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John Olsen

Monday, 4th July, 2011

“Clarendon, Spring. Make Sure The Sun Wipes Its Feet” (1984) by John Olsen (Copyright: courtesy of the artist). “Clarendon, Spring. Make Sure The Sun Wipes Its Feet” (1984) by John Olsen (Copyright: courtesy of the artist).

John Henry Olsen was born in Newcastle in 1928 and his family moved to Sydney when he was still a child. 

He studied art at Datillo Rubbo Art School and the Julian Ashton Art School. In 1957 his talent was recognised by an art critic who raised funds to send Olsen to Europe to paint. 

He returned to Australia in 1960 and started the Bakery Art School in 1968. In 1972-73 he painted “Salute to Five Bells” which hangs in the Sydney Opera House.

He has been awarded the Order of Australia and he won the 2005 Archibald Prize for his self portrait. 

Olsen’s work shows his deep involvement with the Australian landscape. Although his landscape paintings have been described as being abstract, it is an attribution he unreservedly rejects, declaring: “I have never painted an abstract painting in my life.” 

Instead, he describes his works as “an exploration of the totality of landscape”. As the American artist and art writer Robert Berlind described Olsen’s work: “It is the view of both the frog and the eagle.” 

This large painting, “Clarendon, Spring. Make Sure the Sun Wipes its Feet”, was painted during a year that Olsen spent in Clarendon, South Australia where he produced a successful body of work. 

Olsen has an interest in literature, in particular Anglo-Celtic writers; the title of this work is taken from a line in Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milkwood”: ‘And before you let the sun in, mind it wipes its shoes.’

Olsen now lives in Bowral, New South Wales.

“Clarendon Springs. Make Sure the Sun Wipes its Feet” was purchased by Broken Hill City Council in 1985 with the assistance of the artist and the Minister for the Arts.


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