Olsen's journey from Minderoo to Orange

·2-min read

Trademark beret in place and a glass of white wine in hand, eminent Australian artist John Olsen shared a joke with the mayor of Orange.

The men looked at his 2019 painting, Flight to Minderoo, and decided it was fitting.

It is, after all, bright orange.

"You got it, man," Olsen, 94, told the mayor, chuckling.

The artist, who has won the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes throughout his career, has donated the work to the Orange Regional Gallery, along with four works on paper and a bronze frog sculpture.

Olsen has an affinity with rural and remote Australia, having long captured its vast and wild terrain.

"To be an Australian landscape painter is to be an explorer," he said on Thursday.

"There is so much to look at and observe about the Australian landscape, how it varies from tropical to the coastal fringe, and the interior.

"It's so multiple. It's a beautiful animal, that landscape."

Flight to Minderoo was commissioned by mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, who owns Minderoo cattle station in the Pilbara.

The painting is a view of Western Australia's red plains from a helicopter.

In the foreground, a cluster of Sturt's desert peas peer back at the observer.

"They have a little face," Olsen said with a grin.

"The picture is motivated by things like that. And you've got to be crazy."

Olsen said it was vital for art to be accessible in country areas, so everyone can be transported to other places.

He is not a fan of grand high ceilings, saying regional galleries are among the best in Australia - "unlike that shocking National Gallery of Australia, which makes (Jackson Pollock's) Blue Poles look like a postage stamp".

The donation of artworks was a spontaneous offer, after Olsen visited the gallery during a renovation, partly funded by $4 million from the NSW government.

The gallery's director Brad Hammond said regional collections are growing across Australia, boosting tourism and influencing the country's future artists.

"You never know what seeds are being planted for the next generation," Mr Hammond said.

"John Olsen talks about seeing key works when he was young, and being excited about them, coming from a family that wasn't interested in the arts at all.

"He knew from those early experiences that he desperately wanted to do the same thing.

"We're really grateful to John for this gift. It's for future generations."

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