Blue-tinted black and white still of a man is operating a large film camera. He is filming artists Margaret Olley and William Dobell. There are two portraits painted by Dobell in the background as well as another member of the film crew.

Australian Artists Revealed

The interconnected world of Australian art
 Beth Taylor

WARNING: this article may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Margaret Olley looks askance at the camera wearing a red head scarf.
Margaret Olley looks askance in a still from Smart's Labyrinth (Geoffrey Bennett, 1994).

The NFSA presents film and sound portraits of many of Australia's most celebrated artists and arts workers in our new curated collection Art in Australia. The collection represents a slice of the Australian art world from the 1950s to the 80s and reveals interconnections, inspirational advice, artistic decisions, struggles and banter from our greats.

We see rivalries unveiled between greats Margaret Olley, Jeffrey Smart and Arthur Boyd. Brett Whiteley talks about his 'powerful gift' and prophetically observes that gifted people are prone to 'shipwrecking'. Bohemian artist families - the Boyds, Moras and Percevals - set the scene in 1950s Melbourne in a series of home movies narrated by director Philippe Mora.

Rare footage of Sir Sidney Nolan shows him talking candidly about his iconic Ned Kelly series. Also revealed is the first installation of Nolan’s large-scale mural Snake (1970-72). There are newsreels showing important firsts and scandals - from the year 1964 when no Archibald Prize was awarded, to the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s controversial million dollar painting Blue Poles, and Martin Sharp's first solo exhibition in 1965. 

Representing Australia at the Venice Bienale

Almost 30 years before Tracey Moffatt was invited to exhibit My Horizon at the 2017 Venice Biennale, she was firmly establishing herself as a filmmaker and photographer, not afraid of protesting for what she believed in, as we see in the excerpt below.

Tracey Moffatt in Boomalli: Five Koori Artists (1988). Film Australia Collection. Courtesy: Tracey Moffatt and Roslyn Oxley Gallery. NFSA title: 578841

In another clip, sculptor Rosalie Gascoigne, who was invited to show at the Venice Biennale in 1982, talks in an interview about the humbling inspiration she derives from the Australian landscape.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye paints the interconnected pencil yam (kam) roots, and revolutionises Australian modern art in the process. Kngwarreye took up painting on canvas when she was 79 years old and represented Australia in Venice in 1997. An amazing, energetic character, she went on to create an astounding 3000 works in eight years. Her painting Earth's Creation became the first work by a female Australian artist and the first Aboriginal artwork to be sold for more than one million dollars in 2007.

Inspiring and captivating a nation

Film curator Tara Marynowsky says the collection 'represents artists, attitudes and artwork that have inspired and captivated us'. She explains that the impetus to create the online collection was the discovery of the Blue Poles newsreel covering its controversial purchase and its first public Australian viewing. 'It’s a classic newsreel from the 1970s: all groovy soundtrack with a touch of attitude. This led to uncovering some gems in the collection including a Sidney Nolan film about his 1973 exhibition in Dublin and a newsreel covering Martin Sharp’s first solo show at Clune Galleries in 1965.'

See all this and more including Sir William Dobell, Banduk Marika and photographers Olive Cotton and Max Dupain - Art in Australia curated collection.

The image at the top of the page of Margaret Olley and William Dobell from the set of Painting People, 1965, Film Australia Collection © NFSA. Buy a copy at the NFSA shop