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Australian art

Contemporary art

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wood nymph triptych (the heart is a lonely hunter) 3



Neil Emmerson


1956 -


The ‘wood nymph triptych (the heart is a lonely hunter)’ depicts a man disguised in a ghillie suit, a form of advanced military camouflage in which the wearer tries to disappear into his environment. The word ghillie derives from the Scottish term for a gamekeeper and suggests someone closely connected with the land and with hunting. The ghillie suit is a particularly elaborate disguise which seeks to emulate undergrowth in a forest or grass lands. It is often made individually to mimic a specific environment with exactitude and is used by both hunters and military snipers who seek to become invisible within a particular location.

The figure of a man in this disguise seems an image of a certain type of obsessive masculinity, one in which game playing and serious military outcomes intertwine. It is a figure slightly ridiculous, but also a little sinister and which implies violence and surprise. At the same time it seems solitary, isolated, even anonymous – an disguise which is also an erasure of visual and other identifying characteristics where the figure attempts to be visually as one with the backdrop of his location.

In describing this lone figure of a man, depicted both front on and in profile, as a ‘wood nymph’, Emmerson seems to feminize an image of obsessive military masculinity. In Greek mythology nymphs were female and lived in specific land or waterscapes and are therefore associated with nature and natural beauty. Emmerson’s figure in a ghillie suit would also desire to be as one with a specific landscape or place but instead Emmerson depicts him isolated against a plain coloured background, removed from the context in which his disguise makes sense.

The desire to be camouflaged and invisible seems to also imply a hiding of self. Other works by Emmerson have looked at latent homosexuality or at least same-sex socialization in aspects of military life. Woodlands are sometimes ‘beats’, places where men go to have anonymous sex with other men. In this case perhaps the disguise also attempts to erase aspects of the subjects own identity, a desire to blend in which renders the subject invisible. This denial can however appear slightly absurd when viewed from outside.




Media category


Materials used

colour screenprint on Dutch etching paper




3 sheets: each 112.0 x 76.0 cm image/sheet


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2008


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Neil Emmerson

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Deborah Clark (Editor), Art Monthly Australia, 'Artnotes', Canberra, Oct 2006, 52 (colour illus.).

Fremantle Arts Centre, 31st Fremantle print award, 2006, 4 (illus.).