John Olsen: New Paintings

3 - 26 October

The major works of John Olsen have been distinguished by a deep sensitivity to terrain and a profound sense of scale. These qualities transcend medium and confer a grandeur (and sense of the epic) upon his murals, intimate etchings and the substantial works on paper. The ability to compress a vista into a square of French art paper is the summation of sixty years of drawing, wandering, musing and being embedded in a quixotic landscape.
Dealing with the visual irony of teeming life within a desolate terrain, he plays with the internal tensions posed by distance and detail. The result is both the lyrical elation of a contemporary romantic and something far more pragmatic. This is not landscape adapted to foreign convention, softened or mediated to improve the view. Instead it is a domain of strange incident, ancient ground and furtive wildlife bathed in a relentless, almost pitiless sun. John has been staring into the heart of that sun for a lifetime.
The relevance of the work comes from a very personal place because it is literally a life’s work: a continual process of determined sacrifice and willful experiment The course of my father’s career has seen landscape painting as the pinnacle of Australian art, the end of Australian art and now the rising beacon of a third generation making the land their central motif. Through all of that he has not changed course but he has meandered into major themes of his own making. The body of works on paper presented here, traverse the range from massive interior landscapes to reedy river beds and the chaotic splendour of his own kitchen, a place where the arguments and ideas have always traveled from the table to the page.
These drawings and paintings come from real places but they are not faithful depictions. The work is not dealing with abstraction and it is not dealing with literal accuracy, instead it is down to the power of memory, John’s own and the collective dream of the interior. For what dwells within Australia are places that most of her inhabitants have never seen and have no intention of seeing. In this context the role of a painter like John Olsen is that of a messenger and a conjurer both.
Some have likened his work to that of a Zen calligrapher, others have said he has internalized the spirit of the land to a degree that has become iconic. What I see is pleasure, knowledge, play and a love of light and space animated by a quest that never leaves him. Sitting still in his studio reading a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins or leading a trail of painters into an empty river bed, he is always “out there” navigating, interrogating and refining his touch, hungry for beauty, replete in the half light.

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John Olsen: New Paintings


OSBORNE SAMUEL GALLERY is one of London’s leading galleries, long established in the heart of Mayfair. The gallery began as Berkeley Square Gallery and became Osborne Samuel when Peter Osborne and Gordon Samuel joined forces. The gallery specialises in Modern British Painting and Sculpture and has a high reputation for the quality of its exhibitions and publications. Expand...

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