Brendan Kelly: Wallumatta White Kid

Brendan Kelly's new show at The Wellington Gallery, 'Wallumatta White Kid,' emerges from the artist's return to the suburb of Ryde, where he grew up, decades after departure. Reflecting back the visual and emotive iconography of Sydney through a lens of separation – with all the capacity for critique that this allows – Kelly takes a sharp brush to the question of how settler Australians might 'belong' to place in this country.

Splashes of thick, dark paint – at once gestural and geometrical – obfuscate much of the imagery across Kelly’s most recent oeuvre. A vision of the Sydney Opera House is disrupted by one, as are a series of fences, situated in the long, slightly abstracted field of empty-ish space so characteristic of Australian landscape in the settler imagination. These are images of troubled iconicity: brightly-coloured, distinctly Australian and instantly recognisable scenes are disrupted by the painterly gesture. Kelly, having been born and grown up in Sydney, belongs deeply, and yet not uncomplicatedly, to this place. 

In images like Bennelong – Ripples in the River, 2021, Sydney’s colonial history is most plainly and painfully laid out. Red-coated figures literally muddle the landscape, and leave both native animal forms and human faces contorted in a way both intrinsically modern and inseparable from our local history in this city. In Clinging to the Midden, 2021, the Opera House appears again, with limbs stretched around it, searching for ruptured history and ground at Tubowgule (Bennelong Point).

Wallumatta White Kid takes the urban and art historical tropes of Australian-ism in a modern, colonial context, and works through the history beneath them, from the perspective of a painter at once decidedly of this land, and yet acutely aware of his ambivalent historical position. “It is hoped,” says the exhibition catalogue, “that the exhibition will acknowledge and honour the original inhabitants of the Wallumatta region as well as opening new dialogues regarding the arrival of non-Indigenous people and the inevitable changes they brought with them.”

Wallumatta White Kid
Throughout October 2021
The Wellington Gallery, Sydney


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