John Olsen ‘You Beaut Country’
Well if you happened to be in a rather sodden Sydney at present you couldn’t escape the fact that John Olsen has a big show on at the Art Gallery of NSW; advertisements seem to don every bus shelter within a five-kilometre radius of the CBD! This exhibition is the most comprehensive exhibition of a living artist in the gallery’s history from his art school paintings (of the early 1950s) to several works only painted in readiness for the premiere at the National Gallery of Victoria in September last year.
Focusing on Olsen’s interpretation of our unique terrain or what he has aptly termed the “you beaut country” this exhibition includes over a hundred paintings, drawings, tapestries, ceramics and prints all flaunting his joie-de-vivre. Where his predecessors (and contemporaries) depicted a sparse and dry land Olsen choses to see it bursting with life and his paintings’ joyfully celebrate his curiosity for the natural world and its’ inhabitants. To understand his work we must shift our focus, as he does, and view the landscape from above. His paintings are like intricate maps charting the lines that trace the meanderings of a creek, the dirt roads of a desert track or the vein-like-marks of an eroding earth.
Opening in conjunction is a comprehensive exhibition of Olsen’s recent paintings and watercolours at his son Tim Olsen’s Woollahra gallery. Interestingly, here we also see a collection of works that draw on different eras of his art making. Olsen presents a virtual travel guide for Tourism Australia with paintings from the Simpson Desert, the Murrumbidgee, Lake Eyre and Sydney Harbour as we witness Olsen revisiting his favourite muse. These work have all the vitality and fluency of the works seen at the Art Gallery of NSW and showcase his wide and varied oeuvre. However Olsen’s ability to capture the spirit of a place is not restricted to his home country and his feelings for the Mediterranean way of life can be seen in his passion for food and cooking. With the intense blues in ‘Barcelona: Squid Ink’ to the sunniest yellows in ‘Seafood Risotto’ John pushes the parameters of his exhibition beyond our shores and we get a true sense of the far-reaching appeal of this truly international artist.
So with the forecast suggesting more rain to come, it is the perfect time to retreat indoors and delve deep into the wonderful world of John Olsen with two exhibitions not to be missed.
John Olsen ‘Recent Works’
63 Jersey Rd Woollahra
Viewing until April 23
Credits: Olsen Gallery