Newcastle Region Art Gallery collection
A sense of joie de vivre is implicit in Olsen’s dynamic ceiling painting Life burst, commissioned for the hallway of Thelma Clune’s residence in 1964. The subject was particularly pertinent to Olsen’s life, as the work was painted at the time his daughter Louise was born. As Thelma Clune recalled: [Olsen] was trotting off to his wife in the hospital in the evening and painting my ceiling in the day … It was an opportunity to rejoice in him having a daughter. He didn’t get down and do it on the floor or on the table. It all went up on the ceiling by his own hand … I don’t know how he could paint for so many hours looking up.i
Olsen wanted the Life burst ceiling, now in the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, to be a welcoming feature to Thelma Clune’s apartment. Here paint has been pulled along from the right – dabbed, twisted, scratched into, squeezed from a tube and layered, culminating in a dramatic burst of life. For Olsen, the celebratory emotional tenor of this work was closely allied to Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem Spring: ‘What is all this juice and all this joy?’2 The fact that Olsen was looking up at the ceiling while painting, meant that he was continually thinking about the viewer below. As opposed to the Renaissance conception of perspectival space Olsen wanted to create 'an all-at-once world’.
1 Extract from interview with Thelma Clune included in Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Craftsman House, St Leonards, Sydney, third reprint, 2002, p. 79
2 Poems and prose of Gerard Manly Hopkins, p.28, cited in Hart, John Olsen, Craftsman House, p.246
Text by Deborah Hart
Senior Curator, Australian Paintings and Sculpture after 1920, National Gallery of Australia
Creation of beliefs
Presbyterian Ladies College Sydney
My work explores how ideas and beliefs are formed. Focusing on universal issues, the audience is presented with the frustration of questions without answers. Why is religion such an integral part of life? When does society give us the freedom to make decisions and choices? I have incorporated elements of the art of Kara Walker, Len Lye and Marie Taylor: silhouette images, expressive abstract ink drawings and experimental film-making, combined with minimalist soundscapes and the flowing spiritual aspects of calligraphy within Zen philosophy, are all integral aspects of my practice.
ARTEXPRESS ED KIT_Olsen-Harding (2.1 MB pdf)