Born Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia 1928, lived Europe 1956–60 and United States 1965–68
John Olsen’s paintings incorporate nature as both subject matter and creative process. Life in all forms is depicted as inextricably interconnected and, like a living organism, his landscape paintings too undergo the process of evolution, movement and growth.
Olsen’s travels throughout Australia and the world have enhanced his perspective of the natural environment. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Olsen ventured into several remote areas of Australia. The visible eco-system he encountered there, teeming with life and death, emphasised the significance of the circle of life.
During the 1980s Olsen spent his time painting in his bush retreat at Clarendon in South Australia, an extremely creative and happy period for the artist. However by 1987, when Landscape hanging on to an edge was painted, his time at Clarendon was coming to an end. This work is similar to a watercolour of that year titled Hanging on the edge. Both images show a precarious line suggestive of a tight rope, with contrasting alternatives awaiting the inhabitants. ‘On the edge’ can also be read as referring to Olsen’s state of mind and emotions at this time.
Olsen won the Archibald Prize in 2005 with a self-portrait, the Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 1969 and again in 1985. He was awarded an OBE in 1977 and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2001. His works are represented in the National Gallery of Australia and all state and most regional galleries.