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John Olsen: Tropical Rainshower

The Artist

John Olsen is one of Australia's great artists and one that stands alongside Sydney Nolan , Brett Whitely and others. According to  Alan and Susan McCollough, John Olsen was born on the 21st January 1928 in Newcastle, New South Wales. He studied at the Julian Ashton School and Orban School between 1950 and 1956. During the following year,  Olsen went to study in Paris and Spain learning printmaking and engraving. Olsen's independent outlook became evident when he took part in an  anti-Archibald Prize demonstration at the Art Gallery of NSW. He gained his first official success in Melbourne when a small painting was bought for the National Gallery of Victoria in 1956. By 1957 the Sydney critic Paul Haefliger had recognised his potential and private subscribers raised a fund to send Olsen abroad. He sent exhibitions to Sydney and Melbourne and returned after 3 years abroad. Olsen is credited as having introduced an expressinistic type of painting reflecting the combined influences of the Dutch painter, Corneile and the  Scots painter Alan Davie. The first impact  of this work was felt when, with other young Sydney painters, Olsen took part in the Sydney Nine inaugural exhibition in 1961 to  introduce to the vocabulary of Australian art a new title, You Beaut Country. This title was crucial  to his subsequent success. European influences in his work were fused to produce individual child-art type imagery expressed with a sophistication and panache, added to which was a strong natural feeling for his Australian environment.  A wandering  childlike scrawl of linear superstructure was imposed on a rich, free, colourful scumble of underpainting of alternating opaque and transparent passages. The colloguially titled series, which began with 'Journey into You Beaut Country, summed up the arttitude and drew attention to Olsen's Irish inspired wit and his affection for the general character of Sydney and environs.  In 1963, he designed a series of tapestries made in Portugal and the following year went to Europe to further his work in this field, retuning to Sydney in 1967. Until 1970, Olsen conducted the Bakery Art School, Sydney and in the same year received a commission from the Dobell Foundation to paint the Sydney Opera House  mural Salute to Five Bells, inspired y a poem by Kenneth  Slessor and completed in 1973.

Opera House Mural

One year later he began a number of tours of Central Australia in the company of naturalist Vincent Serventy, an experience that gave his map-like drawings a lyrical and ecological character. IN 197, Olsen extended his travels to include Egypt, Kenya and South Africa. He became a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW in 1978 and both as practising artist and administrator has continued to exert great influence on art affairs in NSW. His work  was also included in the Bicentennial exhibition 'The The Great Australian Art Exhibition and has held at least one major retrospective of his work since then.

Tropical Rainshower by John Olsen

The Work of Art

Tropical Rainshowers is a lithographic print which was published by Druckma in 1978. This work is a limited edition of  193 of 300.  According  to  The Victorian Collections, this is a typical Olsen painting that combines an implied aerial view with an ambiguous and seemingly unpremeditated figuration. His characteristically quizzical line and irregular squiggles and dots deftly render countless organisms, large and minute. Their environment is conjured through loosely brushed and stained expanses of colour (on canvas or hardboard) and lines which sometimes read as geological mappings. In Olsen's work there is no foreground/ middle ground/ background, nor any sign of European landscape's concern with "human scale." Instead he employs simultaneously the contrary vantages of naturalist and geographer.

Tropical Rain Shower' by John Olsen forms one of the eight artworks represented in the Bodford Terrace Suite. Eight of Australia's finest artists were brought together to create a folio of lithographic prints to celebrate the restoration of historic Bodford Terrace. Printed at the Druckma Press by John Robinson under the supervision of master printer Jock Abbott. The folio edition was limited to 300 signed and numbered folios. The lithographs were printed on special heavy weight french Arche's paper in accordance with the tradition of this artistic medium.