John Olsen (artist)
- This article is about the Australian artist. For the Danish artist, see John Olsen (Danish artist)
John Olsen was born in Newcastle on 21 January 1928 and moved to Bondi Beach with his family in 1935, which began his lifelong fascination with Sydney Harbour. He attended St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill leaving in 1943. He went to the Datillo Rubbo Art School in 1947 and in 1950 to 1953; he studied at the Julian Ashton School in Sydney, and Auburn School, 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 1972-73 he painted 'Salute to Five Bells', inspired by Kenneth Slessor's poem. 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 series and more recent works such as Golden Summer, and the Clarendon'. One of Olsen's most successful murals, Salute to Five Bells, is currently hung in the Sydney Opera House. Although he has been labelled as an abstract artist, Olsen rejects this accusation, 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 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 Place in the Melbourne Docklands. The work depicts a brilliant Australian sun (including three 3 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, 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.
Family and personal life
- The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australia art, MUP, 2006, p. 746
- p.746 The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australia art, MUP, 2006
- 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
for Self portrait Janus Faced