Australian Art


John Olsen
John Olsen

AKA: John Olsen

Born: 1928 Newcastle (NSW)
  • Abstract
  • Conceptual
  • Contemporary
  • Painter
  • Known
  • Established
John Olsen
John Olsen

Olsen's life has been marked by a generosity of spirit, by the vitality of his friendships with men, including many of Australia's leading painters, and with women, and by his personal struggles which have led to some of the greatest works of Australian landscape painting.

These include his 'Lake Eyre' paintings and more recent works such as 'Golden Summer, Clarendon'. Olsen's mural 'Salute to Five Bells' is in the Sydney Opera House.

In 1957 a Sydney businessman, recognising the immense talent of the young John Olsen, paid him to go to Majorca and paint. The businessman sold most of the paintings for a profit and Olsen was transformed by the influences of European art and the Mediterranean. On his return to Sydney in 1960 the extent of his talent was soon widely recognised.

In 1968 Olsen set up and ran the Bakery Art School, and in 1972-73 he painted 'Salute to Five Bells', inspired by Kenneth Slessor's poem. Olsen's work has been marked by a deep engagement with the Australian landscape, and he has lived for long periods in different parts of the country and travelled widely in it. He has served on the boards of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Art Gallery.

Today he lives near Bowral.

1928 born in Newcastle NSW
1935 family moves to Bondi Beach
1939 John becomes a boarder at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill
1943 leaves school to work as a clerk, then becomes a freelance cartoonist for publications such as Man and Fashion Design
1947 attends Datillo Rubbo Art School; his family provide no moral or financial support for his desire to become a painter
1950 attends Julian Ashton Art School; influential teachers include John Passmore and Godfrey Miller
1951 marries Mary
1952 - 55 exhibits with the Society of Artists
1955 first major exhibition, at Macquarie Galleries, Sydney; lives in Melbourne
1956 participates in important, abstract and abstract expressionist , Direction 1 exhibition
1957 at the prompting of Sydney Morning Herald art critic Paul Haefliger, Sydney businessman Robert Shaw pays Olsen to go to Europe to paint; Olsen lives for much of this time in Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain, and is influenced by the Mediterranean, its cooking and culture; he begins his journals
1960 returns to Australia and, after a few weeks at Hill End, settles again in Sydney; paints his first major work, 'Spanish Encounter'; in the next two years he does the 'You Beaut Country' paintings and becomes recognised as a major artist; teaches at East Sydney Technical College and marries Valerie; their children are Louise (jewellery designer) and Tim (Paddington gallery owner)
1964 Joie de Vivre tapestry
1965 - 67 lives in London and Portugal
1968 establishes the Bakery Art School in Sydney
1969 - 71 lives at Dunmoochin, Victoria, in the community started by Clifton Pugh; then moves to Dural, out of Sydney
1973 completes Sydney Opera House mural 'Salute to Five Bells', based on Kenneth Slessor's great poem
1970s/1980s several important trips to the outback, particularly the Kimberely and Lake Eyre, with naturalist Vin Serventy
1980 lives with Noela Hjorth, at first in Wagga Wagga, then for seven years in Clarendon, South Australia
1984 does murals for Victorian Arts Centre
1985 wins the Wynne Prize for 'A Road to Clarendon: Autumn'
1989 marries Katharine
1990 moves to Rydal, out of Bathurst, NSW
1991 retrospective at National Gallery of Victoria
1997 publishes his autobiography, Drawn from Life
1999 moves to Southern Highlands of NSW
Road to Hill End, Monkey Hill
Road to Hill End, Monkey Hill

1955 Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
1958 Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
1960 Olsen, Galerie Lambert, Paris
Terry Clune Galleries, Sydney
1963 An Exhibition of Recent Paintings, Gouaches & Drawings by
Clune Galleries, Sydney
Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1965 Clune Galleries, Sydney
South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne
1967 Entrance to the Castle of Life: 66-67, Clune Galleries, Sydney
Entrance to the Castle of Life: 66-67, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne
1969 The Dunmoochin Summer: '69, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
'69- Exhibition of Gouches and Oil Paintings, White Studio, Adelaide
1970 Reid Gallery, Brisbane
1971 Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
1972 Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1973 Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
1974 Atelier 72 Gallery, Adelaide
1975 Edge of the Void, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney
74-75: Edge of the Void and Opera House Mural Studies,
Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Edge of the Void: Paintings, Drawings, Etchings and Lithographs by
Greenhill Galleries, Adelaide
Etchings, Gallery Huntly, Canberra
1976 Recent oil paintings, gouches, drawings and etchings,
Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane The Child in us All, St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane
1977 Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1978 Paintings and Drawings 77-78, Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney
1979 Earth Hold etchings, Cintra House, Brisbane
1980 Exhibition of Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Paintings and Drawings 77-80 Lister Gallery, Festival of Perth, Perth
My Complete Graphics, David Reid Gallery, Sydney
1981 A Sliver of Time, Barry Stern Galleries, Sydney
1982 81-82 and Noela Hjorth, Bortignon's Kalamunda Gallery of Man, Festival of Perth, Perth
Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1983 Selected Graphics, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
- The Land Beyond Time, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
(touring exhibition- travelling throughout Australia 1984-1990)
1984 Tynte Gallery, Adelaide Festival 1984, Adelaide
1985 Tynte Gallery, Adelaide
1986 Paintings and Drawings by from the permanent collection,
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin
- In Search of the Open Country 1961-1986, Heide, Melbourne
Gold, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1987/8 - Encounters with Drawing, Wollongong City Gallery, Wollongong
1988 - Encounters with Drawing, Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1989 Greenhill Gallery, Perth
1990 Australian Galleries, Sydney
1991 Australian Galleries, Melbourne
1991/2 Retrospective, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 1 Nov 1991 - 3 Feb 1992
1992 Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 8 May - 28 June, 1992
1993 Recent Works, Sherman Galleries Goodhope, Sydney
Recent Etchings, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
1994 Recent Work 1992-1994, Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne
1995 Recent Works, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
1998 Recent Paintings 1995 - 1998, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
'New York Nowhere', recent paintings and works on paper, Olsen Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
2000 Past & Present, Tim Olsen Gallery, Sydney

Selected Group Exhibitions

Southern Reflections: Ten Contemporary Artists, an exhibition that toured Northern Europe, 1998-1999
Private Collections, Orange Regional Gallery, 1998
Escape Artists: Modernists in the Tropics, touring regional galleries in Queensland and New South Wales 1998-1999


John Olsen's work is represented in all Australian state gallery collections, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and regional galleries Australia wide. He is also represented in institutional, corporate and private collections in Australasia, United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America.

Selected Bibliography

Virginia Spate, John Olsen, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1973
John Olsen, Salute to Five Bells: John Olsen's Opera House Journal, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973
John Olsen, My Complete Graphics, 1957-79, Gryphon Books, Melbourne, 1980
Sandra McGrath and John Olsen, The Artist and the Desert, Bay Books, Sydney and London, 1981
John Olsen: Gold, exhibition catalogue, introduction by Edmund Capon, essay by John Olsen, AGNSW, Sydney, 1986
Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Craftsman House, 1991
John Olsen, Drawn from Life, D&S, Sydney, 1997


There are no opinions yet. Be the first to add your wisdom!

Fame for you

All text and images © 2004-2022