National Australia Bank Collection
22 February 2022


born 1928

oil on canvas

116.5 x 122.0 cm

signed lower right: John Olsen ‘80
inscribed with title and date on label verso: APPROACHING STORM (1980)

$80,000 – $120,000
Sold for $380,455 (inc. BP) in Auction 67 - 22 February 2022, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
The National Australia Bank Art Collection, acquired from the above in November 1980 (label attached verso)


John Olsen: Exhibition of Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 27 October – 8 November 1980, cat. 4
The Seventies: Australian Paintings and Tapestries from the Collection of National Australia Bank, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 15 October – 28 November 1982
Collection of Modern Art in the Seventies, Latrobe Valley Arts Centre, Victoria, 9 May - 2 June 1985
John Olsen – In search of the open country 1961 – 1986, Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne, 5 August – 14 September 1986, cat. 14
Australian Pavilion at the World Expo '88, Australian Pavilion, Brisbane, 7 April - 4 November 1988
The Seventies Exhibition: Selected Paintings from the National Australia Bank Collection, MacLaurin Hall, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 6 September - 1 October 1989, cat. 26
'The Seventies' Exhibition: Selected Paintings from the National Australia Bank Collection 'Modern Art of the Seventies', Caulfield Arts Complex, Melbourne, 18 January - 11 February 1990, cat. 16


Lindsay, R., The Seventies: Australian Paintings and Tapestries from the Collection of National Australia Bank, The National Bank of Australasia, Melbourne, 1982, pl. 68, p. 81 (illus.)
'You can Bank on this Art', The Express, Victoria, 7 May 1985
Palmer, M., John Olsen – In search of the open country 1961 – 1986, Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne, 1986, p. 13
Rooney, R., ‘A landscape journey’, The Weekend Australian, Sydney, 23 - 24 August 1986, p. 12
Duggan, L., ‘25 years of Olsen joy in art’, The National Times, Sydney, 7 September 1986, p. 34
Moncrief, M., ‘Recovery a fine art for NAB finance man’, The Age, Melbourne, 2 September 2006

Catalogue text

With a vast and varied oeuvre spanning more than seven decades, John Olsen has quite deservedly been hailed Australia’s greatest living artist. From the pulsating, larrikin energy of his You Beaut Country series, to the quieter, more metaphysical paintings inspired by his expeditions to Lake Eyre (see lot 10), or the exquisitely lyrical works immortalising his halcyon days in Clarendon, Olsen’s unique interpretations of the natural environment in its manifold moods have become indelibly etched on the national psyche, revolutionising the way in which we now perceive the Australian landscape. 

Painted in 1980, Approaching Storm encapsulates Olsen’s remarkable ability to capture both the immensity and intricacy of the Australian landscape. Employing his signature ‘all-at-once’, multi-perspective approach – ‘I’m down on the canvas one moment and up flying the next or looking sideways or underneath’1 – thus the work possesses a remarkable breadth and spaciousness which tangibly conveys the sight as well as the feel of this sparse terrain. Map-like, the aerial view details the solid but sinuous form of the dark green river meandering through the open desert plains, yet as the eye ascends upwards through the picture plane, it is brought back to reality by the illusion of depth suggested in the conventional horizon line and flat field of grey sky with brooding, rain-laden clouds and their shadows beyond. Even within this expansive scene however, importantly Olsen still incorporates delightful details of the local wildlife and landscape– encouraging the viewer to appreciate the relationship between the tiny and the vast, the microcosm and macrocosm in a manner reminiscent of his first responses to the area six years earlier when travelling to Lake Eyre in 1974. 

Far from being a despondent image of the wild, desolate reaches of the country’s interior, the present work resonates rather with a vitalistic energy – betraying a sense of not only keen observation, but joyful celebration derived from a lifetime dedicated to physical and spiritual immersion in the landscape. For ultimately, as Olsen poignantly muses, the Australian outback offered more than mere topographical phenomena to be accurately recorded. More fundamentally perhaps, the experience was the catalyst for a myriad of ideas and metaphorical connections that reaffirmed his Taoist belief in the total interconnectedness of all living forms, thereby heralding a new spirituality in his art: 'The enigma of it all. It is a desert and it can be full. After the rains, it is so incredibly abundant; so what you are looking at in one place, as if through an act of the Dao, becomes full … It has an effect on you when you are there because all the time it is impossible for you to accept fully the sense of impermanence and transitoriness… Somehow it affects you – you realise that you are looking at an illusion really. I don't think that there is anything more Buddhist than that’.2

1. Olsen quoted in Hawley, J., 'John Olsen', Encounters with Australian Artists, University of Queensland Press, Queensland, 1993, p. 129
2. Olsen quoted in Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 135