(National Gallery of Victoria @ Federation Square, December 2016)
Ah, yes, abstract expressionism…when it comes to Australia, one thinks of John Olsen (born 21 January 1928). His retrospective (“The You Beaut Country”) at the NGV (Federation Square locus) drew derision, at first, then vague resentment, then grudging concession at the lovely use of colour, then a kind of appreciation (TVC might be doctrinaire but we are not obdurate). Olsen has duly passed through his Picasso, Kandinsky and Pollock phases…
… coming out to forge a truly Australian mix of light and colour, with a cartographer’s skill thrown in.
He has an otherworldly, Martian distance and detachment from the landscapes he scopes:
But there is also a playful quirkiness, a humour essential for abstraction, if it is to be taken deadly seriously. Such as:
His sketchbooks, pleasingly arrayed here in digital form, show his seriousness. From Venice to Venice beach, he renders with skill and precision before transmogrifying that sense date into his abstractions.
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