Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Margaret Olley

In their own words

Recorded 1963

Margaret Olley
Audio: 2 minutes

I have many ways of working. One is working directly from a model or from using a still life. This I don’t arrange and then paint it immediately; I always have a very definite idea what I want to do. Sometimes it doesn’t come off immediately, sometimes it does, and this is a very satisfying thing. Other times I paint say for a whole day, and then leave it for several weeks; it might go on for months or even six weeks, taking out something, repainting again.

I very rarely make a detailed sketch of what I intend to do. I might make little thumbnail notes but never very detailed, because I feel you kill the painting you want to do.

Painting to me is like drawing; you draw with your brush or your palette knife, so whether one is using a paintbrush or watercolour or a pen, it’s all creative, and I never mind which medium I’m using.

The paintings I do are naturally things I – I’m inspired whether it’s the colour, the shape; it might be the colour of the skin of a native woman, it doesn’t matter.

I can hear myself saying things that are so trite, and they’re not really how I want to say them. This is a dreadful thing for a painter. We say it in paint, otherwise we’d be a writer or perhaps a musician, who knows?

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Margaret Olley is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Related people

Margaret Olley AC

Related information

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

The Gallery

Visit us, learn with us, support us or work with us! Here’s a range of information about planning your visit, our history and more!

The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night

Support your Portrait Gallery

We depend on your support to keep creating our programs, exhibitions, publications and building the amazing portrait collection!

Visiting the Gallery
Visiting the Gallery
Visiting the Gallery
Visiting the Gallery

Plan your visit

Timed ticketing, location, accessibility and amenities

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency