Master painter John Olsen OBE, AO has announced that he will create a major new work this year to capture the essence of his birthplace. ABOVE: John Olson plans new artwork from the air. Pictured here with Lauretta Morton, Manager, Newcastle Art Gallery.
Described as Australia’s greatest living painter, Olsen made the announcement upon emerging from a helicopter flight over the Hunter region to gain inspiration for the new painting. He said he wanted to "get up in the air to see the marvelous Hunter River with its branches and tendrils feeding the landscape."
"I am inspired by T.S. Eliot's The Dry Salvages, which describes the river as strong, brown and a God," he said. From that literary reference, Olsen created the title of the new painting: The river is a strong brown God.
"I was born here, and I consider myself a Novocastrian," said Olsen. "Newcastle has a wonderful Art Gallery, and I'm so pleased to be working with the Gallery and to be making a work that celebrates the region. I am already dreaming of the wondrous possibilities."
Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes greeted Olsen on his return from his helicopter flight to welcome him home and thank him for the announcement of the new work.
"This new Olsen painting will give us an exciting opportunity to see the incredible natural beauty of our region through the eyes of an internationally renowned artist," said the Lord Mayor.
The new work will be unveiled as part of a summer exhibition at Newcastle Art Gallery, JOHN OLSEN: The City's Son, opening 4 November 2016. Rather than being a survey of Olsen's career, this exhibition will consist of a collection of specially chosen works co-curated by Olsen and Gallery Manager Lauretta Morton.
"Hosting this exhibition and being able to include this brand new work is such an honour for Newcastle Art Gallery," said the Lord Mayor.
"This project is very personal to John; it is a reflection on his beginnings, his home and the place that he credits as generating the light-hearted lyricism in his paintings.
"This major exhibition is supported by the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation, which is committed to seeing that this major new work finds its permanent home in Newcastle," the Lord Mayor added.
John Olsen has received numerous awards and accolades throughout his prolific artistic career. He received an Order of Australia (A.O.) in 2001. In 1977, he was awarded the O.B.E. for services to the Arts and in 1993 he was awarded an Australian Creative Fellowship. He was also awarded the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985 and the Archibald Prize in 2005 amongst many other awards.
Newcastle Art Gallery, which is home to one of the most significant public collections in Australia, holds 35 works of art by John Olsen spanning from the 1950s to the early 1990s. The gallery looks forward to unveiling his newest work as part of the upcoming exhibition.
"John continues to paint with great energy and insight in his late 80s," said the Lord Mayor. "His recent works are just as vital and as vibrant as those from previous decades. This newly announced painting will be an iconic work for future Novocastrians and Australians to view and appreciate the jewel that is the Hunter."
In 1980, Olsen revitalized his cultural connection to Newcastle when he returned to paint a mural commissioned for the foyer of Newcastle City Hall. The sheer exuberance of his Climbing sun over the Hunter still lights up the entry at the top of the stairs leading into the building.
Another stunning Olsen work resides in the Art Gallery's permanent collection. Life burst is over six metres long and was originally painted as a ceiling mural for the home of Olsen's Sydney art dealer in 1964. The title brilliantly captures the painting’s impact as a pyrotechnic science experiment, where miniature amoebic forms trace frenzied trajectories across the cream ground, colliding and exploding into massive sun creatures.