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Beached (Yuraygir self-portrait), 2015

by Nicholas Harding

oil on linen
Private collection, Stradbroke Island
Courtesy of Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane

Nicholas Harding has created scores of scenes of people on hot scrub-fringed beaches of the north coast of New South Wales. Beached - People’s Choice for the University of Queensland Art Museum’s National Self Portrait Prize in 2015 - synthesises typical elements of his practice in a dashing, wry assertion of his accomplishments over decades. The background comprises the kind of north coast scrub that Harding’s made his own, in life and in ink and paint. While the Yuraygir bush really does look just like that, it’s also a metaphor for middle-aged life: it’s very difficult to get through, there are dead sections, tangled parts, bits that have dropped off, bits that are propped up, there’s a mat of weedy material on the creeping move. Often, Harding’s depicted such vegetation in ink on layers of thick paper, which he’s gouged, scored and scraped away for texture and tone. Here he’s built it up, in stunningly lavish, luscious paint. He’s rendered branches and sticks in the upper right quadrant in creamy chocolate and caramel oils, sand in the lower right in unctuous fudgy vanilla. Paraphernalia of the adult beachgoer – all protective - clutters the foreground with rich colour. We infer the subject’s come in from a long swim; he’s relishing the illicit pleasure of broiling in the sun. The string lies drying upon his bunched-up trunks. His feet splay like those of Manet’s Dead toreador on the sand of the bullring. His sunken belly and prominent ribs recall Holbein’s Body of the dead Christ in the tomb. In truth, it looks as if part of his ribcage has been gnawed by scavenging animals. But still, his blue eye flashes. Harding’s prostrated figure peeks covertly at himself, painting his own bravura portrait. 

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