It’s a barely forgivable cliche to call them ‘the odd couple’; but Margaret Olley (1923-2011) and Ben Quilty (b. 1973) are indeed joined together in Brisbane right now (until 13 October). The Queensland Art Gallery/ Gallery of Modern Art is currently presenting two grand exhibitions: Margaret Olley-A Generous Life and Quilty. The Olley exhibition of over 100 paintings uses perfectly coloured walls and characteristic Queensland architectural features to tame the space to Olley’s domestic scale works. Quilty’s large, sometimes overbearing paintings, need no such accommodation. The link between the two artists is more than their presence here under one roof. In 2002, Olley awarded Quilty the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship; in turn he painted her portrait to win the Archibald Prize in 2011. He claims her as a mentor although he didn’t always take her advice. Olley, a conservative, told him to stay away from ‘causes’; he famously does quite the opposite.
The Margaret Olley exhibition is quite triumphantly beautiful. Her use of rich colour for mostly domestic interior and still life subjects is one key to her enduring popularity and connection with a wide public. The exhibition also includes several portraits of Olley: Quilty’s Archibald winner; most famously, William Dobell’s gorgeous 1948 Archibald winner; and a wonderful triptych Archibald 2003 finalist by Danielle Bergstrom who captures the Margaret we knew. Her life was truly ‘generous’, financially and emotionally, justly celebrated.
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