Vale John Olsen AO, OBE

Life Enlivened on the Sydney Opera House sails Credit: Destination NSW

It was with sadness I read that John Olsen, an acclaimed Australian Artist and Archibald Prize winner died on 11 April, 2023, at the age of 95.

On checking the website for the Art Gallery of NSW I read of his wonderful talent and achievements:

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Olsen developed an exceptional and distinctive pictorial language. Defined by an energised line and bold use of colour in works that meld both representation and abstraction, his practice captured a unique sense of Australia’s landscape. He painted a personal view of the world as experienced by the senses, often full of joie de vivre but also contemplative and deeply felt.

His first exhibition was held in Sydney in 1955, and he quickly became recognised as an emerging force in the Australian art world. From the 1960s, Sydney Harbour inspired numerous paintings, the best known of which is Five bells 1963 on display at the Art Gallery now, a prelude to the monumental Salute to ‘Five bells’ 1972–73, commissioned for the Sydney Opera House.

In the following decades Olsen evolved artistically, while his relationship to the environment remained central to his art. He created a unique and poetic vision of the spirit and character of Australia. In his words, he aimed to paint the ‘… experience of a total landscape. Not like there is the foreground, there is the middle distance and there is the horizon. I wanted that overall feeling of travelling over the landscape.

Olsen’s relationship with the Art Gallery – both challenging and championing – goes back seven decades. From leading anti-Archibald protests in the 1950s to serving as a trustee in the 1970s; winning the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes from the 1960s to the 2000s; and celebrating a major retrospective exhibition in 2016–17, Olsen has been a thoughtful and passionate contributor to the Art Gallery and to Australian cultural life.1

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

His family posted on Facebook:

A born bon vivant and raconteur known for his rakish beret and quick wit, John's death comes six weeks before the Sydney Opera House, the location of one of John’s most famous murals, My Salute to Five Bells, lights up during Sydney's VIVID Festival, in honour of his esteemed painting career.

Given Dad’s age however, and the fact his strength has been failing recently, we feared this day was coming. But nothing can truly prepare you for the loss of a beloved parent, and Dad was that to us and many others. Beloved.

John Olsen is represented by Olsen Gallery.

In 2018, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) published a 4 min YouTube video about John Olsen

AS NGV says:
He is a lover of many things: people, food, literature, and the natural world. Above all, Olsen is a lover of art and life. Listen in as Olsen tells stories of his life, work and an enduring passion for capturing the spirit of the Australian landscape.

On behalf of the AnArt4Life team, please join us in offering our sincere sympathies to his family and friends.