IYP Trip to the Sidney Nolan Trust

By Heather Thomas, Ikon Youth Programme member


On 20 August, IYP were invited to visit the Sidney Nolan Trust for a day trip at The Rodd in Presteigne, Wales. On arriving I was immediately struck by how peaceful and still the environment felt; a perfectly welcoming place I was eager to learn about and explore. In complete honesty, I have to admit that prior to this trip, I didn’t know too much about the the Sidney Nolan Trust, or what it stood for. Over the course of the day we were introduced to the impressive history and precious purpose of this space.


Sidney Nolan, one of the foremost international modern artists, was born in Melbourne, however had always planned to form a space in a rural location to create and house his own paintings and music. From this desire, his planning led him to purchase the site and set into action the Trust to care for and develop a treasured and cherished land for his life’s work. The love Nolan had for his creations fuelled and inspired generations of artists, and the Trust continues to welcome all regardless of background, culture or age. His presence can still be felt within his undisturbed art supplies and workshop space, where you would be forgiven for thinking he’d just momentarily popped out, to return any moment now.

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Inspired by the presence and personal experience of the natural rural environment, the group was welcomed on a silent walk-and-draw workshop with artist Celia Johnson. Here, we were offered a simple opportunity, yet one that stirs so much. For me, it was a welcome respite from city life and everyday thoughts; an opportunity to just simply be. It is so refreshing to be amongst others who do not judge, and who embrace the power and freedom in creating. Simply sitting in the countryside with no conversation and without the diversion of mobile phones is liberating, grounding and a path to the inner self. Who could have thought being asked to walk silently, observing, listening and reflecting whilst making marks to represent sound could have felt so much? Being and feeling present, here, in the moment is momentous, but so very easy to overlook. We miss so much of the wonders of the everyday, staring down at screens.

Artist Vanley Burke introduced IYP to his work, exploring themes of slavery, displacement and torture. This was an uneasy, powerful juxtaposition between the still friendliness of nature and the distressing confinement of those held within slave ships. Their suffering was almost incomprehensible, standing there in the field, confined by nothing at all. Having mapped out the dimensions of a typical ship on the field using straw, we were welcomed to lie in this space in an attempt to replicate these human tessellations. Lying there, breathing in incense, we silently reflected and couldn’t help but question humanity.

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Life, all life, is truly precious and wonderful. An installation work where clothing was hung in the trees surrounding the slave ship was a sombre engagement with this lingering history.  The clothes were displaced, just as the slaves were; their future uncertain, left thrashing in the powerful wind. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the possessions, clothing, lives of these human beings on such colossal scales would even look like.

Director, Anthony Plant passionately shared Nolan’s work with IYP, ahead of a new exhibition: Sidney Nolan: Works on Paper – Fifty Years. (25 August – 3 September 2016). Anthony took us through the vast expanse of Nolan’s inspiration, ideas, process and technique in an engaging and fascinating talk. Though Nolan passed away in 1992, his passion and endeavour is still unquestionably very much alive – within the Trust, staff, artists and visitors.

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Click here to find out about Ikon’s Youth Programme.

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