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John Olsen - En plein air
, 1996

by Greg Weight

gelatin silver photograph (image: 35.6 cm x 45.6 cm, sheet: 40.4 cm x 50.4 cm)

John Olsen AO OBE (b. 1928), painter, is one of the major figures in twentieth-century Australian art. A member of the group of students of John Passmore known as the Contemporary Art Society, he held his first exhibition in 1955, around the time that he and his friend Robert Klippel were trying to ‘paint of the bloodstream’ – to commit to the act of painting as a total experience, a totality of random sensations. The pair’s 1956 exhibition launched abstract expressionism on the Sydney art scene. Olsen was hailed as a master immediately, and in 1957 a Sydney businessman paid him to go to Majorca to paint. Returning to Sydney in 1960, he cemented his reputation with a series of views of Sydney Harbour and the You Beaut Country series. Over the 1980s and 1990s Olsen’s work became increasingly meditative, as he explored ways to express ‘a certain mystical throbbing throughout nature’. He won the Archibald Prize with the scratchy, abstract Self-portrait, Janus-faced in 2005. Greg Weight photographed him in the country near Rydal, in the Bathurst region, where he lived in the 1990s and painted a great deal in the open air.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2004.119