45. JOHN OLSEN
I am in the landscape, and the landscape is in me, that’s the experience that drives the line. Once I get a central rhythm going, it propels itself. I feel a rapport and one thing suggests another, asks a question, sees a connection just like a poetical form. It’s telling me, push me this way, more colour here… it’s all about filling space, and leaving space, the yin and yang, to make it work.1
John Olsen’s Desert Landscape and Marsupial Mice is simultaneously aerial and linear in perspective and allows the eye to dance in exploration at the visual poetry provoked by the wild calligraphy-like lines, the pulsating earthy forms and it’s ambiguous creatures that crawl through the veins of Olsen’s beloved arid country. The present work is an example of the artist’s ability to balance figuration with abstraction in a fluid style using a multitude of vibrant and uncompromising tones.
In his prolific and vivacious career John Olsen created a legacy to Australian landscape painting inspired with optimism and powerful bursts of energy unlike no other artist. Impelled by his contemporaries such as Arthur Boyd (1920-1999), Fred Williams (1927-1982), Clifton Pugh (1924-1990) and John Perceval (1923-2000), we are enthralled by Olsen’s unique and deep understanding of the Australian landscape with the colour and tenacity of a truly spiritual nature. What sets Olsen apart, however, is his childlike optimism and his boundless energy combined with a masterful use of colour and line.
John Olsen is arguably Australia’s greatest living painter. His career as an artist was firmly established in the 1960s but his impressive career spans over half a century. Olsen was a refined artist of seventy when he painted the present work, from which his maturity and deep insight into marrying the land and the spiritual realm permeate. In 2001, Olsen was awarded the prestigious Painters and Sculptors Association Medal, joining esteemed artists such as Lloyd Rees (1895-1988), Roger Kemp (1908-1987) and Louis Kahan (1905-2002).
…his sense of place has also always been about a geography of mind, experience and poetic imagination – continually transforming and enlivening the ways in which we conceive of the connections between the word around and
The present work, imbued with Olsen’s typical palette of terracotta and ochre hues, evokes an otherworldly relationship with the Australian desert. Desert Landscape and Marsupial Mice provides a transcendent understanding of the Australian landscape and its native inhabitants. The earth and seasonal aspect is reminiscent of Olsen’s famous Summer, Clarendon 1983 held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Olsen combines an aerial perspective with a narrow horizon creating an energy that comes from his ability to connect to the landscape with tremendous sensitivity and to convey that energy with profound spontaneity. Through watercolour, pastel and gouache, Olsen enjoys a technical freedom to explore the mediums in relation to their subject matter with avid curiosity.
Olsen’s identification with, and love of the Australian landscape comes through in all of his work despite the arid and seemingly uninhabitable desert. Olsen employs a distinctive composition, departing from the classical fore, middle and background module of landscape painting - highlights the immense character of the Australian desert, as utilised here in Desert Landscape and Marsupial Mice.
John Olsen has received many prestigious arts prizes such as the Wynne and Archibald and is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. He has received significant attention abroad as well as at home for over half a century. His impact through his art, teaching and vibrant personality have enriched Australia and Australians’ understanding of their country. Olsen’s works are held in every state gallery, significant regional galleries and important private and public collections, both nationally and internationally.
1. Hawley, J., The Masterly Mr Squiggle, Good Weekend, 2 September 2006
2. Hart, D., Australian Painters of the Twentieth Century, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2000
Tessa Dorman MA (Art History and Theory)