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Vale John Olsen AO

We wish to acknowledge the passing of one of Australia’s most acclaimed artists, John Olsen AO, and recognise his extraordinary contribution to Australian creativity.

John Olsen in his home and studio.John Olsen in his home and studio, 2016, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Mim Stirling.

John Olsen’s artworks defined an era of Australian landscape painting. He had a deep engagement with the Australian landscape, living and travelling for long periods in different parts of the country.

He described his own work as “an exploration of the totality of landscape” and his esteemed ‘The You Beaut Country’ series is a homage to the Australian outback, and includes South Australia’s Lake Eyre, a place he visited frequently.

Born in Newcastle, NSW, in 1928, John Olsen moved to Sydney with his family and studied at Dattillo Rubbo Art School, the Julian Ashton Art School, and Auburn School. In the late 1950s Mr Olsen studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 studio in Paris, as well as in Deià, Spain.

In a career spanning more than 60 years, John’s first solo exhibition was at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney in 1958, and by 1968, he had set up the Bakery Art School.

In 1970, he was commissioned by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation to paint a large mural entitled, ‘Salute to Five Bells’ which he completed in 1973 and is currently on display in the Sydney Opera House.

Among his many awards, John Olsen won the 2005 Archibald Prize for his self-portrait “Janus Faced’, as well as winning the Wynne Prize twice, in 1969 for ‘The Chasing Bird Landscape’ and in 1985 for ‘A Road to Clarendon: Autumn’, and the Sulman Prize for ‘Don Quixote Enters the Inn’ in 1989.

Mr Olsen was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977 and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2001. He also received an Australian Creative Fellowship in 1993 and a Centenary Medal in 2001.

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette AM said:

“John Olsen was a giant of Australia art. A prolific and highly acclaimed artist over several decades, he also gave so much back to Australian art and culture. We extend our deepest condolences to his friends, colleagues, and family.”

Mr Olsen’s numerous works are represented in galleries in every state and territory, as well as the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, where he also served on the board.

Next month’s Vivid Festival in Sydney will pay a special tribute to John Olsen’s long and distinguished career on the Opera House’s sails.