Trevor NICKOLLS, Family in Blue Holden Enlarge 1 /1


1949 – 2012

Family in Blue Holden 1998 Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on linen synthetic polymer paint on canvas Support: linen canvas

Dimensions: painting 121.5 h x 152.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2014
Accession No: NGA 2014.696
Image rights: © Trevor Nickolls. Licensed by Viscopy

Trevor Nickolls’s practice began in the late 1960s, prefiguring what we now call the urban Aboriginal art movement, which began coming out of cities during the mid 1970s. And, although these were particularly difficult times for Aboriginal people in Australia, Nickolls endured to become one of the nation’s most recognised and celebrated artists and an inspiration to some of Australia’s leading Indigenous artists today.

Like the great Aboriginal masters coming out of the desert whose later works included multi-layered stories, Nickolls often worked with multiple perspectives and iconography, providing an insight into his world of travelling between tradition and modernity, or what he called ‘dreamtime’ and ‘machinetime’. Family in blue Holden 1998 is one such work, with its carnival of colour, activity and obvious and obscure meanings, the many icons of Australia complementing and colliding, juxtaposed in a classic Nickolls dreamscape.

The central convertible blue FJ Holden, driven by a family of wandjina, transports the happy passengers, Gija artist Rover Thomas and Nickolls, through time and imagined realities. The references to country, city, ancestors, night and day and the myriad of characters only heighten our ongoing scrutiny and enjoyment of this work as its performance unfolds. The presence of Ned Kelly, a blind kangaroo, the mini Holden ute and other elements are characters in a play that is at once intensely personal, wholly Aboriginal and universally Australian—a characteristic of his work in general.

Thomas was Nickolls’s friend, and a fellow artist, and both represented Australia at the 1990 Venice Biennale. It was this experience, on an international platform, that transformed Nickolls’s practice.

Family in blue Holden joins fourteen other works by Nickolls in the national collection and helps illustrate the legacy of perhaps the greatest among the few pioneers who inspired a generation of young urban-based Aboriginal men and women to find strong voices in art in recent decades.

Tina Baum, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art


in artonview, issue 81, Autumn 2015