In March 1972 Sidney Nolan, the Australian painter, travelled with his wife Cynthia and a small film crew to Mount Tom Price where iron ore was being mined out of the ancient Archaean granite and greenstone geological sediments and volcanics of the Hamersley Range in North West Australia. His intention was to make a film of what he termed ‘Kelly Country’ as typical of the landscape of mythical folk hero, Ned Kelly the subject of a lifelong theme for the artist from the 1940s. The Miner series of paintings based on his trip to the Hamersley mountain range led to the production of a set of screen prints on the same subject from which Miner with Yellow Helmet was printed in 1973.
The print in the Worcester City museum collection focuses on both the head of the anonymous and archetypal miner in his chrome yellow helmet against the darkening mountain range under a stormy sky. The head is set in the centre of the print with the sides of two mountains rising from a gorge that runs immediately above the head and which is illuminated by burning rock and a veil of glowing smoke coming from the location of the Tom Price Mine. In this setting the miner becomes a Promethean figure, in the service of Vulcan the Roman God of Fire and Craftsmen. The miner appears to have become fused into this wild and fiery world in which his face acts as a glowing yellow mask reflecting the light of the fire and colour of the iron rich red earth which seems to emanate from his staring eyes and down turned mouth, like a classical actor in a Greek Tragedy. The only living colour appears in green highlights from the bush scrubland and foothills of the mountain sides that flank the central ragged profile of the head that is virtually disintegrating into the descending darkness of the stormy night in which the miner acts as both beacon and warning.
Written by volunteer collections researcher, Deborah Keaveney.