The subjects of many of Russell Drysdale 's greatest paintings are Aborigines. It was not until the 1950s, when he set out on the first of a number of major exploratory trips to the north and west of Australia, that Drysdale began to draw, paint and photograph indigenous Australians on their own and in groups. It was also at this time that the notion of a particular Drysdale evocation of the Australian landscape became apparent. Painted some twenty years later, Desert Nomad has the classically scumbled surface of rust red paint laid upon a dense green base that is characteristic of Drysdale.
Drysdale is recorded as saying of his paintings of Aboriginies "Somebody once said to me: 'You're doing something rather valuable (in painting aborigines), because this sort of thing will disappear one day and there won't be any records.' Well, I hadn't even thought of it like that I think it is simply because somehow in a way these people, they not only to me have a peculiar dignity and grace but the way in which a man comports himself in an environment which is his and has been his and his alone, he's at ease in it.
The way he sits with his feet in certain positions, his hands and feet are anatomically the same as yours, but they comport themselves with a certain difference, all this, all these sort of things are intriguing, they become a part if you like, and yet they're not part of a landscape, they do stand out. It might be his landscape, certainly, on one hand, but on the other hand he is man, and to me this strange primitive quality is the same thing as in the landscape, it is part of the trees, and the rocks, and the river" (R Drysdale cited in G Dutton, Russell Drysdale, London, 1964, p.101)
In this important late work Drysdale captures the poise and character of his subject. Until the art of Drysdale "Aboriginals had never been treated with such objective compassion and understanding by an artistno deputation for human rights could have been more effective than the silent questioning of the people who gaze out from Drysdale's paintings." (L Klepac, Russell Drysdale, Sydney.1983.p.137)
We are grateful to Lou Klepac for his assistance in dating this work.