It was Australia’s most loved painter, philanthropist and antique dealer the Brisbane born Margaret Olley’s wish that her studio and sections of her home be recreated at the Tweed Regional Gallery.
The result is a wondrous and exclusive view into the daily life of a passionate artist and a generous philanthropist.
The recreation of the Hat factory, the Kitchen and Yellow room was a mammoth task that required the relocation of 21,000 objects from her home at Paddington in Sydney.
These items were removed, catalogued and stored until the purpose built extension to the Tweed Regional Gallery was finished.
Then all of the items were installed to complete the studio recreation, one of the most ambitious and successful in the world.
It is a truly unique expression of one of Australian’s most loved artists and no one will escape being moved by the very intimate and domestic nature of the recreation.
She revelled in the atmosphere of her own curiosity shop where as her good friend comedian, satirist and author Barry Humphries so eloquently said
The rugs, the jugs, congealing cups of tea
The Chinese screen and old Matisse’s prints,
Cosier and richer than the QVB
Is Olley’s kitchen with its glows and glints.
Ten days after Margaret Olley died a friend Steven Alderton took photographs of the studio. These crisp coloured photographs captured the light in both the Yellow room and the Green kitchen.
The photographs were invaluable in the recreation process and it was charming viewing his photographs prior to observing the rooms.
The rooms in the art centre were specifically built to recreate Margaret Olley’s home; however the windows and doors were from her original house.
Every piece of furniture and the countless objects were positioned in the very same place they were previously located at Paddington.
The Margaret Olley Art Centre was a rare opportunity to witness her world both as a person and an artist. It was obvious that the two were intimately interwoven, indeed inseparable.
Her world pulsed with artistic fervour. The ordered chaos of her home delivered warmth that was richly echoed in her still life paintings.
She orchestrated a symphony of visual harmony both within the context of her home and her paintings.
She was an avid collector and each object was carefully selected and integral to her art and daily life. Although the objects were randomly positioned, there was a beauty in the arrangement and placement of them.
Her affinity with the objects and the eccentric pieces mirrored her unconventional approach to painting. Stacks of books and piles of magazines sat comfortably amid small arrangements of jugs, bowls of fruit and vases of flowers.
The objects, furniture, books, bric-a-brac, statues, crockery, cushions, sculptures and haberdashery articles were precious memorabilia to an adoring public and a constant source of inspiration for the artist.
The kitchen was jam packed with culinary ingredients and utensils interspersed with scattered collections of baskets and trays full of paint tubes, brushes and palettes with the dried remnants of paint.
A box of Roses chocolates rested on the sink a nostalgic reminder of past meals, friendships and conversations shared.
Her daily surroundings provided the material for her gloriously animated still life and exuberant interior paintings.
Her home was her studio and her studio her home. Home and practice emerged as one unity.
She loved the act of painting and was in complete control because she could move the objects and also her paintings wherever and whenever she desired. Repositioning her paintings and catching the light.
Margaret Olley was adamant painting “was all about the light” and she was very aware of the effects of the late afternoon sun and the early morning light. Her work strongly reveals the changing qualities of light.
Fluctuating images of Margaret Olley’s garden were projected onto a wall and it was a rewarding experience observing scenes from her enchanting, informal and lively outdoor space.
Ferns, trees and palms flourished. In a view through the window onto the garden vines, creepers, trees in bud, succulents, hibiscus, impatience and cherubs awaited admiration.
The garden was inspirational. Margaret Olley could step outside and gather her own flowers, greenery or natural objects to arrange later for observation and still life subjects.
This practice began for Margaret long, long ago when she picked random flowers while living as a student at Milson’s Point.
Margaret Olley had painted a wide variety of subject matter but in the 1960’s she restricted her subject matter to a more restrained focus. Her home gave her freedom to stage and move when required the still life components that featured in her countless exquisite compositions and at times her lap became her easel.
Living breathing and painting in the world she had created on her own doorstep gave her independence of easy access to the varied elements that provided the shape line and form for the still life and interior paintings she had planned.
Her love of art began at school and was developed and nurtured by her high school art teacher Caroline Barker. Further study, life experience, travel and her own practice (where she developed strong structural work in her earlier life as an artist) were formidable artistic foundations for her majestic interiors and exuberant still life paintings.
Many examples of her still life, interiors, landscapes and self-portraits hung in the gallery and art centre as testaments to an artist who loved and was obsessive about painting and well aware “that time was her enemy.”
The vibrancy of the colours, the rhythm of the brush strokes, the fall of patterns and shadows was deliciously revealed in Delphiniums and pears painted in 2005. The still life throbbed with energy and the painterly style of the woman and artist who was so attracted to the visual world around her.
Margaret Olley was born in Lismore in 1923, my own birthplace so a connection was formed from both our humble northern New South Wales beginnings.
It appeared fitting to celebrate Margaret Olley’s productive life as an artist and generous benefactor back in the serenely picturesque setting of her youth.
Margaret Olley’s recreated rooms are unique in Australian gallery practice and are fundamental reasons for visiting this dazzling location and exceptional Gallery.
The recreation at the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre is a rare expression that honours a legendary artist.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015