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Legacy of John Olsen

Legacy of John Olsen

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of John Olsen, the Australian Master of Landscape Painting, one of Australia’s most revered and prolific artists, who died peacefully at his home in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, aged 95. While we share the sadness of his family, friends, and fans, we also celebrate his extraordinary life and legacy, which spanned over seven decades and enriched our cultural heritage.

Who was John Olsen and What Did He Achieve?

John Henry Olsen was born on January 21, 1928, in Newcastle, New South Wales, and grew up in various towns and cities in Australia, where his father worked as a clerk and a salesman. From an early age, John showed a keen interest in drawing and painting, which he pursued with passion and dedication, despite the challenges of his humble background and the limitations of his formal education. After attending several schools, he dropped out at 14 and started working as an assistant in a commercial art studio, where he learned the basics of illustration, design, and lettering.

In 1948, at the age of 20, Olsen moved to Sydney and enrolled in the Julian Ashton Art School, where he studied under the influential artist and teacher, Henry Gibbons. During his two years at the school, Olsen honed his skills in drawing, painting, and composition, and developed his own style, which combined the realism of the Australian landscape with the symbolism of European modernism. In 1950, he won the prestigious Blake Prize for Religious Art, which launched his career as a professional artist and gave him the confidence to explore new themes and techniques.

Over the next decades, Olsen established himself as a master of landscape painting, whose vivid and lyrical works captured the beauty, diversity, and vitality of the Australian environment, from the deserts of Central Australia to the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. He also experimented with other genres, such as portraiture, still life, and abstraction, and produced a vast body of works that reflected his deep curiosity, his adventurous spirit, and his emotional and intellectual depth. He received numerous awards, commissions, and honors, both in Australia and abroad, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2001.

What Was John Olsen’s Artistic Vision and Inspiration?

John Olsen was a visionary artist who saw the world through the eyes of a poet, a philosopher, and a naturalist. His art was not a mere imitation of reality, but a transformation of it, a fusion of the external and the internal, the perceptual and the conceptual, the tangible and the intangible. He believed that art was a way of exploring the mysteries and the wonders of existence, of expressing the feelings and the ideas that words could not convey, of connecting with the deeper rhythms and the universal themes that unite us all. He said:

“The landscape is not a static thing, it’s a dynamic thing. It’s something that moves, it’s something that vibrates, it’s something that’s full of sound and rhythm and colour.”

Olsen’s art was inspired by his travels, his readings, his friendships, and his own experiences of life, which he saw as a continuous journey of discovery and renewal. He was fascinated by the complexity and the harmony of nature, by the patterns and the textures of the land and the sea, by the light and the shadow that transformed them, by the creatures and the plants that inhabited them. He was also interested in the mythology, the spirituality, and the history of different cultures, which he explored through his art and his writings. He believed that art was a dialogue between the artist and the viewer.

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