John Olsen’s ‘The Christ Bird Arrives’ forms part of the Edge of the Void Portfolio: a series of six prints inspired by a 1974 trip to Lake Eyre just after it had flooded. The experience proved hugely formative; as art historian Patrick McCaughey describes, the corpus of water has since “occupied Olsen’s Dreaming”.
The term void, which recurs both in the portfolio’s title and several of its works, has philosophical tenor. It conjures to mind the paradox that nothingness has an active presence; for the Western existentialists the void is a threat to being. Lake Eyre undulates from a vacant salt pan to wet with life. It eats then rebirths itself; improbably, life springs from the void.
On one of his first visits to Lake Eyre, Olsen and naturist Vincent Serventy capsized in a storm that sent his paints skyward and sandwiches seaward. Rather than discourage him, the moment proved integral to his reverence for Lake Eyre. At its sparkling banks, he happily reflects “Gee, I’m very small-time here”.
For collectors of Olsen and modern art, ‘The Christ Bird Arrives’ is a highly collectable, enlightening find. Picturing an insectile Christ Bird rearing the waters edge, there is something embryonic here. From a macro vantage point, Olsen evokes the maturations of micro life.
The Edge of the Void portfolio is represented at the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and is published in Stuart Purves and Olsen’s ‘My complete graphics: John Olsen 1957-1979’. This specific work is represented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Read the full story behind this work here.
John OLSEN (1928 - )
'The Christ Bird Arrives' 1975
Etching on paper
Edition of 50
Image Size: 40 x 45 cm
Dimensions: 80 x 60 cm
Signed: Signed, dated, titled, and numbered in pencil in margin below image.
Comes with Letter of Provenance
Literature: Stuart Purves and John Olsen (Compilators), My complete graphics: John Olsen 1957-1979. Literature: Ken McGregor and Jeffrey Makin, Teeming with Life John Olsen : his complete graphics 1957 – 2005, Melbourne : Macmillan, 2005. pp. 15; 40 – 43 (illustrated).
An impression of the Edge of the Void Portfolio is represented at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, accession no.: 305.1998 1-6. An impression of the Edge of the Void Portfolio is represented at the National Gallery of Australia, accession no.: 76.199 1-6.
© John Olsen / Copyright Agency 2023