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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.

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Margaret Olley AC

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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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency