"What joy there is in hearing yourself think, and to make that thinking into ink."


John Olsen


Olsen's life has been marked by a generosity of spirit, by the vitality of his friendships with men, including many of Australia's leading painters, and with women, and by his personal struggles which have led to some of the greatest works of Australian landscape painting.

These include his 'Lake Eyre' paintings and more recent works such as 'Golden Summer, Clarendon'. Olsen's mural 'Salute to Five Bells' is in the Sydney Opera House.

In 1957 a Sydney businessman, recognising the immense talent of the young John Olsen, paid him to go to Majorca and paint. The businessman sold most of the paintings for a profit and Olsen was transformed by the influences of European art and the Mediterranean. On his return to Sydney in 1960 the extent of his talent was soon widely recognised.

In 1968 Olsen set up and ran the Bakery Art School, and in 1972-73 he painted 'Salute to Five Bells', inspired by Kenneth Slessor's poem. Olsen's work has been marked by a deep engagement with the Australian landscape, and he has lived for long periods in different parts of the country and travelled widely in it. He has served on the boards of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Art Gallery.

Today he lives near Bowral.


1928 born in Newcastle NSW
1935 family moves to Bondi Beach
1939 John becomes a boarder at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill
1943 leaves school to work as a clerk, then becomes a freelance cartoonist for publications such as Man and Fashion Design
1947 attends Datillo Rubbo Art School; his family provide no moral or financial support for his desire to become a painter
1950 attends Julian Ashton Art School; influential teachers include John Passmore and Godfrey Miller
1951 marries Mary
1952 - 55 exhibits with the Society of Artists
1955 first major exhibition, at Macquarie Galleries, Sydney; lives in Melbourne
1956 participates in important, abstract and abstract expressionist , Direction 1 exhibition
1957 at the prompting of Sydney Morning Herald art critic Paul Haefliger, Sydney businessman Robert Shaw pays Olsen to go to Europe to paint; Olsen lives for much of this time in Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain, and is influenced by the Mediterranean, its cooking and culture; he begins his journals
1960 returns to Australia and, after a few weeks at Hill End, settles again in Sydney; paints his first major work, 'Spanish Encounter'; in the next two years he does the 'You Beaut Country' paintings and becomes recognised as a major artist; teaches at East Sydney Technical College and marries Valerie; their children are Louise (jewellery designer) and Tim (Paddington gallery owner)
1964 Joie de Vivre tapestry
1965 - 67 lives in London and Portugal
1968 establishes the Bakery Art School in Sydney
1969 - 71 lives at Dunmoochin, Victoria, in the community started by Clifton Pugh; then moves to Dural, out of Sydney
1973 completes Sydney Opera House mural 'Salute to Five Bells', based on Kenneth Slessor's great poem
1970s/1980s several important trips to the outback, particularly the Kimberely and Lake Eyre, with naturalist Vin Serventy
1980 lives with Noela Hjorth, at first in Wagga Wagga, then for seven years in Clarendon, South Australia
1984 does murals for Victorian Arts Centre
1985 wins the Wynne Prize for 'A Road to Clarendon: Autumn'
1989 marries Katharine
1990 moves to Rydal, out of Bathurst, NSW
1991 retrospective at National Gallery of Victoria
1997 publishes his autobiography, Drawn from Life

1999 moves to Southern Highlands of NSW


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