URBAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS WITHIN CLOUDS OF NARRATIVE
                                                                           SASHA GRISHIN                            p.1   p.2   p.3  p.4  p.5  notes
successful, but it also planted in the artist's mind the seed of self-doubt and he was not to exhibit again for another twenty years. The show consisted of large-scale acrylic paintings which dealt with the grand narrative and major themes in contemporary history, especially the war in Vietnam. As he later reflected, "the aim of those paintings was to make a big serious work of art ... a bold statement, a big picture of the world". In terms of his formal language, parallels could be drawn with the paintings of the so-called School of London, particularly with the work of Michael Andrews and R.B. Kitaj. As was fashionable at the time in the work of such artists as Richard Hamilton, Neilson employed the strategy of montage, where he would incorporate
Living Daylights, and later by painting stage sets and backgrounds for television. By 1977 he was head of the painting workshop at Crawford Productions and in 1984 he commenced work with Studio Set Constructions. If the painting of stage sets, scenery and backgrounds was his day job, most of his private time was devoted to the craft of drawing. His drawings of the 1970s and 1980s testify to hard won victories, where the subject-matter varied from scenes of domesticity - backyards, typewriters and walkman radios - to studies from sculptures from classical antiquity. The constant challenge was to master drawing both for its mimetic and expressive purposes.

A drawing like his Dying Gaul, 1984, made with charcoal, compressed charcoal and chalk, may in the first instance refer to the sculpture from Hellenistic antiquity,6 but it has also been abstracted into an image of universal sacrifice. It can he read as an image of the dying proletariat and historically related to a period when the Soviet Union was disintegrating and
when its socialist experiment was collapsing. The Dying Gaul was one of a series of drawings which Neilson exhibited in his second solo exhibition at the Gryphon Gallery in Melbourne in 1987. Other drawings from this period also played with ideas of allegory, where within a tranquil scene of flying birds there was a reference to helicopter gunships setting off on a battle mission. Drawing on his experience of working in television, Neilson exhibited these charcoal studies within a darkened gallery spot lit, giving them a somewhat dramatic and apocalyptic presence which was noted by the critics of the day.

Exhibitions of Neilson's drawings followed in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Conceptually, each drawing dealt with a single narrative - a still life, media images from the Gulf War or objects abstracted from an everyday reality. Although the frame of reference invariably extended beyond the simple meaning of the subject-matter and pointed to a symbolic and allegorical dimension, there was something limiting in this single frame approach to art making. It was in the early 1990s that Neilson felt that he had mastered sufficiently the craft of drawing to once again embark on painting. Conceptually, he felt that he needed a bigger and more flexible arena, than drawing on a single sheet of paper, and that he was no
longer content with the telling of a single narrative, but that there was the need for a polyvalence with many different competing narratives within a single composition. However, unlike his acrylic paintings of the 1960s, where the medium simply "seemed flat, lacking in resonance and became fairly uninteresting fairly quickly",7 he now employed oils. It is

Dying Gaul 1984 charcoal, compressed charcoal and chalk 67 x 95 cm
Private collection

photographic images, sourced from the media, within a general painted narrative. The result was effective, rather than convincing, and for Neilson the acclaim which the exhibition received seemed "too high, too soon". It left him wondering as to whether in fact he had the necessary skills to make art which was worthy of museums and which would last for centuries. There was also the worrying doubt as to whether the pop art use of the photograph, at least in his case, was not simply a case of the use of a surrogate for images which he could not draw. Neilson spent the next twenty years teaching himself how to draw.

During this twenty-year period Neilson gradually withdrew from the Melbourne art scene and supported himself initially by working as a cartoonist and illustrator for a number of newspapers including The Tribune, The Age, Nation Review and