The other week I dusted off my best plastic jewellery for an outing to the Tweed Regional Gallery in New South Wales. A beautiful, architectural award-winning gallery with views to the Mount Warning hinterland.
Included at the gallery is the Margaret Olley Art Centre which celebrates the career, life and legacy of famous Australian artist Margaret Olley.
It’s been some time since I’ve been to this gallery, so I was a little confused by the gallery staff’s overly enthusiastic ramblings about a display of withered flowers and some sort of recreation of Margaret’s home. I glazed over thinking it would just be the typical mahogany desk or easel by a fireplace with a few frayed paintbrushes thrown in to remind us we were here to see some art.
Boy was I wrong.
But first, who is Margaret Olley?
Born in 1923, Margaret Olley is touted as Australia’s most celebrated painter of still life and interiors.
Initially, Margaret said her mother was hell-bent on making her a nurse. “I would have killed people if I had been a nurse.” said Margaret. Thankfully that didn’t happen. It was in fact her free-spirited art teacher, Caroline Baker, who changed the course of her life, nurturing her artistic skill then suggesting she attend art college. From that time on until her death in 2011, she painted prolifically and was heavily involved in the Australian art scene.
In addition to her incredible body of work, she was a generous patron and benefactor for the arts, donating numerous works to galleries. Some of the artwork she generously gifted to public institutions included pictures by European artists Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and others that she had bought herself.
Over the years many artists have painted her portrait. Her face has even been the subject of two Archibald Prize winning portraits. Olley once joked that people liked to paint her portrait because she had “a face like a pudding and it’s easy to draw.” I’m not keen to attempt a pudding drawing, but I like her sense of humour!
The Margaret Olley Art Centre holds a large selection of her paintings rotated a couple of times a year.
Unlike most banal exhibit plaques, it’s one where the artwork descriptions are almost as fascinating as the paintings themselves. They include the story of her life at the time of her paintings, an explanation of the painting style and technique, and some dry witted quotes from Margaret herself.
All her works are bright and optimistic. It’s not the kind of art where you have to tilt your head and hold your jaw just right in order to work out what’s going on, only to step back and find you’ve been admiring someone’s nether region the whole time. It’s not aggressive or trying too hard to make a statement.
My favourite of the collection is the whimsical ’Kewpie doll’ which she painted at age 15. If I was this good at 15, I’m sure I too would have been whisked away to art college.
MARGARET OLLEY’S DUST BUNNY
As mentioned earlier, you can see a re-creation of Margaret’s home within the gallery. It turns out this wasn’t just a token easel stuck in the corner of a room as I had imagined.
Having grown up in the Tweed area, she insisted her Sydney home and collection of belongings be re-created as an exhibit at the Tweed gallery. Yes it’s a literal recreation of everything she ever acquired, positioned in the exact spot it would have sat in her home.
If you ever found your grandma’s house triggering, look away now!
It may look like an episode of hoarders, but Margaret says all the knick-knacks she collected were where she drew inspiration.
Margaret’s philosophy on housework is evident:
“I’ve never liked housework. I get by doing little chores when I feel like them, in between paintings. Who wants to chase dust all their life? You can spend your whole lifetime cleaning the house. I like watching the patina grow. If the house looks dirty, buy another bunch of flowers, is my advice.”
I doubt anyone’s going to have an interest in recreating my trinket-less home for future generations, although now I’m wondering if I should insist on it. In fact when I die, Mr Slager is liable to throw my silly scribblings in the bin thinking perhaps they belonged to a baby he didn’t know I’d had.
SIT ANYWHERE YOU LIKE DEAR!
Can you imagine the panic you’d feel if you were invited over for afternoon tea? You’d keep your shoes on of course for fear you stub your toe on the pile of tattered Reader’s Digest while circumnavigating the vases of dead flowers. Ushered to the dusty sitting room, you pick up a wartime newspaper and casually brush away dead cats from the sofa.
Margaret said herself, “I’m the original bag lady.”
On the slim chance Margaret ever had a Roomba, it probably only lived for 10 seconds then keeled over.
As an interiors minimalist, if I inherited all this tat I’d probably back up the truck, scoop it all in and send it to the dump. That said, this highly flammable exhibit was extremely fascinating and has to be seen to be believed. I was so gob-smacked I completely forgot to take a photo of the room with all her art supplies.
By the time I’d viewed all befouled angles of Margo’s house I found Mr Slager on the other side of the gallery having a dust-induced psychosomatic coughing fit. My eyes were itching too, so we decided it was enough for the day. We took a cursory glance at the gift shop, hoping for some commemorative Margaret Olley antihistamines but to no avail.
You can read more about Margaret Olley and her dust bunny on the Tweed Regional Gallery website, but it’s definitely worth seeing the fire hazard and jars of vintage nutmeg for yourself. If you go, let me know what you think.
Read about more inspirational artists here: ‘Dribbling my inspirational basketball’
Or read about some useful junk I own which helped me as an artist: ‘The book that will change your mind - Part 1’