John Olsen (Australian artist)
Early life and training
John Olsen was born in Newcastle on 21 January 1928. He moved to Bondi Beach with his family in 1935 and began a lifelong fascination with Sydney Harbour. He attended St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill. After leaving school in 1943, he went to the Datillo Rubbo Art School in 1947 and from 1950 to 1953 studied at the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney, and Auburn School from 1950 to 1956. In 1957, a Sydney art critic raised funds for John Olsen to go to England and paint. He studied printmaking in Paris in 1957, followed by two years in Spain. Olsen returned to Sydney in 1960. He wanted to represent Australian culture in such a way that the world would see the diversity in the changing outback seasons.
In 1968, Olsen set up and ran the Bakery Art School and in 1970, he was commissioned by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation to paint a large mural entitled, 'Salute to Five Bells', which was inspired by Kenneth Slessor's poem and completed in 1973. Olsen's work has been marked by a deep engagement with the Australian landscape and he has lived for long periods in different parts of the country and travelled widely in it. He has served on the boards of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Art Gallery.
His artworks include the Lake Eyre and frogs series. He is a regular visitor to Lake Eyre, in 2011 he had been invited to be a member of the party in which Paul Lockyer and two other ABC employees died in a helicopter crash at the lake, but declined due to ill-health. He later offered a painting and a poem in memory of those killed. Andrew Taylor, "I was meant to be on that helicopter, says Olsen", Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Aug 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2017 .
More recent works include Golden Summer, Clarendon. One of Olsen's most successful murals, Salute to Five Bells, is currently in the Sydney Opera House. Although he has been labelled as an abstract artist, Olsen rejects this label, stating, "I have never painted an abstract painting in my life". He describes his work as "an exploration of the totality of landscape". Olsen published his diaries, under the title 'Drawn From Life', in 1997. Olsen's book My Salute to Five Bells which contains the artist's thoughts, diary entries and his original drawing for the work, was published by the National Library of Australiain 2015.
Olsen is well known for his paintings of frogs and for including frogs in many of his works. In 2013, he began work on his largest painting since Salute to Five Bells. Eight metres by six metres wide, on eight panels, The King Sun was hung in Collins Square in the Melbourne Docklands. The work depicts a brilliant Australian sun (including three frogs). Olsen and his work on the mural are the subject of 2014 documentary The King Sun, directed by New Zealander Tony Williams.
In Australia's New Year's Honours of 1977, Olsen was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, in 1993 he was awarded an Australian Creative Fellowship and in the Australia Day Honours of 2001 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. He was awarded the Centenary Medal on 1 January 2001. He was also awarded the Wynne Prize in both 1969 and 1985. In 1989, Olsen won the Sulman (the Sir John Sulman Prize) with his work "Don Quixote enters the Inn"
Olsen's works have been exhibited at numerous solo and group shows across Australia and Internationally. Select solo exhibitions:
- 2018 John Olsen, OLSEN Gallery, Sydney
- 2017 John Olsen, OLSEN Gallery, Sydney
- 2016 John Olsen, Olsen Irwin, Sydney
- 2016 John Olsen: The You Beaut Country, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
- 2015 Destination Sydney, Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney
- 2015 Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
- 2014 Myself and other Animals, Metro Gallery, Melbourne
- 2013-14 John Olsen: New Work, Olsen Irwin, Sydney
- 2013 John Olsen: An Exhibition of New Work, Osborne Samuel, London in conjunction with Olsen Irwin, Sydney
- 2012 Lake Eyre: The Desert Sea. Metro Gallery, Melbourne
- 2011 John Olsen, Lake Eyre – The Desert Sea, Ruminations on an empty landscape, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2011 John Olsen, Lake Eyre – The Desert Sea, Ruminations on an empty landscape, Tim Olsen Gallery at the Hong Kong Art Fair
- 2010 John Olsen, Culinaria; The Cuisine of the Sun, Tim Olsen Gallery
- 2009 Olsen: Paintings & Drawings, Metro Gallery, Melbourne
- 2007 John Olsen, A Salute to Sydney, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2006 The Coorong: Unfinished Journey, Metro 5 Gallery, Melbourne
- 2006 Selected works, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2006 John Olsen: His Complete Graphics, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2006 John Olsen, Selection of Graphics, Eastgate and Holst Gallery, Melbourne
- 2005 The Flight to Broome, Tim Olsen Gallery Annex, Sydney.
