artnet international

A typical Olsen landscape painting combines an implied aerial view with an ambiguous and seemingly unpremeditated figuration. His characteristically quizzical line and irregular squiggles and dots deftly render countless organisms, large and minute. Their environment is conjured through loosely brushed and stained expanses of colour that are keyed to natural light. Even when he is referring to the outback landscape, usually noted for its austerity and inhospitality, Olsen's imagery teems with life. Yet the same lines sometimes read as geological mappings. In Olsen's work there is no foreground/ middle ground/ background schema, nor any sign of European landscape's concern with human scale. Instead he employs simultaneously the contrary vantages of naturalist and geographer or, to put it another way, the viewpoints of frog and eagle. During an early sojourn in Europe between 1957 and 1960, Olsen absorbed the influences of among others, Hayter, Dubuffet, COBRA artists Lucebert, Jorn and Alechinski and Tapies. His work also shows affinities with Far Eastern art and demonstrates an interest in literature, particularly such Anglo-Celtic writers as Yeats, Thomas, Joyce and Beckett. His work  reveals an oeuvre that could only have been produced within the Australian context. He has taken as his chief subject the Australian landscape, and he has given expression to aspirations that permeate much of Australian culture. His acute evocations of local wildlife, Aussie larrikins  and the immense, intractable land mass itself constitute an art that is regional but in no sense provincial. Olsen is a master watercolourist - witness a series of large works (often around three metres high) prints and drawings on Japanese torinoko paper with titles such as The Rookery, Dying Creek Bed and Owls at Cooper's Creek. These exquisite and humorous images bear comparison with the best of Zen sumi tradition without ever striking a false note. Another group of paintings, begun in 1987 and dominated by tar blacks and heavy umbers, adumbrates themes of Spanish village life, literary references and autobiographical probings, all in a tragicomic mode. A purely Olsen touch appears in the darkness that is animated by scrawly images, a squidgy little fried egg, hovering in space where one of the figure's genitals would be in a fuller rendering, refers playfully to Velazquez, a symbol of redemption and a particular not- quite-cooked bit of breakfast. Olsen's work would hold its own at any exhibition worldwide.