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You beauty, it's John Olsen's 'The You Beaut Country' exhibition.

You beauty, it's John Olsen's 'The You Beaut Country' exhibition.

John Olsen needs no introduction, he’s an Australian household name. Born in 1928, Olsen’s career spans seven decades, starting with his earliest documented still life in 1952. At 88 years of age today, Olsen shows no signs of wavering, he is still committed to his daily art practice and tomorrow celebrates the opening of the biggest survey of his work ever, at the National Gallery of Victoria, John Olsen: The You Beaut Country.

It’s hard to sum up just how much Olsen has achieved in his 70 year career, and the impact his works have had on Australia’s creative landscape. After attending art school in Sydney, he went on to further his practice in England and Paris, where he painted and learned the art of print making. Returning to Sydney, he established the prestigious Bakery Art School in 1970 with his wife and artist Valerie. The couple had two children who quickly followed in their parents' footsteps. Their son Tim Olsen now runs Olsen Irwin Gallery, and their daughter Louise is a co-founder and designer of Dinosaur Designs.

During the early ‘70s, Olsen started painting his popular and evocative landscape series, each work connected to a wider Australian narrative. Two distinct collections of works include his Lake Eyre series (c. 1973 onwards) and The You Beaut Country series (c. 1960 onwards). It’s the latter series that offers its name to this retrospective.

David Hurlston, Australian Art Curator of NGV says, ‘This work is the latest instalment in his You Beaut Country series that he began in 1960. It is these works that have really defined Olsen as a painter of epic landscapes that reflect the vitality and richness of Australia.’

In total there are 108 works in the exhibition, include many of Olsen’s famous paintings, as well as lesser known elements of his practices, including ceramic and tapestry works, alongside many of his studio journals. ‘There are many highlights in the show, including Olsen’s wonderful golden landscapes produced while he was living in Clarendon, South Australia, and the mesmerising paintings of Lake Eyre,’ mentions Hurlston.

To celebrate this exhibition, NGV Design Store has commissioned a range of limited edition resin statue frogs and fish – a running motif in Olsen’s work – that have been designed in collaboration with John Olsen's daughter Louise Olsen of Dinosaur Designs. All pieces have been handmade in Dinosaur Designs’ Sydney studio.

Louise reminisces that some of her best childhood memories include watching her father paint, 'it taught me how you have to open yourself up to the art of chance,' she says. 'One of my favourite quotes from my father is: I’m in the landscape and the landscape’s in me.’


This story was originally published on The Design Files with photos by Hugh Stewart.

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