About 18 years ago, Nicholas Harding faxed Tim Olsen to ask if his father, the great artist John Olsen, might consider sitting for a portrait.
‘John’s irrepressible joie de vivre, in both his personality and work, was something I wanted to paint. This request was politely denied,’ says Harding.
‘Last year, however, after painting Tim for a National Portrait Gallery exhibition, he asked if I’d like to paint John. Then a sitting became impossible with the worsening of John’s wife’s illness. Sadly, just before Christmas, Katherine died.’
‘In January, John had his 89th birthday. He had been involved with his major retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, then its imminent opening at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He was also painting new work for an exhibition in March. It was a time of mortal loss, emotional exhaustion and great achievement. At this profoundly complex moment of his life, with great generosity, John sat for me in his studio.’
Born in England in 1956, Harding came to Australia in 1965. He won the 2001 Dobell Prize for Drawing and has been a regular finalist in the Wynne and Sulman Prizes. His work also features in this year’s Wynne Prize. This is his 17th time in the Archibald, which he won in 2001. His portrait of Olsen is now in the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.