Review by Graeme Blundell THE AUSTRALIAN June 17 2014,
John Olsen lets sun shine in on his artistic proces
In this fine documentary from director Tony Williams, the gregarious and charming John Olsen, now in his late 80s and regarded as Australia’s greatest living artist, embarks on the second largest mural of his career and shares his philosophy of life. And Williams gives us a beguiling mix of biography, autobiography, meditation of the nature of art and life, and a wonderful exhibition of laid-back painterly scholarship, providing a kind of privileged insight into the detailed process of painting. Olsen’s 6m x 8m picture, painted on 688kg of massive panels (“You can’t get canvas big enough”) is his biggest work since Salute to Five Bells in 1963, The King Sun is simpler but equally colossal in scale. And Williams shows it unfolding layer by layer across several months last year, from the blank panels, first covered in a faint apricot background (“It’s got the sun in it”), to the final dazzling painting half the size of a tennis court ready for hanging in the vast foyer of a Melbourne corporate HQ. It’s the first time one of Olsen’s pictures has been filmed from start to finish, but it almost didn’t get there. Towards the end, Olsen suffers a blackout and is hospitalised, receiving a pacemaker. Frail and vulnerable, he arrives at his country studio to complete the painting. “I thought I better sign this quickly because I might not be able to do very much more to it,” he says. “I was going to put John Olsen, Unfinished, but maybe it should be John Olsen, Finished.”
Olsen graciously, and with wonderful good humour, allows us an open door into a world that is unavailable to most viewers, a highly specialised place of systematic procedures and complex technical knowledge. “Let the empty space talk; you’re essentially a child of the Gods,” he says as he begins. “There is this lovely white space, so pregnant, and immediately you make that first mark the dynamic changes, and where there’s white, there’s hope.”
Review by Ben Pobjie June SYDNEY MORNING HERALD 17 2014
I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like – a principle that I also hold in regards to jazz, ice hockey, federal politics and Melissa Joan Hart.
Television, of course, is a wonderful art form itself, and one that possesses the marvellous potential to shed light on other art forms. This is what is attempted in The King Sun (ABC1, 10pm), a rather intriguing profile of Australian artist John Olsen and the painting of his The King Sun, the second-largest mural of his career.
The first thing to be noted is that Olsen is 86 years old. This fact alone is astonishing – I have never in my life felt young enough to try to paint a mural. But Olsen is an extraordinary man – Barry Humphries calls him Australia’s greatest living painter – and this show is worthwhile just for bringing his talents to light for philistines like myself if nothing else.
The King Sun is Olsen’s attempt to capture the essence of the sun. The show begins with Olsen finding an equivalence between its ”turbulent energy” and his own.
For any artist, trying to bring the sun to life must be among the most awesome of challenges: so vast, so vital to all life, so familiar to everyone and yet so distant and beyond our experience. To find a way to depict its energy in an original and compelling fashion can’t be easy.
Seeing Olsen begin his herculean task with the first brush strokes on his enormous blank panels gives an impression of just how immense the artist’s ambition can be and what relentless determination – or obsession – must drive a man to complete such an endeavour. Especially at the age of 86 – the man has no right to have the energy for this. He is something of a sun himself. This is not exactly mass entertainment. But it really should be – there are those among us who have done incredible things, who have illuminated the world with their passion and talent and insight and it can only enrich us all to know more of them and their work.
The King Sun is a stunning piece – to get a glimpse at the motivations and philosophy of the man who brought it forth with hands and brain and bit of paint is a privilege.
Your sensitive portrait of John Olsen allowed the artist’s own profound inner radiance to eclipse that of The King Sun. It was a beautifully crafted film and I congratulate everyone who had a personal and professional hand in its production. I especially appreciated the extreme close-ups that showed all the creative energy radiating through John’s time mottled visage. You have given us all a very, very important record of a great artist and I thank you for that. With my sincere best wishes for every success with the film.
It was so delightful to see that you’d made the film. ‘A Place Called Robertson’ was such a wonderful film – and I’ve meant to get in touch ever since seeing it. You really told the story of the film beautifully. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know what a big fan I am of your work – The King Sun was wonderful too! You really captured John’s talent, humour, love of life and vulnerability – all the things that make him such a magnificent artist. Please do let me know of any upcoming work you have, particularly if it’s focused on art – I’d love to be able to cover it on my show.
Melanie Tait ABC ‘Now Hear This’