King of the Australian sun, John Olsen is currently being celebrated by the Australian Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). The exhibition - You Beaut Country has been a resounding hit, proving Olsen still has Australia’s heart. As the exhibition draws to a close, we’ve decided to share our favourite works by Australia’s foremost cheeky charmer. Across the John Olsen collection are paintings pigment prints,and fine art reproductions.
Transfixed by Australia’s oceans, Olsen’s work frequently returns to the ocean floor. It was here that the artist uncovered nature’s alien beauty. As a devout Sydney-sider, Olsen also recognized how deeply seawater runs through Australia’s veins.
Olsen’s highly recognizable Five Bells has become synonymous with the Sydney Opera House. Commissioned by the institution, Olsen drew inspiration from a poem by Kenneth Slessor titled Salute to Five Bells. The poem weaves a tragic tale. In it, Slessor crosses the bay with friends to attend a party in Mosman. When a boat passes, his friend Jo Lynch is flung into the water. Weighed down with bottles of beer, Lynch sunk to the ocean’s floor never to resurface.
Olsen response to the poem speaks to the sublime. Big, complex and beautiful - this vision of the Sydney Harbour, imbued with Slessor’s story traverses life, death and chance.
Frogs and Banana Leaf
In Frogs and Banana Leaf, Olsen’s adoration for the planet’s most humble creatures comes to life. His fascination with frogs began in 1971, when Olsen examined one with scientists in a rainforest. Cradled between his palms, Olsen recalls “it begun to extend its legs and then it jumped… I was entranced”.
Golden Summer, Clarendon
The genius of Olsen may lie in his ability to feel, rather than think the world. In Golden Summer, Clarendon this quality burns through like molten gold. With irresistible ferocity, Olsen captures how it feels beneath the Australian sun.
In Monkey I, Olsen delivers a dancing monkey. Made of perfectly playful lines, this pigment print is as charming and vivacious as its creator.
In Monkey II, Olsen returns to his beloved subject - the monkey. Once again, his rendition of a monkey almost moves beneath our eye.
Salute to Cerberus
Olsen’s interest in mythology emerges in the impressive Salute of Cerberus. Part atom splitting, part ancient Greek beast this work is a visual explosion. No matter how many times it’s viewed, something new can always be uncovered.
On drawing, John Olsen once remarked “I take the line on a holiday”. Here, in the unsparing sprawl of a bird’s eye landscape he draws with feeling over thought. This is a prime example of Olsen’s love of land, Sydney and figurative abstraction.
The Squid at Sunset
Olsen’s oeuvre has been described as visual poetry. In this original painting, that idea reveals itself. Without needing realism, he captures the sense of sunset, seaside family dinners.
John Olsen is represented in every major Australian institution. His eternal optimism, born in the landscape has inspired a career of more than 50 years. Throughout these years, Olsen has forged his own, vital vision of the Australian spirit.
You only have until June 12th, 2017 to behold You Beaut Country - so get in quick! And not long before our Olsens are snapped up either.