- 2005 Pulse, Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria
- 2005 Teeming with Life, His Complete Graphics 1957-2005, Book launch and exhibition of selected etchings, Cosa Gallery, London
- 2005 The Coorong Suite, New Releases, Print Survey. Port Jackson Press Gallery, Melbourne
- 2005 A selection of recent etchings by John Olsen, Impressions on Paper Gallery, Canberra
- 2004 John Olsen, Recent Works, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2003 John Olsen, Metro 5 Gallery, Melbourne
- 2003 Sydney Harbour, Seaport of Desire, a survey of prints and drawings, Port Jackson Press, Melbourne
- 2002 Seaport of Desire, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2001 Recent works on paper, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 2000 John Olsen: Past & Present, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
- 1998 John Olsen: Recent Paintings 1995 - 1998, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
- 1998 'New York Nowhere', recent paintings and works on paper, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
- 1995 John Olsen: Recent Works, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
- 1994 John Olsen: Recent Work 1992-1994, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne
- 1993 John Olsen: Recent Works, Sherman Galleries Goodhope, Sydney
- John Olsen: Recent Etchings, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
- 1992 John Olsen Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales,
- 1992 John Olsen Retrospective, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
- 1991 John Olsen, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1990 John Olsen, Australian Galleries, Sydney
- 1989 John Olsen, Greenhill Gallery, Perth
- 1989 The Land Beyond Time, works from the Christensen Fund Collection, touring exhibition
- 1989 Manly Art Gallery, Sydney; Nolan Gallery, Canberra; The Centre Gallery, Gold Coast
- 1988 John Olsen - Encounters with Drawing, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1987-8 John Olsen - Encounters with Drawing, Wollongong City Gallery
- 1986 Paintings and Drawings by John Olsen from the permanent collection,
- 1986 John Olsen - In Search of the Open Country 1961-1986, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
- 1986 John Olsen: Gold, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
- 1986 John Olsen, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1985 John Olsen, Tynte Gallery, Adelaide
- 1984 John Olsen, Tynte Gallery, Adelaide Festival, Adelaide
- 1983 John Olsen: Selected Graphics, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
- 1993 John Olsen - The Land Beyond Time, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
- 1982 John Olsen 81-82 and Noela Hjorth, Bortignon's Kalamunda Gallery of Man,
- 1982 John Olsen, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1981 John Olsen: A Sliver of Time, Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney
- 1980 John Olsen: Exhibition of Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1980 John Olsen: Paintings and Drawings 77-80 Lister Gallery, Festival of Perth, Perth
- 1980 John Olsen: My Complete Graphics, David Reid Gallery, Sydney
- 1979 John Olsen: Earth Hold etchings, Cintra House, Brisbane
- 1978 John Olsen: Paintings and Drawings 77-78, Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney
- 1977 John Olsen: Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1976 John Olsen: Recent oil paintings, gouaches, drawings and etchings, Ray The Child in us All, St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane
- 1975 John Olsen: Edge of the Void, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
- 1975 John Olsen 74-75: Edge of the Void and Opera House Mural Studies, Australian
- 1975 Edge of the Void: Paintings, Drawings, Etchings and Lithographs by John Olsen, Greenhill Galleries, Adelaide
- 1975 John Olsen: Etchings, Gallery Huntly, Canberra
- 1974 John Olsen, Atelier 72 Gallery, Adelaide
- 1973 John Olsen, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
- 1972 John Olsen, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1971 John Olsen, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
- 1970 John Olsen, Reid Gallery, Brisbane
- 1969 The Dunmoochin Summer: John Olsen '69, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
- 1969 John Olsen '69- Exhibition of Gouches and Oil Paintings, White Studio, Adelaide
- 1967 Entrance to the Castle of Life: John Olsen 66-67, Clune Galleries, Sydney
- 1967 Entrance to the Castle of Life: John Olsen 66-67, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne
- 1965 John Olsen, Clune Galleries, Sydney
- 1965 John Olsen, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne
- 1963 An Exhibition of Recent Paintings, Gouaches & Drawings by John Olsen,
- 1963 John Olsen: Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1960 Olsen, Galerie Lambert, Paris John Olsen, Terry Clune Galleries, Sydney
- 1958 John Olsen, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
- 1955 John Olsen, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
John Olsen's work is represented in all Australian state gallery collections (the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 182 works), the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and regional galleries Australia wide. He is also represented in institutional, corporate and private collections in Australasia, United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America.
Approach to painting
Olsen has described his approach to painting as "taking the line for a holiday:" He says: "It's really an interrogatory line, you know: I'm asking a question. The line says 'Move me this way,' and I say, 'Yes? Really? Okay. If you want to go this way, okay.' " He waves his hand gently. "Then it says, 'No, little bit that way.' 'All right, I'll move you that way.' 'No.' 'All right, all right. We'll participate.' "
Family and personal life
The Olsen family lives near Bowral, New South Wales. His son Tim is a gallery owner in Sydney and his daughter Louise designs jewellery. Daughter Jane Olsen (with first wife Mary Flower), died in 2009.
- The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australia art, MUP, 2006, p. 746
- "John Olsen - about the artist". Olsen Irwin. 2016.
- p.746 The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australia art, MUP, 2006
- Andrew Taylor, "I was meant to be on that helicopter, says Olsen", Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Aug 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2017
- Sallie Don, "John Olsen offers painting and poetry in honour of ABC's Paul Lockyer, The Australian, , 24 March 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2017
- Olsen, John (2015). My Salute to Five Bells. Canberra: National Library of Australia. ISBN 9780642278821.
- Falconer, Delia (3 October 2015). "My Salute to Five Bells review: How the Slessor poem inspired John Olsen". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
- "John Olsen: My Salute to Five Bells". National Library of Australia (audio interview). 19 July 2015.
- Art – Collins Square
- It's an Honour: OBE
- It's an Honour: AO
- It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
- p.747 The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australia art, MUP, 2006
- "John Olsen The You Beaut Country". ngv.gov.au. National Gallery of Victoria. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
- "Collection John Olsen". artgallerynsw.gov.au. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
- Hooton, Amanda (3 September 2016). "John Olsen: at home with the Australian artist". The Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend). Retrieved 20 September 2016.
- artworks, Olsen Gallery specialising in contemporary Australian art and sculpture and John Olsen. "Welcome to OLSEN Gallery 63 Jersey Road Woollahra NSW Sydney Australia T +61 2 9327 3922 | Olsen Gallery Sydney". www.olsengallery.com. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
- Inchley, Natasha (2013). "Colour Theory: at home with Louise Olsen". modafamilia.com. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
- Petley, William (20 May 2009). "Joy in making beautiful things". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
| Archibald Prize
for Self portrait Janus Faced