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Father’s legacy, nature’s wonder keep Olsen in the picture

The Australian, Style 4 September 2023

Alison Veness

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The artist explains how painting will always be the thread that connects her with her father the lategreat design luminary John Olsen.

Louise Olsen’s third solo exhibition at her brother’s Sydney gallery coincides with aperiod of grief after the loss of her father the late Australian artistic luminary Olsen earlier this year. Speaking from the studio they shared in the Southern Highlands,Olsen – painter and Dinosaur Designs co-founder – is in a good place on the eve ofher opening at Olsen Gallery in Sydney this month.

Of the loss of her dear father, Olsen tells Vogue “it is still too soon”. “Oh my god,”she begins, “he is everywhere in the patina of the rooms, the books, the lit fire, thechair at the head of the table … a way of life. I loved that at the end of a dayworking, he would come in on his walking frame and the smile on his face and thejoy and the light-up of him coming into my studio and being excited about mypainting. He’d say, ‘Oh my god!’, and it was wonderful. We had grown up with alifetime of watching him paint, and for him to realise me as a painter was a fullcircle for both of us.”

Manifestations is the apt title of the upcoming exhibition that Olsen says is inspiredby nature, something that lies at the core of her work. And nature is all around,here in her studio at Hidden Lake, the Southern Highlands home she shared withher late father for seven years. “My paintings are always about nature,” Olsen says.Inspiration is everywhere, from the eucalyptus trees to the still water from whichthe property takes its name.

Some 15 canvases of differing scale will be exhibited at her brother Tim Olsen’s gallery this month. The process has been an organic one spanning the past 18months, as “one idea leads to another idea”. During this time, she lost her father,who died at home in April at the age of 95. However, he is still very much present. One of his signature paintings, a symphony in oranges and reds, runs the length ofthe studio wall.

Manifestations presents both the bold and the sensitive. Canvases explode withlinear branches or spidery webs, and crack with gum nuts. “The orchestra ofnature,” is what she calls it. “There is something so abstract when you look aroundat things very quickly, you’re seeing the world in an abstract way … a blur.”

Painting has always been Olsen’s centre. “I’ve been in the design and fashion worlds,but my essence is this,” she says. ‘I come from an intensely creative family, both myparents were artists and when I was young – I felt I had to find my own voice.”(That voice became Dinosaur Designs, which was launched in 1985.)
“Dad was part of everything, he was ruthless, and I’m so pleased I had that scrutiny,no holds barred as to what he felt about what I was doing,” Olsen remembers. “Hewas incredibly encouraging and supportive, but he could be brutal at the same time.I’d think, ‘What the hell? What am I doing?’, but it was great that push and pull anddialogue.

“There is a beautiful Paul Klee quote, it’s about taking a line for a walk,” says Olsen.“When I paint it’s like picking up that thread and it keeps going, it’s never-ending; Ilove that idea. The line is the life force.”

Louise Olsen Manifestations is on display until September 23 at Olsen Gallery, Sydney.

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