John Olsen: Goya’s Dog

Art, Paintings Free
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a beautiful work by John Olsen that looks like a solar flare
Photograph: Private collection, NAS Gallery | Detail of ‘Le Soleil’, 1965, John Olsen

Time Out says

You can see works that haven't appeared in public for years as part of this inspiring career survey

You know you’ve left an indelible mark on the cultural fabric of Australia when they build a hotel in your honour that not only wears your name, but is also hung chock-full of your unforgettable works. Great evocative painter John Olsen is one of that number, picked out by the Art Series hotels down in Melbourne. But you don’t need to leave Sydney to celebrate the achievements of the magnificent Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize-winning artist.

After lying in the dark for a few months, the National Art School (NAS) Gallery reopens it's blockbuster retrospective of one of their most renowned graduates in John Olsen: Goya’s Dog, showing from October 29 to November 27.

It traces his creative awakening under the baking Spanish sun, through his darkest hours and on to the peace and prosperity that lay beyond for this larrikin voice of the Australian landscape scene. It was while on a return visit to Spain in 1985, in Madrid’s Museo del Prado, that Olsen fell under the spell of ‘The Drowning Dog’, one of Francisco Goya’s pinturas negras (black paintings). He noted in his journal at the time,  “Goya’s dog – the disquieting animal head, peeping from the earth – dog and earth become interchangeable – dark and solemn, locked in itself, probing the sky like a primitive radar – asking for a sign.”

It became a hugely important motif in his own work, one that is explored extensively in this exhibition, which features 60-plus major works, sketchbooks and drawings, many of which haven’t been shown in decades. If you're not able to get to NAS in person, you can check it out via this digital walkthrough here.

Olsen is a man who can look back on his more troubled times and now be at peace with the black dog that still lingers at the edges in his final years. “I’m 93 and I’m more entranced with the dark side,” Olsen says. “Not in a mournful sense, but in a sense of enquiry.”

That’s a goal we could all embrace.

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