Arts Community Mourns Passing of John Olsen AO
The Australia Council for the Arts, joins the arts community in mourning the recent passing of acclaimed artist John Olsen AO at the age of 95.
Olsen, who died on Tuesday, April 11, left a distinctive mark in Australian landscape painting in a career spanning nearly seven decades. He described his body of work as “an exploration of the totality of landscape.”
John Olsen in his home and studio, 2016, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Mim Stirling.
Born in 1928 in Newcastle, Olsen moved to Sydney with his family where his passion for the arts took root. He attended the Dattillo Rubbo Art School, the Julian Ashton Art School, and Auburn School. In the late 1950s, Olsen dipped his hand in printmaking, studying at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 studio in Paris, as well as in Deià, Spain.
Soon after he had his first solo exhibition held at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney in 1958, and by 1968, he had set up his own atelier — the Bakery Art School.
In 1970, he was commissioned by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation to work on a large mural entitled Salute to Five Bells. The mural was completed in 1973 and is currently on display in the Sydney Opera House.
More recognition for his talent and work continued in the years that followed. Among his many awards were the 2005 Archibald Prize for his self-portrait Janus Faced, as well as winning the Wynne Prize twice, in 1969 for The Chasing Bird Landscape and in 1985 for A Road to Clarendon: Autumn, and the Sulman Prize for Don Quixote Enters the Inn in 1989.
The year 1977 saw Olsen appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2001. He also received an Australian Creative Fellowship in 1993 and a Centenary Medal in 2001.
Minister for the Arts John Graham also celebrated the life and work of Olsen, saying:
As further testament to his extensive influence as an artist, many of the works of Olsen are represented in galleries in every state and territory, including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, where he also served as member of the board.
While he was widely known for working with paint, Olsen also ventured in other media, particularly ceramics, tapestry and illustration.
As a salute to the late artistic great, the Vivid Festival in Sydney happening next month is preparing a special tribute that will see Olsen’s works illuminated on the sails of the Opera House.
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