Important Australian + International Fine Art
17 November 2010

John Olsen

born 1928

watercolour and pastel on paper

85.0 x 98.5 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title lower left: John / Olsen 04 'Kimberley / Wet Season'


Savill Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

It was in the winter of 1982 that John Olsen first ventured into the Kimberley, an experience that was to have an enduring influence and become a reoccurring motif in his work. With its stark contrasts of flood plains and endless desert, the North-West struck Olsen as a fabled Never-Never. A wilderness of brutal and tangled beauty, Olsen described his engagement with the landscape as having 'an impact which makes one strive for familiar points of reference: to compare the complex of channels through the Wyndham salt flats to the gigantic nervous system, or the strange rock formations of the Bungle Bungle to abandoned Buddhist temples. It is as though the observer is forced to seek a key to their messages, but there really is no point in making such comparisons because the North-West remains unique: a territory with a fearful fascination and an unforgettable charisma which have no relationship to any other human experience.'1

It is this 'charisma' that is so amply illustrated here in Kimberley Wet Season 2004. Displaying Olsen's extraordinary ability to convey atmosphere, the work is a deluge of tropical abundance, a storm contained within the parameters of the picture frame.

Of the artist curator Deborah Hart was to note, 'Olsen's art is an ever-increasing web of connections. His passion for the act of painting and drawing with a brush has been a constant factor in his work throughout his life, inviting the viewer on journeys of experience and discovery. The overlapping threads are the dream, imagination and reality that become interwoven in a densely cumulative world, always endeavouring to establish the linkages which provide an underlying unity out of disparity. Multiplicities abound, the inveterate curiosity of the man remains undiminished. In his later work, his insight into the realms of human experience has become increasingly profound... John Olsen is a man of broad humanity and poetic imagination. He is the artist who, throughout his life, has been searching, probing and enquiring into a world that is constantly in a state of flux; perpetually is irrational, invigorating, celebratory, challenging and rewarding as his own artistic life has always been.'2

1. Preface in Olsen, J., The Land Beyond Time, The Macmillan Company of Australia, Melbourne, 1984
2. Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 205