Relating his experience at Lake Eyre in the centre of Australia during the early seventies, when this salt-encrusted desert flooded for only the second time since European settlement, Olsen reflected c.1989:
"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 is a very profound thing ... 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 transitorinesss. 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."
It was the largest flood for 500 years and the first time in recorded history that Lake Eyre north had flooded through the Goyder Channel into Lake Eyre south, covering a distance three times the size of Sydney Harbour, over 175 kilometres.
Throughout the decade, Olsen's work became increasingly diversified as he extended the theme of the miraculous rebirth of the lake in different media, exploring the shifting mood and atmosphere and complex subtleties of light, sky, land and water, using watercolour, gouache, oil and the etching process.
Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2000
watercolour, gouache on torinoko paper
190.3 x 99.7 cm image; 191.6 x 101.1 x 3.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. corner, brown watercolour "John Olsen/ 75".
Not on display
© John Olsen. Licensed by Viscopy,Australia
Shown in 8 exhibitions
John Olsen recent paintings (1977), Australian Galleries, Melbourne, Collingwood, 02 Aug 1977–16 Aug 1977
Three years on: acquisitions 1978-81, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1981–01 Dec 1981
John Olsen - in search of the open country (1986), Heide Park and Art Gallery, Bulleen, 05 Aug 1986–14 Sep 1986
Twentieth century Australian watercolours from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Apr 1989–25 Jun 1989
John Olsen retrospective (1991-92):
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 01 Nov 1991–02 Feb 1992
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 08 May 1992–28 Jun 1992
Australian watercolours 1880s to 1990s:
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000
Ink: Whiteley and others (2006), The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 29 Apr 2006–20 Aug 2006
Referenced in 9 publications
Max Germaine, Artists and galleries of Australia and New Zealand, Sydney, 1979, 598 (illus., upside down).
Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Sydney, 1991, 139 (colour illus.). cat.no. 87
Hendrik Kolenberg, Australian watercolours 1880s to 1990s, Sydney, 1995, 6 (colour illus.), 7 (colour illus.), 113. plate no. i. The illustration on page 6 is a detail of the image.
Hendrik Kolenberg, Twentieth century Australian watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1989. cat.no. 61
Bianca McCullough, Each man's wilderness: reflections by Australian artists, Adelaide, 1980, 71 (colour illus.).
Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape and gesture', pg. 239-240, Sydney, 2000, 250 (colour illus.), 301.
Barry Pearce, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Australian Art', pg. 5-26, Sydney, 1981, 19 (illus.). cat.no. 29
Andrew Sayers, Australian art, 'Icon and abstraction 1951-68', pg. 174-195, Oxford, 2001, 184 (colour illus.), 185. plate no. 105
INK: Whiteley and Others, Sydney, 2006. List of works