John Olsen: My Salute to Five BellsShare Event on Facebook Share Event on Twitter Share Event on LinkedIn
The Friends of the National Library of Australia hosted the launch of John Olsen’s new book My Salute to Five Bells with a pleasant afternoon’s conversation between Olsen and Dr Deborah Hart of the National Gallery of Australia. The chat was an insight into much about the art journal that was the basis of the book and the inspiration from the Kenneth Slessor poem Five Bells for the Sydney Opera House mural. We have learnt much about that mural through the Betty Churcher documentaries, but there was for Olsen profound distress when he finally handed the painting over to the Opera House. It had been a journey like no other.
John Olsen is a living treasure, his stories and experiences tucked neatly into his journals with all manner of memorabilia, annotations and the musings of an artist of intellect, humour and joie de vivre. We’re lucky to have his journals, begun in the 60’s and now gifted to the National Library of Australia safely sitting somewhere upstairs above the magnificent marble foyer in the safety of the vaults for scholars and researchers to access under the protective eye of the keepers of treasures.
The latest journal he gave us was whisked away after his conversation with Dr Deborah Hart before I could ask very nicely for a quick photograph. I knew there were pages that should be shared, one he had read during the conversation. So to peruse and photograph his journal I raced after Margy Burn up the stairs and through the darkened corridors at a fast pace to get there before it was safely locked away. Why? Well one of the most recent entries on 13 July has a photograph of Peter Churcher’s painting of his mother, the late Betty Churcher, and Olsen spoke of it being the one that should have won the Archibald. His musings on the Archibald ( a chook raffle) here online for all to see as he was happy to let me publish it.
So too my favourite pages; A Note on Drawing and Remembrance of Things Past where it’s not necessary to grab a couple of madeleines to dip in your tea before reading but to be reminded of the advertising blurb for the movie “Gallipoli” in 1981....” From a country you’ve never heard of – a story you’ll never forget”.
It is a pleasure to browse his writings, he is as much a writer as an artist, and to be invited into his private world is an intimate and exuberant exchange. His enthusiasm is a joy, we ladies love him for his unabashed flirting - there should be more of it – and the time he gave for the signing of “My Salute to Five Bells” where each signing was a personal one with a sketch to delight, showed amazing patience. Mine a hybrid of sorts with octopus like tendrils trailing across the page.