Vale John Olsen – NAS pays tribute to our esteemed alumnus and Fellow
VALE JOHN OLSEN, 1928-2023
The National Art School is deeply saddened by the loss of John Olsen AO OBE, esteemed alumnus and NAS Fellow who first studied then taught at the School, and one of Australia’s greatest and most respected artists. It was a privilege to be closely connected to John and his family, and to present the last major exhibition of John’s work in 2021, John Olsen: Goya’s Dog, which opened in the NAS Gallery in June 2021.
Featuring more than 50 major works, sketchbooks and drawings, many not seen in public for generations, Goya’s Dog was a celebration and re-evaluation of John’s position as a seminal Australian artist. It followed his creative awakening in Spain in the 1950s through to his extraordinary development as a painter over decades, and the contrasts of darkness and light in his practice and personally in the course of his long career and life.
In an interview in 2021, John described his fascination with Spanish culture on his first trip there. “It was a remarkable experience because Spain was completely isolated from the modishness of the 20th century, it was still the essential heart of Europe. And then as I began to study, I became aware that even though Spain is a bright and sunny country, that its principle painting lay on the basis of tone – Velazquez, Goya, Murrillo – and somehow those earthy tones reverberated the soul of Spain. It was very profound … rather than thinking outwards, it made you think inwards. Still in Australia today, they like the sunny side of the world, whereas the Spanish like the shadow side of the world. I found that very intriguing.”
John Olsen: Goya’s Dog was curated by Steven Alderton, Director and CEO of the National Art School, who was honoured to spend time with the artist in his studio. John was a master of conversation and hospitality as well as the paintbrush.
Alderton said: “Australia has lost one of our truly remarkable and emblematic artists. John redefined the way we see ourselves, our landscapes, our country and our shared identity. He was also a big part of the National Art School over many decades. Recently he said again to me of his love of NAS and faith in the bright future for artists who train at NAS. Working on John’s last exhibition, Goya’s Dog, with John and his son Tim was an absolute pleasure. John spoke of the Spanish influence and of interpreting the peaks and troughs of the human condition. He was a poet of the Australian landscape, an author of Sydney Harbour, a storyteller of our country and a lyricist of humanity. Forever and eternally an artist who shaped our stories. We send our sincere condolences to Tim, Louise and the family.”