John Olsen

Australian Galleries

In John Olsen’s recent exhibition, one painting stood out. Large and irrevocably dark, it appears at first like a blackboard covered by words and signs, but on closer inspection, it constitutes a double self-portrait. Popeye-like caricatures are enmeshed in a spiderweb of white lines and scrawls that make it impossible to say whether the Olsen at the right is preparing food or defecating nuggets of gold. Alchemic or gerontological, a discrimination between opposites is at the heart of the matter, for Donde Voy? (Where am I going?, 1989) is itself something of a simulacrum. If this work constitutes a meditation on the process of aging, from an artist whose work has spanned four decades, then it is also an attempt to present conflicting imperatives in coexistence. Donde Voy? is a contrived emulation of interiors in the tradition of 17th-century Spanish painting, reworked in automatist

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