Olsen Irwin Blog

John Olsen

Robert Berlind writing for 'Art In America' magazine, on the John Olsen Retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1993:

John Olsen at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

During an early sojourn in Europe between 1957 and 1960, Australian painter John Olsen absorbed the influences of among others, Hayter,Dubuffet, COBRA artists Lucebert, Jorn and Alechinski and Tapies. His work also shows affinities with Far Eastern art and demonstrates an interest in literature, particularly such Anglo- Celtic writers as Yeats, Thomas, Joyce and Beckett. But this retrospective of his of his paintings revealed an oeuvre that could only have been produced within the Australian context. He has taken as his chief subject the Australian landscape, and he has given expression to aspirations that permeate much of Australian culture. His acute evocations of local wildlife, Aussie larrikins (roguish outlaw types) and the immense, intractable landmass itself constitute an art that is regional but in no sense provincial.

A typical Olsen painting combines an implied aerial view with an ambiguous and seemingly unpremeditated figuration. His characteristically quizzical line and irregular squiggles and dots deftly render countless organisms, large and minute. Their environment is conjured through loosely brushed and stained expanses of colour (on canvas or hardboard) That are keyed to natural light. Even when he is referring to the outback landscape, usually noted for its austerity and inhospitality, Olsen's imagery teems with life. Yet the same lines sometimes read as geological mappings. In Olsen's work there is no foreground/ middle ground/ background schema, nor any sign of European landscape's concern with "human scale." Instead he employs simultaneously the contrary vantages of naturalist and geographer or, to put it another way, the viewpoints of frog and eagle.

Olsen is a master watercolourist - witness a series of large works(often around 8 feet high) on Japanese torinoko paper with titles such as The Rookery, Dying Creek Bed and Owls at Cooper's Creek. These exquisite and humorous paintings bear comparison with the best of Zen sumi tradition without ever striking a false note. Another group of paintings, begun in 1987 and dominated by tar blacks and heavy umbers, adumbrates themes of Spanish village life, literary references and autobiographical probings, all in a tragicomic mode. A purely Olsen touch appears in the darkness that is animated by scrawly images in Donde Voy? Self-Portraits in Moments of Doubt: a squidgy little fried egg, hovering in space where one of the figure's genitals would be in a fuller rendering, refers playfully to Velazquez, a symbol of redemption and a particular not- quite- cooked bit of breakfast. Olsen's work has not yet been seen in the U.S., yet this retrospective would more than hold its own at any of our major venues".

Born in Newcastle, 1928.

In 2001 Dr John Olsen was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO). In 1977 he was awarded the O.B.E. for services to the Arts and in 1993 he was awarded an Australian Creative Fellowship. He was also awarded the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985 amongst many other awards throughout his career.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
'Myself and Other Animals', Metro Gallery, Melbourne
'John Olsen: New Work', Olsen Irwin, Sydney
'John Olsen: An Exhibition of New Work', Osborne Samuel, London in conjunction with Olsen Irwin, Sydney
'Lake Eyre - The Desert Sea', Metro Gallery, Melbourne
John Olsen, 'Lake Eyre - The Desert Sea, Ruminations on an empty landscape, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
John Olsen, 'Lake Eyre - The Desert Sea, Ruminations on an empty landscape, Tim Olsen Gallery at the Hong Kong Art Fair, Hong Kong
'Culinaria - The Cuisine of the Sun', Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
Paintings and Drawings, Metro Gallery, Sydney
'Available Etchings', Tim Olsen Gallery Annex, Sydney
  'A Salute to Sydney', Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
'John Olsen Ceiling Commissions', Newcastle Region Gallery

'The Coorong: Unfinished Journey', Metro Gallery, Melbourne
'Selected Works', Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
'John Olsen: His Complete Graphics', Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney
'John Olsen, Selection of Graphics, Eastgate and Holst Gallery,


John Olsen, Tim Olsen Gallery Annex, Sydney
'The Flight to Broome', Tim Olsen Gallery Annex, Sydney
'Pulse', Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria
'Teeming with life, His complete Graphics 1957-2005', Book launch and exhibition of selected etchings, Cosa Gallery, London
'The Coorong Suite', New Releases, Print Survey, Port Jackson Press Gallery, Melbourne
'A selection of recent etchings by John Olsen', Impressions on Paper Gallery, Canberra

2004 John Olsen, Recent Works, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney

John Olsen, Metro 5 Gallery, Melbourne
'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
'New York Nowhere', recent paintings and works on paper, Olsen Carr Art
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, Sydney
1991-2 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
'The Land Beyond Time, Works from the Christensen Fund Collection', touring exhibition 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,
John Olsen - In Search of the Open Country 1961-1986, Heide, Melbourne
John Olsen: Gold, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
John Olsen, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1985 John Olsen, Tynte Gallery, Adelaide
1984 John Olsen, Tynte Gallery, Adelaide Festival 1984, Adelaide
1983 John Olsen: Selected Graphics, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
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,
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
John Olsen: Paintings and Drawings 77-80 Lister Gallery, Festival of Perth, Perth
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, gouches, 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
John Olsen 74-75: Edge of the Void and Opera House Mural Studies, Australian
Edge of the Void: Paintings, Drawings, Etchings and Lithographs by John Olsen,
Greenhill Galleries, Adelaide
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
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
Entrance to the Castle of Life: John Olsen 66-67, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne
1965 John Olsen, Clune Galleries, Sydney
John Olsen, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne
1963 An Exhibition of Recent Paintings, Gouaches & Drawings by John Olsen,
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
Selected Group exhibitions
Southern Reflections: Ten Contemporary Artists, an exhibition that toured Northern Europe, 1998-1999
Private Collections, Orange Regional Gallery, 1998
Escape Artists: Modernists in the Tropics, touring regional galleries in Queensland and New South Wales 1998-1999
John Olsen's work is represented in all Australian state gallery collections, 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.
Selected Bibliography

Virginia Spate, John Olsen, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1973
John Olsen, Salute to Five Bells: John Olsen's Opera House Journal, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973
John Olsen, My Complete Graphics, 1957-79, Gryphon Books, Melbourne, 1980
Sandra McGrath and John Olsen, The Artist and the Desert, Bay Books, Sydney and London, 1981
John Olsen: Gold, exhibition catalogue, introduction by Edmund Capon, essay by John Olsen, AGNSW, Sydney, 1986
Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Craftsman House, 1991
John Olsen, Drawn from Life, D&S, Sydney, 1997
John Olsen, 'A Journey into You Beaut Country, by Jenny Zimmer & Ken McGregor, MacMillan Press, 2007

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