Skip to content


An image of Goyder Channel by John Olsen

John Olsen

(Australia, England, Spain, Portugal 21 Jan 1928 – )

Goyder Channel
Media category
Materials used
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".
Purchased 1980
Accession number
© John Olsen. Licensed by Viscopy,Australia
Not on display
Further information

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

Bibliography (9)

Max Germaine, Artists and galleries of Australia and New Zealand, Sydney, 1979, 598 (illus., upside down).

Deborah Hart, John Olsen, East Roseville, 1991, 139 (colour illus.). 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. 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.). 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

Exhibition history (8)

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):

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