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Australian art

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Spanish encounter



John Olsen

Australia, England, Spain, Portugal

21 Jan 1928 -


Shortly after his work was shown in 1956 in 'Direction I', an exhibition of abstract works, with Robert Klippel, John Passmore, William Rose and Eric Smith, John Olsen travelled to Europe. He went initially to London, then Paris and onto Spain, where he lived mostly on the island of Majorca. During this period he was influenced by the Tachist artists Antoni Tàpies and Jean Dubuffet, as well as Surrealism and Expressionism.

'Spanish encounter' was painted soon after Olsen’s return to Australia in 1960. It encapsulates a vitality stemming from Olsen’s experience of Spain combined with the pulsating activity of Sydney's inner-city life, which struck the artist upon his return. Surging across three panels, gestural black lines are punctuated by bursts of brown, yellow and burnt ochre. These elements exemplify Olsen's commitment to the act of painting as a total experience, fusing process with subject matter.

From the Gallery Shop


Place where the work was made

Sydney New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

triptych: oil on hardboard


triptych: 183.0 x 366.0 cm board overall; 185.0 x 367.4 x 5.0 cm frame overall :

a - left panel, 183 x 122 cm, board

b - centre panel, 183 x 122 cm, board

c - right panel, 183 x 122 cm, board

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. corner right panel [part c], black oil "J.O/ '60".


Purchased 1960


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Olsen

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 30 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 126 (colour illus.).

Jennifer Byrne, Bulletin, 'John Olsen', pg. 34-36, Sydney, 03 Aug 2004, 34.

Betty Churcher, Australian notebooks, 'Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 45-90, Melbourne, 2014, 78, 80-81 (colour illus.), 82, 254, 255.

Deutscher-Menzies, Sydney and Lawson-Menzies, Deutscher-Menzies & Lawson-Menzies, Sydney: Fine art auction - 10 December 2008, Sydney, 2008, 62, 65 (colour illus.).

Sasha Grishin, Australian art: a history, 'John Olsen and the anxious image', pg. 386-397, Carlton, 2013, 388 (colour illus.), 389, 551, 566. plate no. 37.1

Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Sydney, 1991, 45, 49, 51, 52-53 (colour illus.), 175. 23

Deborah Hart, Brought to Light: Australian Art 1850–1965 from the Queensland Art Gallery collection, '"Come with me on this journey". John Olsen Journey in the You Beaut Country no. 2', pg. 280-285, Brisbane, 1998, 282.

Deborah Hart, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'John Olsen', pg. 196-207, Sydney, 2000, 197, 198 (colour illus., detail), 199 (colour illus.), 203.

David Hurlston and Deborah Edwards (Editors), John Olsen: the You Beaut Country, Melbourne, 2016, 44-45 (colour illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 162 (colour illus.).

Sandra Jane, Art is ... making, creating and appreciating 2, '1.3 The elements of design', pg. 8-11, Milton, 1999, 8 (colour illus.).

Michael Kessler, The Weekend Australian, 'Spanish encounter', pg. 16-17, Sydney, 05 Jun 2004-06 Jun 2004, 17 (colour illus.).

Christopher Leonard, Art and Australia (Vol. 24, No. 3), 'Art and memory', pg. 369-375, Sydney, Autumn 1987, 369, 371 (illus.).

Patrick McCaughey, Encounters with Australian modern art, 'John Olsen and Jeffrey Smart', pg. 116-128, South Yarra, 2008, 116, 117. General reference

Ewen McDonald, AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 72 (colour illus.).

Hal Missingham, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Acquisitions for 1960', pg. 58-67, Sydney, Apr 1961, 58, 64 (illus.).

Belinda Oxley, Read-to-go Art Picture pack, Glebe, 2000, (colour illus.). card no. 7

Barry Pearce, Fifteen decades of Australian paintings, Sydney, 1981, (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 32.

Barry Pearce, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Landscape and gesture', pg. 239-240, Sydney, 2000, 249 (colour illus.), 301.

Simon Pierse, Art and Australia (Vol. 47, No. 1), 'A horse designed by a committee: Revisiting the Tate's 1963 survey of Australian painting', pg. 118-125, Sydney, 2009, 5 (colour illus., detail), 122-123 (colour illus.).

Ursula Prunster, Aspects of Australian art, Sydney, 2000, (colour illus.). card no. 11: John Olsen 'Spanish encounter' 1960

Leanne Santoro and Deborah Edwards, John Olsen: a recipe for art, 2016, 23 (colour illus.).

Sebastian Smee, The Weekend Australian, 'Master of his domain', pg. 18-19, Sydney, 13 Aug 2005-14 Aug 2005, 19.

Virginia Spate, John Olsen, 'John Olsen', pg. 1-14, Melbourne, 1963, 9-111, 17, (colour illus.). colour plate no. 5

Jill Sykes, Look, 'Darkness in the light: a fresh focus on the art of John Olsen', pg. 14-17, Sydney, Apr 2005, 14-15 (colour illus.), 16.

Editor Unknown, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 06 Oct 1960.

Editor Unknown (Editor), Nation, Sydney, 08 Oct 1960.

The Adelaide Festival of Arts 1962: Special exhibitions at the National Gallery of South Australia, 'Australian Painitng: Colonial, Impressionist, Contemporary', Adelaide, 1962. not paginated; 165

Editor Unknown (Editor), Sun Herald, Sydney, 06 Oct 1960.