Saint Ned (2022) is Brendan Kelly’s latest solo exhibition of mixed media paintings focusing on the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his place within contemporary Australian society.
The artist seeks to analyse Ned Kelly through a broad lens, encompassing a wide range of elements, which have added to the Ned Kelly story, in order to comprehend the modern view of a man who, once thought a common criminal, hunted by police and executed in 1880, became Australia’s most well-known 19th century individual, an Australian hero and icon.
Ned Kelly polarizes the masses, and has been labelled by diverse terms such as hero, villain, sinner, saint, thief, murderer, prophet, product, and merchandise item. For well over 100 years, Ned Kelly has been the inspiration for creative offerings in the form of novels, movies, songs and paintings, ultimately celebrated and honoured at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony on a worldwide stage.
The breadth of work in the exhibition reflects Ned Kelly in the contemporary sense. Raw, bold, and direct gestural abstract-marks share the picture plane with fractured, figurative, almost cartoon-like passages that contain a wide mixture of mediums including acrylics, graphite, oil stick, aerosol spray, sheet metal and photo collage. Using an Australian colour palette the artist effectively showcases Ned’s light and dark shades with intelligence, empathy, humour, irony, parody and pride.
Using Ned Kelly as a mirror, the exhibition asks us to look at our national identity through our radically changing perceptions of a 19th century bushranger. How and why has our view of Ned Kelly and ourselves altered? What are our current values and perceptions as a nation, and what were they in the past? What are our attitudes towards law and law enforcers? What are the parallels between the Ned Kelly story and the Australian story? What as a nation have we learned, if anything, from the life of Ned Kelly?