His work has been there for all our adult lives; John Olsen’s artistic vision has become part of our visual memory. He has provided a recurrent and consistent view of our landscape and ourselves. Now in his 90th year, John Olsen is still going strong. Having already been at the National Gallery of Victoria, a survey of his seven decade career: John Olsen – The You Beaut Country is now at the Art Gallery of NSW until 12 June. This show can justly lay claim to being the most comprehensive display ever mounted of the work of one of Australia’s greatest and most admired living artists. In addition to paintings, there are ceramics, tapestries and works on paper from collections across the country.
John Olsen’s ‘you beaut’ period followed his return from Europe in 1960 after three years travelling there. He brought an energy and optimism to his view of the landscape. Even at his most introspective, he is in a celebratory mood. That spirit of celebration is especially evident in those pictures inspired by the filling of Lake Eyre in 2012. He sometimes comes indoors as in The Bath 1996, lent by James and Jacqui Erskine; a wonderfully exuberant view of that equipment. A particularly lovely picture is Popping the bluebottles of 2007; it’s hard to imagine a more Aussie subject. Evidence of his ‘still going strong’ is Sydney Harbour of 2016. Olsen’s is a spectacular and idiosyncratic vision expressed in lyrical and sensual pictorial language.
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