Portrait of an Amazing Australian Painter
I must confess to knowing little or nothing about Margaret Olley until today which is a shame on my part.
What an amazing woman she was. I accidentally recorded a documentary about her after one about Manet that I was intending to watch and was able to watch both uninterrupted this afternoon. As I am facing my Austudy being cut off in June because of some bureaucratic red tape and hence the end of my art studies, I was in deep need of some positive input to help me to not give up.
What I saw apart from the intense colour she used was an artist who had an ability to take the everyday of things in her home and surroundings, as many of the original Impressionists did, and turn them into incredibly beautiful art. Her flowers pop off the canvas and seem to be still very much alive. The little reflections on surfaces invite you to look closer, and as an artist – to try to check out how she achieved it! Her room spaces have a sort of organised clutter that you wander through as if you were actually in the room with her, the half open drawers and piles of books with not quite readable titles also make you start to imagine and make up your own story.
It seems that Margaret was not a fan of many of the styles of art that I don’t connect with either so I found an immediate connection with her and a confirmation of my direction with my own art. People would look at her paintings, I think, and gain a feeling of brightness and be cheered by the use of light and colour as well as the feeling of familiarity and even comfort from being in the home space of the artist.
I liked seeing her liberal application of paint on the surface. She seems to have a fearless use of the brush. I found her work inviting and have been looking further at her style and how she changed through the years as she kept experimenting and dedicated herself to her calling. She lived with her art all around her, it was a constant part of her life, not just something that she did as a job, or a career that she put away from view on weekends. She lived it, she breathed it, it was part of her very soul.
As a female artist I found that through the program I was feeling a kinship to her journey, including her bout of depression, which I also suffer from, her understanding that her art would require her to make life choices as far as family and relationships – which I have also done to a certain degree, lots of little things that rang true. Margaret painted right to the end of her life, which means she was always engaged, always doing what she loved, always creating and being true to herself and the world about who and what she was. She also encouraged other artists on their journeys, being very generous and giving of her time and support.
This spirit of mentoring rather that competition, encouragement rather that discouragement was very moving. In so many parts of life I’ve seen examples of ruthlessness and dishonesty – especially in business, which has been a big part of the advertising and printing industry, which I was working in for over thirty years. You just didn’t encourage up and coming competitors in the business as you were in fear of losing your job to them. Getting “killed in the rush” or “stabbed in the back” by a co-worker on their way up the ladder was not uncommon. Thankfully the community I am building up around me now and being included into by many generous artists is more like Margaret’s. The memories she has left and the warm way in which she is regarded is a great legacy.
What is that saying about what you want inscribed on your tombstone?
I like “Here lies a good person and a great artist who was loved and will be remembered and missed”
I can only hope to be half the artist this woman was. I am so glad I accidentally recorded this program. I’d like to learn more about Margaret’s art and hopefully get to see more of it in real life soon.