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The Australian expressionist painter and printmaker Sir Sidney Nolan, OM, AC, RA, was extraordinarily prolific, producing more than 10,000 significant works. He returned to favourite themes again and again: Australian landscapes and explorers, African, Antarctic and European subjects, as well as Chinese and Australian-inspired abstractions.
Born in Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne, Sir Nolan was the eldest of four children. At the age of 14, he left school and enrolled at the Department of Design and Crafts of Prahran Technical College (now part of Swinburne University of Technology) in a course he had already begun part-time by correspondence. In 1933, at the age of 16, he began almost six years of work for Fayrefield Hats, producing advertising and display stands with spray paints and dyes. From 1934 he attended night classes sporadically at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School.
Largely self-taught, Sir Nolan had a passion for ideas, literature and art. He never relied on one style or technique, but experimented throughout his life with both figurative and abstract work. He explored many media including charcoal drawing, collage, printmaking and painting with enamel, acrylic and spray paint.
Sir Nolan travelled widely and responded to the spirit of each place he visited. He made the first of several trips to China in 1965. He also painted a wide range of personal interpretations of historical and legendary figures, including the bushranger Ned Kelly.