Margaret Olley was small and birdlike in stature but she was a giant in the art world. Her paintings of still life’s and interiors vibrated and glowed with warmth. Standing in front of them I could feel the atmosphere of a well-loved room.
In July 2011 she died at the age of 88 in her home in Sydney surrounded by her beloved art work and all her belongings. Painting to the very end she had just finished the last painting for another exhibition.
Australia lost a treasured artist.
In her will she left her house and ALL her possessions to the Tweed Valley Art Gallery. Margaret loved this beautiful area where she was born and grew up.
The Gallery decided to recreate the house inside the gallery, it has been a mammoth project. Firstly a new wing had to be built and rooms the exact shape and size of the Sydney house constructed inside the new wing.
But that was straight forward compared with the next task. Recreating the inside of the house and studio that Margaret called home. She was a collector, a hoarder and never threw anything away. Everywhere, on shelves, tables, the floor, she left the remains of the objects that had been subjects for her still life paintings. Dead flowers wilted in vases, colourful artificial flowers clustered among baskets of rotting fruit, ornaments picked up from op shops, tubes of paint, old paint brushes in recycled tins, canvasses and books stacked on the floor. It was cluttered splendour of a life’s dedication to art.
Every single item had to be catalogued, then a photo record taken of the position of ALL these “things” right down to the cigarette in the ashtray. Next the packing and transporting to the Tweed Gallery. That was just the start, now the challenge was to recreate the inside of the house exactly, lovingly and carefully.
3 years later in February 2014 the task was completed.
Now I am back home we drove, with anticipation and two friends, to see this memorial wing to the art and times of Margaret Olley.
What an amazing experience to be transported into the world of this exceptional artist.
The original windows and doors added authenticity as I peered into this cluttered space. Classical music flowed from an old transistor radio perched among the tubes of paint.
Look around, note all the “things”, over 20000 of them, that had been taken, piece by piece, photographed in place, then returned to the same spot to recreate this home that is redolent with the essence of a great and eccentric person who lived, breathed and created superb art works in this space. She said “this is my home, but first and foremost it is my studio”
In the bottom photo look carefully and you will see the small round table with a light over it. That is where Margaret would sit with her Masonite canvas balanced on her knee, resting on the table and that is how she painted.
The kitchen is small, almost a cubby hole, but many dinners were created here in the past, she was a good and creative cook, but in later years she lost interest in cooking and visitors would bring their own food.
Follow round to the next window and there is the yellow room that features in so many of the paintings
Being a triptych it is also the largest she painted. Notice how very closely it resembles the yellow room in the photo above, that is how it was when she died.
A 45 minute free gallery tour, with a very knowledgeable guide, highlighted the many unique aspects of the items on show, including stories and anecdotes from Margaret Olley’s rich and passionate life.
Now it was time for lunch. The café/restaurant has been enlarged and the views are superb from all the decks. The food matched the overall excellent standard of this world-class art gallery. Prawns in tempura batter and a light noodle and cucumber salad for me and Samosa in a crisp, light filo pastry and green salad for Jack.
The gallery had a number of other exhibits showing, all so different, but all needing time to study the techniques from realistic paintings of flora and fauna of this Tweed Valley Caldera area
oil on canvas
to fascinating lino cuts featuring almost full size portraits of Captain Cook. The detail was unbelievable. I have tried very basic lino cuts at school as a 12/13-year-old and could understand how many hours of careful dedicated work had been put into these art works.
“Rew Hanks is a Sydney based printmaker whose intricate linocuts are a combination of dry wit, satire and hard hitting imagery which engage social, political and environmental issues. His narratives are amongst the most complex and challenging in contemporary Australian printmaking.”
A collection of art work from children aged 5 to 12 with the brief to depict how they saw life in 500 years time. Very interesting interpretations.
In complete contrast another room held a rather sombre and macabre selection of print works that were the collaboration between artist, writer and print maker.
“The works were created collaboratively in response to a fascinating story that Jones heard at a writer’s festival. The historic narrative described mass suicides by the members of Balinese royal houses, prompted by the arrival of Dutch ships on the horizon. “Seeing the end of the world as they had known it had apparently driven hundreds of people to walk en masse into the seas, and drown”, Jones writes.”
Finally I will leave Jack to describe his favourite part of the gallery. It was another very unique display and Jack joined in with the hands on interactive fun. Go over and see what he got up to.
This is a one of the best art galleries, outside the main cities, that we have visited and I would urge any one coming to this Goldcoast area to seek it out. It is not easy to find being tucked away behind the charming small town of Murwillumbah, but the drive to find it is worth the trouble, and can be even more of an adventure if you get lost, as all the scenery and villages around this Tweed Valley area are delightful.