UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait

Margaret Olley Portrait in the mirror

Margaret Olley
Portrait in the mirror
1948 Oil on cardboard 56.3 x 72.0 cm board
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/454.2001/


For this annotation I have chosen a work by Margaret Olley, an Australian painter best known for her still-life and interior paintings.

The artist is seen reflected in a mirror. This is of course the case in most self-portraits, but it is not often made so clear by showing the mirror itself. (Another more extreme example of showing the mirror is the Brett Whiteley self-portrait http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/1.1977/ which I mentioned 18-Apr-2014). We see part of the mirror’s frame, and reflections of the shell and postcards on the right-hand side. We understand that we are looking at a table strewn with fruit, flowers and other objects, and the reflection of Olley and the room behind.

Although there is a clutter of objects there is also a sense of space and calm. The curve created by the placement of fruit and so on reflects the curve of the necklace, framing the young woman’s face. Her head provides the classical triangular composition.

olley_02aI explored this further in gimp, first following the diagonals set in place with edges and shadow on the tabletop. The lines created correspond well to elements in the composition. They “happen” to cross directly on an orange flower that protrudes from the arrangement on the left.

olley_02bI copied and flipped the lines horizontally. Olley’s face emerges in the space created, and as I moved the lines around I found the diagonals repeated again and again throughout the picture.

olley_02cFinally I duplicated and flipped lines again, this time vertically. Every line seems to discover links and connections in the original picture, and above it all Olley’s face still looks out calmly. Every time I look at the picture I find more echoes – for example Olley’s necklace repeated in the postcard to the right, and the curves of the shells, and the petals of the yellow chrysanthemum, and even the curve in the body in the centre postcard.

olley_03None of the common visual clues of the artist as artist are included, no brushes, palette or easel, but the picture is filled with the objects and inspirations that fuelled Olley’s career. The fruit, flowers and shells are all seen in many of her works. I haven’t identified the works shown in the postcards, but her Homage to Manet (1987 http://www.artgallery.
nsw.gov.au/collection/works/458.2001/
), which includes still-life elements, is another example of her appreciation of and tributes to past masters. Even the idea of a mirrored self-portrait is revisited – see Self portrait with everlastings (1974 http://www.nag.org.au/collection/interpreting_
the_collection/poets_paint_words/artwork/margaret_olley_1974
).

This continuity could itself be a cause for concern. Olley is probably better known as an art celebrity than as an artist.

olley_01I took this photo in the NSW Art Gallery (AGNSW) a few weeks ago, and had to wait quite a while for the space to have so few visitors. On the left is the 2011 Archibald-winning portrait of Olley by Ben Quilty (see my analysis 13-Apr-2014). To its right is the 1948 Archibald-winning portrait of Olley by William Dobell. To its right, in the distance in the next gallery, can be seen Olley’s Portrait in the mirror. Olley is an Australian Art celebrity, who contributed in multiple ways. She mentored young artists such as Ben Quilty. Having made substantial amounts as a property developer, Olley was a philanthropist – a recent search of the Art Gallery of NSW website found 150 works with “Olley” in the credit line, either a direct gift or as a contributor through the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust (for example Vlaminck’s Sailing boats at Chatou – see my post 8-Dec-2013 and AGNSW website here). There are another six works “gift of the artist”, such as this post’s focus painting, plus major works where Olley was one of a group of donors, such as Cézanne’s Banks of the Marne (see my Assignment 3 study 28-Feb-2014). All that, and AGNSW is only one of the institutions Olley supported. Until researching this post I had no idea how much this one woman’s gifts had added to the richness of my current studies.

