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Tom Nicholson
Cartoons for Joseph Selleny

Tom Nicholson Cartoons for Joseph Selleny 2012-14 (detail), charcoal drawings, perforated; wall drawing with crushed charcoal; artist’s book to take away, dimension variable © the artist. Photograph: Christian Capurro. Image courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

AGNSW Contemporary Project

Tom Nicholson’s work Cartoons for Joseph Selleny makes use of a Renaissance drawing technique called ‘pouncing’. In preparing fresco paintings, large-scale drawings or ‘cartoons’ were perforated then beaten with a ‘pounce bag’ full of ground charcoal. This would leave a dotted outline on the wall to guide the making of the fresco.

This project brings together two narratives: the story of the work’s own making and the story of the remarkable visit to Sydney Harbour by the Austrian frigate Novara in 1858. The ship was sponsored by the Austrian archduke Maximilian (later the ill-fated puppet emperor of Mexico), a patron and friend of the Novara’s official artist Joseph Selleny.

In Nicholson’s work, these narratives pivot on a series of paintings by the French artist Edouard Manet that represent Maximilian’s execution by firing squad in Mexico. Nicholson has created preparatory drawings for the paintings after the fact. The cartoons are perforated and pounced to produce a vast abstracted drawing on the Gallery wall.

Nicholson has also made a take-away artist’s book with nine letters that weave together the evolution of the project and the history of the Novara. They begin in Vienna’s Museum of Ethnology where he encountered Aboriginal objects taken from Sydney during the ship’s visit. These letters repeatedly return to Sydney Harbour, where the invasion of this continent began in 1788, where the Novara anchored in 1858 and which this Gallery overlooks.

Part of Contemporary at the Gallery 2014

AGNSW Contemporary Projects are supported by Andrew Cameron

Contemporary art with UBS

22 May – 10 Aug 2014

Free admission

Contemporary galleries