Margaret Olley had a gift for friendship, that is, in addition to her gifts as a wonderful painter. Among her many friends were a surprising number of other artists whom she often helped and always encouraged. That aspect of her life (1923-2011) is featured in an attractive exhibition – Margaret Olley: painter, peer, mentor, muse – at the S.H. Ervin Gallery until 26 March. Hers was a prolific career yet she found time to develop and maintain friendships with artists she admired, a number of whom are represented in this show, including David Strachan, William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Jeffrey Smart, Criss Canning, Cressida Campbell, Ben Quilty.
Olley’s influence as a muse was demonstrated by two Archibald Prize winning portraits which bookended her creative life: William Dobell’s glorious portrait of 1948 and Ben Quilty’s 63 years later. In a sense, she created a mini industry around herself, which has continued beyond her life. There is the Margaret Olley Art Trust which has the resources to provide major support to pet projects matching her generosity during her lifetime. And there is the Margaret Olley Art Centre at the Tweed Regional Museum, its location celebrating the fact that she was born in Lismore. The Centre features a recreation of Olley’s Paddington home studio, principally the Hat Factory and the Yellow Room. That studio saw Olley’s performances as a superb hostess producing wonderful meals among the apparent chaos but artfully placed objects she so admired and loved.