Tuesday, August 15, 2017

 

Artist reveals the women behind the Ned Kelly legend

An exhibition premiering at Arts Space Wodonga in North East Victoria is closely connected with Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series, with the National Gallery of Australia granting appropriation rights for five works.

Furious Riding: The Kelly Women Narratives, by established artist Janet Goodchild-Cuffley, challenges the usual male-only perspective of the Ned Kelly story.

Each of the 26 works tell a story that vividly conveys the lives of Victorian colonial women in the late 19th century – resourceful and resilient women who were way ahead of their time.

Managing Curator of La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre (2007-2016) Paul Northam notes in the exhibition catalogue that Goodchild-Cuffley’s paintings are rich in symbolism and historical detail.

“Replacing the judge’s black cap worn when pronouncing the death sentence in Nolan’s The Trial with the foreboding metaphor of a black raven reminds us that Justice Redmond Barry died twelve days after Kelly was executed,” he said.

“Goodchild-Cuffley references and celebrates Nolan’s 1946–47 Ned Kelly series, while adding a new dimension and saying something of consequence. Once the perspective shifts to consider Kelly as one member within a large family, and to reflect on the maternal and sibling relationships that shaped his life, there is no going back.

“The Kelly women are central characters in this story. They always were.”
Arts Space Wodonga Team Leader Josephine Harkin is delighted that this series has received much interest.

“This is a significant body of work, not to be missed," Harkin said.

"There are no imminent plans to tour the work, and it is clear that that will not be exhibited again as a series for a long time."

Goodchild-Cuffley sees herself as part of Nolan’s milieu as she was an art student at Swinburne when he was still painting.

She was inspired to paint the series after hearing Noelene Allen interviewed about her book about Ned Kelly’s mother, Ellen: a woman of spirit.

A unique friendship has since developed between the two women who realise they share a love of history – and perhaps the same strength of spirit.

The title of the exhibition stems from a fascinating insight into the lives of colonial women: in an outrageous move for the times, Ellen sued William Frost for financial support of his illegitimate child – and won. Then, in a glorious gesture of defiance, she and her friends rode their horses wildly around the streets of Benalla. Ellen was subsequently arrested and charged with Furious Riding in a Public Place.

The exhibition runs at Arts Space Wodonga until Saturday, August 26.

Image (top): Janet Goodchild-Cuffley with 1866: Ellen and Her Children Farewell Red Kelly, 2014 and 1868: The Fire at Greta, 2014.

* Exhibition catalogues are for sale at Arts Space Wodonga for $29.95.