We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

🛈 Find out what you need to know before visiting

Winner: Archibald Prize 2005

John Olsen Self-portrait Janus-faced

oil on canvas

182 x 200 cm

John Olsen’s artist statement about his Archibald self-portrait comes in the form of a poem, which he wrote this year:

Janus faced
Sitting this afternoon in the studio,
Summer’s gone.
Now’s the time of freckled leaves & longer shadows.
Men & women after sixty In slippered feet,
Pause on the stairs, Janus faced.
Self delights in well worn brush
On an ancient palette.
Time trickles & avoids defeat. Janus faced.

Janus is the Roman god of doorways, passages and bridges. In art he is depicted with two heads facing in opposite directions. ‘I think that the poem casts light in dark places,’ says Olsen of his portrait. ‘It informs the viewer. Janus had the ability to look backwards and forwards and when you get to my age you have a hell of a lot to think about.’

Born in Newcastle in 1928, Olsen is often referred to as Australia’s greatest living painter. He received an Order of Australia (AO) in 2001. In 1977 he was awarded the OBE for services to the arts and in 1993 an Australian Creative Fellowship. He won the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985 amongst many other awards throughout his long career. He is represented in all state collections and in regional galleries across the country. He is also represented in major public and private collections in Australia, Europe, the UK and the USA. Olsen was represented in the 1989 Archibald Prize with Donde voy? Self-portrait in moments of doubt. In yet another Archibald controversy, Olsen was tipped to win but didn’t. He still laughingly refers to the prize as ‘a chook raffle’.

With this Archibald win in 2005, he became, at age 77, the oldest artist to win the prize.