View: Artists still drawn to Ned Kelly legend

Clayton Tremlett, Self-portrait as Ned Kelly aged fifty (There’s a Ned in every crowd), 2015 . Linocut on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Clayton Tremlett, Self-portrait as Ned Kelly aged fifty (There’s a Ned in every crowd), 2015 . Linocut on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

THE current exhibition Imagining Ned at Bendigo Art Gallery brings together an array of significant original artefacts including Ned Kelly’s iconic armour, his death mask, the Jerilderie Letter and vintage photographs, but for many visitors what has been most striking is the number of contemporary artists who have been drawn again and again to this intriguing story in Australia’s history. These artists have re-interpreted the Kelly tale, and added to the existing mythology through their artwork. 

Castlemaine-based artist Clayton Tremlett has prompted discussion with his captivating large-scale linocut titled Self portrait of Ned Kelly aged fifty (there’s a Ned in every crowd). The gentle humour of the title belies the stark truth of this piece – Ned was executed at the age of just 25, but here we’re presented with a much older version of Ned. 

For this work, Tremlett cultivated the Kelly beard for several months, and with photographer Denise Martin created a portrait referencing the original 1880 portrait of Ned taken the day before he was hanged (also on display in the exhibition). Through a lengthy process, the resulting linocut presents us with a Ned the world could have known. It’s a face softened with the wisdom of time, and prompts us to consider alternative paths/endings for this man’s life, and the impact and repercussions of the death penalty. 

Raised in Wangaratta, a major centre in Kelly country, Tremlett grew up surrounded by stories of Ned. His fascination with bushranger culture and beards has been a reoccurring theme in his practice. 

Also featured in the exhibition is the work of Thai-born Australian Vipoo Srivilasa who has used blue-and-white colouring on his ceramic sculptures to evoke the history of porcelain and its links to international trade. Srivilasa’s Ned, titled Networking, is an arresting ceramic piece that firmly locates Kelly within contemporary culture: the base on which he stands has all the symbols of today’s social networks – Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Kelly also appears to be holding a satellite phone or two-way radio, with this humorous work suggesting that even a bushranger on the run needs to be contactable! Srivilasa will be giving a talk at the gallery on Wednesday, May 20. See the website for details. 

Through her practice, artist Mars Drum has reimagined Ned in an entirely new locale: the Pink Lake of the Wimmera region. Her photographic work in this exhibition of Ned and the woman in a burqa – two masked figures – is one of intimacy. While Ned, a 19th-century character, is an outsider because of his bushranger status, the burqa-clad woman represents a contemporary outsider, and like Ned she is often defined by her dress. Drum’s intimate portrait encourages the viewer to see beyond their outerwear and experience their humanity, with the subjects holding hands while walking through a sublime landscape, evoking great empathy. 

Find out more about the works on display in Imagining Ned by joining one of the guided tours at noon on Wednesdays or Saturdays (tickets available at reception). Bendigo Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays from 10am to 5pm. 

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