John Olsen has been called Australia’s greatest living artist. His work, often misattributed as abstract, is better understood as evocative — micro and macro visions of the environment and its inhabitants (gastronomical, human and animal) told in a line Olsen describes as taking “itself for a walk”.
In this collection of fine art archival prints, each hand-signed by Olsen himself, the artist’s unique vision for life beams forth. From the topography of Australia’s great landscape, to African animals and down to microscopic frog eggs, they sing Olsen’s symphony in its minor and major chords.
Landscapes are what Olsen is known best for. He paints the coastline like a nervous system and the sun like a split egg, yoke bleeding across the cosmos. Indeed, veins, seeds and eggs recur throughout his work, reminders that all forms of life are interconnected — the sky is tied to the fetus, the seed to the beating heart, the tadpole to the tide.
In ‘Barrenjoey — Popping Blue Bottles’ and ‘Bondi — Rose Fingered Dawn’, Olsen’s totality of place beams forth. These landscapes are impossibly vibrant, symphonies of sky, water and land that burst with life and beauty.
If beauty is a core tenet of Olsen’s work, so is awkwardness — often presented in the form of gawky animals. Abroad, this interest falls on African animals. In 1978 Olsen visited Kenya where he was beholden by lanky, honey-coloured giraffes, bulbous rhinos and fuzzy, darting monkeys. For him, giraffes and monkeys were the emus and frogs of Africa — the perfect adventure for his line.
Alongside Olsen’s animals, however, is always a quiet warning. In his total visions of the environment where fur bleeds into grass and neck into mountain-ranges, he reminds us that the survival of any animal depends upon the health of its environment.
This interconnectedness fuels Olsen’s beloved frogs. Olsen’s adoration for frogs began in 1971 when, in a rainforest with a documentary film crew, he held one in his palm. Cool and alive in his palm, he was immediately struck by the frog’s oddities — bulbous eyes, wet skin and the ability to spring away like coiled wire.
“It began to extend its legs and then it jumped… I was entranced”, Olsen recalls. Since then, he has repeatedly paid tribute to the frog, imagining it in all its captivating forms. Like his African animals, he has described frogs as barometers for environmental health and reminiscent of human awkwardness — a reminder that beauty can be strange and small.
Explore our full John Olsen collection here.