Ben Quilty: Margaret Olley Remembered


Ben Quilty reflects on his friendship with Margaret Olley, and the lasting influence of her support on his practice. Olley was a generous donor, mentor to emerging artists and a firm friend to many. Quilty is in conversation with Simon Wright, Assistant Director, Learning and Public Engagement, QAGOMA.

Ben Quilty in conversation

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Olley (1923–2011) was the subject of Quilty’s 2011 Archibald winning portrait. His portrait is of an unflinching close-up of a truthfully aged face, yet her bright eyes command the viewer’s gaze. Olley is the only subject to win the prestigious Archibald prize twice, self portraits by Brett Whiteley and William Robinson aside. An Archibald at the beginning of her career, and an Archibald at the end – the 63-year span between William Dobell’s (1948) and Quilty’s award winning portraits is a true reflection of Olley’s enduring influence on other artists.

Olley first met and awarded Quilty the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship in 2002 when he was only 29 – she loved his thick use of paint.

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Ben Quilty, Australia, b.1973 / Margaret Olley 2011 / Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales / © Ben Quilty
William Dobell, Australia 1899–1970 / Margaret Olley 1948 / Oil on hardboard / 148 x 118.5 x 13cm / Purchased 1949 / Collection: Art Gallery New South Wales / © William Dobell/Copyright Agency, 2019

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‘A Generous Life’ at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) 15 June – 13 October 2019 examined the legacy and influence of much-loved Australian artist Margaret Olley, who spent a formative part of her career in Brisbane. A charismatic character, whose life was immersed in art, she exerted a lasting impact on many artists as a mentor, friend and muse.

Featured image: Portrait of Margaret Olley and Ben Quilty, 2011. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy. Image courtesy: AAP.
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