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Australian art

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Goyder Channel



John Olsen

Australia, England, Spain, Portugal

21 Jan 1928 -


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




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


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Olsen

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 9 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 10 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.). 87

David Hurlston and Deborah Edwards (Editors), John Olsen: the You Beaut Country, Melbourne, 2016, 129 (colour illus.).

Hendrik Kolenberg, Twentieth century Australian watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1989. 61

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.

Bianca McCullough, Each man's wilderness: reflections by Australian artists, Adelaide, 1980, 71 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Australian Art', pg. 5-26, Sydney, 1981, 19 (illus.). 29

Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape and gesture', pg. 239-240, Sydney, 2000, 250 (colour illus.), 301.

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