William Dobell Margaret Olley 1948

William Dobell
Margaret Olley
1948 oil on hardboard 114.3 x 85.7 cm board
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/8164/

Olley’s awards included Officer of the Order of Australia (1991), Life governor, the Art Gallery of NSW (1992), official designation as an Australian National Treasure (1997), Centenary Medal (2001) and Companion of the Order of Australia (2006) ‘for service as one of Australia’s most distinguished artists, for support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and for encouragement of young and emerging artists’. She was awarded honorary Doctorates from Macquarie University, the University of Sydney, the University of Newcastle, the University of Queensland, Southern Cross University, Lismore and Griffith University, Brisbane.

Olley was a gregarious person, enjoying visiting the galleries she loved, friends with many artists. Her home in Sydney was frequented by many involved in Australian arts. It was also visible to the general public through artworks by Olley herself and by other artists such as R. Ian Lloyd (see http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts-reviews/studio/2008/08/05/1217702008314.html) and Lewis Morely (http://www.portrait.gov.au/site/collection_info.php?searchtype=&irn=544&acno=2003.50). It was the subject of an exhibition in 2012 (http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/exhibitions/margaret-olley-home). Three rooms from the house have had all their contents catalogued and moved, becoming part of a recreation in a new extension at the Tweed Regional Gallery (supported with a contribution from the Margaret Olley Art Trust) – see http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre. Over 20,000 items are included – Olley’s home was filled with the subjects of her paintings, and a subject in itself.

All this visibility of the person makes it very difficult to see the art. Do an internet search on “Margaret Olley painting” and there is image after image full of colour, mainly still life and domestic interiors. Vibrant and beautiful, they invite you to spend time with them, to explore the world so lovingly shown. Yet given all the movements and schisms and explorations of art over the last 150 years the work appears like a charming cul-de-sac – very decorative, very pleasing, but not part of contemporary art nor part of the trajectory of art. Should this be seen as an indictment of Olley’s art, or of Art History and the emphasis on innovation and ‘progress’? There is a quest for new ground, new challenges (to the artist in processes, to society in themes explored and aesthetics), new ideas. Is there a place for integrity of vision, for a focus and intention that stays true? Olley was keenly aware of modern thought in art, but she was not distracted in her own artistic purpose.

Nelson (2011) wrote “Olley defied time, progress, change and innovation; yet even in an epoch impatient with orthodoxy and tradition, her work miraculously escaped the stigma of being labelled conservative… Each picture, though in some sense a bit like many others, has required the artist to make fresh and independent decisions about the logic of the colours that wrap around the volumes or spread themselves over the planes.”

I hadn’t spent much time looking at Olley’s work prior to researching this post. Her paintings seemed somehow too decorative, almost too visually appealing, not asking questions or challenging the viewer – and her personal celebrity made her art suspect. My mistake and my loss.

Resources

There is a huge amount of material about Margaret Olley available on the internet, including:

Masters, C. (2011) “Margaret Olley obituary” The Guardian 26-Aug-2011 [online] Available from http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/aug/25/margaret-olley-obituary (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

Maunder, P. (2011) “A colourful life, celebrated frame by frame” The Sydney Morning Herald 27-July-2011 [online] Available from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/a-colourful-life-celebrated-frame-by-frame-20110726-1hyhw.html (Accessed 20-Apr-2014)

Nelson, R. (2011) “The Magic of Margaret Olley” The Age 29-Jul-2011 [online] Available from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-magic-of-margaret-olley-20110728-1i20h.html (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

Thomas, J. (2011) Australian stories: Margaret Olley Australia.gov.au [online] Available from http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/margaret-olley (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

Tweed Regional Gallery ([n.d.]) Margaret Olley Art Centre [online] Available from http://artgallery.tweed.nsw.gov.au/MargaretOlleyArtCentre (Accessed 19-Apr-2014)

UA1-WA:P4-p2-Annotation: A self-portrait
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Part 4: Portraiture and figure painting
Project two: The artist’s self-portrait portrait
Annotation: A self-portrait

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Instagram

#voteyes

Calendar of Posts

April 2014
M T W T F S S
« Mar   May »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

Archives

Categories


%d bloggers like this: