Renowned Australian artist William Robinson offers his personal reflections on Margaret Olley’s life, art practice, and his fond memories of visiting Olley in her home is Sydney, visit the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 13 October 2019 to view the free exhibition ‘Margaret Olley: A Generous Life’, whch examines the legacy and influence of one of Australia’s most beloved artists, a charismatic character whose life was immersed in art.
I used to go around and see her at Paddington in Sydney. Her house was more or less just a subject for her continual group of paintings. There never seemed to be anything that was actually finished — it was always in flux — some piled up with hardly a start, others three quarters finished. She had flower arrangements like still lifes dying on the table and fruit rotting all over the place. It was almost like a party when you brought some fresh cut flowers for her, because [the ones she had] were already dead. I remember she had her big lounge chair piled up with stuff and nobody could sit on it. She had a lithograph by Cézanne — Bathers, I think it was — and a little drawing of Bonnard’s, and all of her Indian and Eastern sculpture and mats everywhere. There was hardly any room to walk.
The re-creation of her home at the Tweed Regional Gallery is a lovely lasting tribute to her, but it is nowhere near as untidy as Margaret’s place really was! William Robinson
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I have always thought of Margaret as a very accomplished painter. She painted loosely and freely but she was always representational in her painting. Her works reflect her personality perfectly and I can’t imagine Margaret painting any other way. Shirley and I used to take her paint, too. Margaret wasn’t always using artist-quality paint, so we’d take her the odd tube of good paint, like Winsor & Newton cobalt violet and the carmines. Her eyes would light up when she saw colours like that!1
William Robinson AO is an Australian painter and lithographer. He has won the Archibald Prize for portraiture in 1987 and 1995 and also the Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 1990 and 1996.
1 Interview between William Robinson and Simon Elliott, January 2019
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Feature image detail: Margaret Olley in her studio in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia at 9:22am on December 13th, 2005
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