Tuesday, January 12, 2010

John Olsen and a little boy's wonder

On our trip to Sydney we visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales. All state galleries have their good and bad points - this one has an excellent collection of 20th century Australian art and a wonderful little section on often overlooked women painters like Grace Cossington Smith.

I was most taken with this John Olsen painting:

'Five Bells' oil on canvas (1963)

(my son admiring the Olsen. Or possibly the 'castle' in the foreground)

I have a theory about artists (which I believe only applies to visual artists and certainly not to writers and modern musicians although Keith Richards may prove us all wrong).

My theory is that because artists are essentially doing what they want with their lives, and also expressing their inner selves at a very basic human creative level, they tend to live for a very long time. If one can avoid the decadence, drugs and other addictions which sometimes follow (or indeed are required for) creative endeavour, a truly Okinawan life can be yours.

For example:

Henri Matisse (died in 1954 at 84)
Georgio De Chirico (died in 1978 at 90)
Salvador Dali (died in 1989 at 83)
Georgia O'Keefe (died in 1986 at 99)
Michelangelo (died in 1564 at 88)
Camille Pissarro (died in 1903 at 73)
Edgar Degas (died in 1917 at 83)
Jean Auguste Ingres (died in 1867 at 86)
Claude Monet (died in 1926 at the age of 86)
Maurice de Vlaminck (died in 1956 at the age of 82)
Robert Rauschenberg (died in 2008 at 82)
Cy Twombly (still alive and working at 82)

And these men (and the one lady) did not necesarily have easy lives painting in little wooden studios overlooking a field of flowers. They saw and were victims of war, poverty, forced migration and other horrors.

Of course, for every one of these there is an Amedeo Modigliani (died in Paris at age 35 in 1920 of tubercular meningitis).

Anyway, the point is that John Olsen, born in 1928, is alive and still painting. Here is a recent work:

'Bondi the Rose Fingered Dawn' (2007) (timolsengallery.com)

An artist whose style is difficult to categorise, John Olsen spent time in Europe in the late 1950s and has also been influenced by Far Eastern art. His abstract expressionist style - with its characteristic 'squiggles' and expert use of watercolour (not an easy medium) has not, to my eye at least, changed significantly over the last 50 years.

Finally, here he is at work (image courtesy clivejames.com photograph by Ken McGregor):


Cath @ chunkychooky said...

Another great post Jane. You have featured one of my all time fave artists ever- John Olsen and Five Bells is probably my most favourite of paintings. I have a print - unfortunately a lot smaller at home in my lounge room and I love it so much.
when we go to syd I always try to make time to go and see it properly...

Jg. for FatScribe said...

if i ever get the chance (privilege) to feed the flames of my inchoate wanderlust, i am traveling to Australia to visit some wineries and museums. part of the John Olsen collection will get a visit from one Yank to be sure. great post! -Jg.

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Oh Jane,
I just love the John Olsen 'Bondi the Rose Fingered Dawn. I could see that one on one of my walls.... I wish !!!!
I like the sound of your theory re paint and you live to a ripe old age.
I'm off to the art shop to buy canvases and paints !! A very beautiful and interesting post, and lovely to see your son, getting his dose of culture. XXXX

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Wouldn't it be especially nice to have one of these on my wall! Great post Jane, and I like your theory. xx

Engracia said...

Great theory Jane, hope you don't mind I'm going to borrow it for my next dinner party conversation. I am fortunate to own 2 Olsen etchings, well they actually belong to my sons. My sister who is an art consultant gave them each and Olsen etching for their first birtdays, but until they can appreciate fine art they ae haning in the formal lounge.

Ange said...

Yes - If I do indeed live to a ripe old age, then I would love to have that Bondi painting by John Olsen to contemplate for a long number of years. I'm sure I would find inspiration in that!!

Helen James said...

Thanks for introducing me to this Artist. I have come across many Australian Artists in Vogue Living Aus, and have always thought that Australian Art about which I know nothing, deserved greater exploring. I like your theory, a nice thought , I have a little boy named Cy, after Mr Twombly. I am a newcomer to your wonderful blog and am looking forward to pouring over the archives x

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Jane
Yes I'm for the Bondi painting also. You know I think you are right about your theory of longevity, and bearing in mind your comment today I think i need to change professions.. hahaa if only i could earn the same doing something i loved.. xx Julie

Anonymous said...

OOhww, this is great! I enjoyed this post verrrry much, thank you my dear, XXX
(The last two pictures....oohw lord...they are absolutely stunning).

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Jane
Just me again...to let you know I've left something for you at my blog... take care xx Julie

Laura said...

This is so lovely...the concept, the post, the whole thing. It's wonderful to see someone highlighting passionate, happy productive artists than romanticizing the substance abusing depressives!

Monika said...

Hello Jane, I love this theory, but I think - just as you said - these long lives are many times very difficult. I think that being a creative mind can be very stressful with its ups and downs with all the insecurity and criticism. But I admire everyone who makes other people's lives more beautiful by their talent. Beautiful paintings!

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