted; I don’t care so long as I can get the emotional communication; I will sacrifice everything to it – and that I’ve done” (Nolan at sixty, 1977).


Haese, Richard. Rebels and Precursors: The Revolutionary Years of Australian Art, Penguin Books, Ringwood, 1988, p.186

Nolan at sixty, ABC Australia, BBC and RM Productions, Munich, 1977. Director and Producer, Brian Adams.