Important Women Artists
10 November 2021


born 1928

oil on linen

169.5 x 180.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: John / Olsen ‘015
signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: ‘Squid in its own ink’ / John Olsen / 015.

$200,000 – $300,000

Olsen Irwin Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso, as ‘Chipirones en su Tinta (Squid in its own ink)’)
Jon Adgemis, Sydney, acquired from the above in 2015
Private collection, Queensland


Olsen Irwin Gallery at Sydney Contemporary 2015, Carriageworks, Sydney, 10 – 13 September 2015 (as ‘Chipirones in su Tinta’)
John Olsen: The You Beaut Country, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne, 16 September 2016 – 12 February 2017; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 March – 12 June 2017


Hurlston, D., and Edwards, D., (eds.), John Olsen: The You Beaut Country, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2016, pp. 183 (illus.), 208

Catalogue text

There is a certain sense of joie de vivre that infuses the art of John Olsen. Hailed as Australia’s greatest living artist, Olsen – who is now in his early nineties – has lived a life of intense creativity fuelled by love, travel, friendship and food, and the pleasure he finds in the world around him is palpable throughout his work. The landscape has been a primary subject, from the You Beaut Country series of the mid-1960s which captured the unique nature of Australia in compositions of lively line and vital colour, to depictions of Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre the following decade, more austere but still teeming with life and incident. Striving to express the experience of a total landscape in his pictures, Olsen explained, ‘Not like there is the foreground, there is the middle distance and there is the horizon. I wanted that overall feeling of travelling over the landscape. There you can see the dry creek beds, the nervous system … which when you are just on the ground you don’t witness at all. Then you begin to somehow see the wholeness … It’s more than the present, it’s the past and projects itself into the future.’1

Olsen’s imaging of the landscape acknowledges the diverse habitats which are incorporated within it and he represents plants, animals and insects as vital elements of a complex and interconnected whole. On occasion, animals have been the sole focus of his work, especially birds and the frog – a creature he admits to being entranced by – which he has drawn and sculpted, as well as depicted in paint and print. In this 2015 painting, he focuses on a squid, adopting a bird’s-eye view that he often uses to describe landscape subjects. Rather than enabling a vast aerial view, here Olsen’s perspective magnifies the subject, scaling it up so that its circular, centrally placed form dominates the composition and splotches and meandering tendrils of inky colour radiate out towards the edges of the canvas. The palette is restrained – dark blue for the squid, a luminous pale blue for the background, with touches of purple in between. Although Olsen paints in oil, the usual opacity of the medium is transformed and appears more like watercolour, the delicate brushwork enlivening the surface and skilfully imitating the mesmerising action of ink being dissolved and slowly spreading in water.

Olsen’s fascination with the natural world in all its myriad forms has sustained a creative practice that now spans more than seven decades. His distinctive meandering line and exuberant mark-making, combined with a mastery of colour, have charted the countryside, the coast, deserts and even the city, in images which reflect a strong sense of place and a distinctly Australian sensibility. His contribution to Australian art has been widely acknowledged, from the Wynne Prize for landscape painting, awarded in 1969 and 1985, the Sulman prize in 1989, the Archibald in 2005 – for Self-portrait, Janus faced – and major exhibitions devoted to his art, most recently, the retrospective exhibition shown in Melbourne and Sydney in 2016-17, in which notably the present work was included.

1. Hurlston, D. & Edwards, D. (eds.), John Olsen – The You Beaut Country (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2016, p. 10