Sanctum: Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley* in her ‘studio’—it’s such an iconic image. The artist’s studio invaded the house long ago. Life and work must have co-existed. Olley’s practice was interchangeable with life and the everyday.


To understand her studio, I think you have to see the tiers—layers of colour, form and texture; sensual layers; layers of meaning. Think of it as just like standing in front of a giant, intricate still life painting.

The structural stratum

Superior bones of the room carry the life and work like a high quality primer. A dark-beamed ceiling plays above the rich vermillion walls. Three arched windows are the main light source, through which there is a triptych of the garden outside. There are reflections of classicism and the orient in structure and artefacts. A corinthian column. A gothic-style altarpiece on one wall. An indian god-sculpture on another. The furniture is vintage and eclectic with shapes and forms that overlap profusely and invite cropping into endless compositions.

Tier for joyful inspiration

If you can imagine a sublime clutter, this is it. Endless jars and vases and baskets of flowers (fresh and dried and nearly dust); books (single, piled, skewiff); sketches and paintings (framed, stacked, and forgotten); small objet; large objet; objet from A-Z; woven and carved textures and common household objects standing religiously, like offerings to a shrine. Then the paints, and brushes, and all the other artist paraphernalia. Objects arranged and rearranged over time. Rich in meaning as individuals or in collaboration.

Olfactory tier

I haven’t been in the room, only viewed the many representations over time. But I can imagine the waft of paints and mediums, of wood and fibre, intermingling with cigarette smoke and fresh and late blooms. A pop of apple or lemon perhaps.

Tier of decay

You wouldn’t be bothered doing too much dusting here. There are more important things to do. But you can’t ignore the desiccation of paint and implements. There are organic things that are heading to dust. There is the dust of breath and anxiety and elation.

The layering of one cubic metre

I haven’t been in the room, but I would love to see it and I would have loved to have seen it when Margaret Olley was there. I would have chosen a cubic metre of the space and recorded it from every angle for posterity.

* Margaret Olley, iconic Australian painter, died in her sleep in 2011. She had just put the finishing touches to her exhibition The Inner Sanctum of Margaret Olley and had apparently enjoyed a big night out. In my book, a great moment to choose to die. Aspects of Olley's studio have been recreated at The Margaret Olley Art Centre (MOAC) at the Tweed Regional Gallery.
Image  "Winter fever dream of Summer 2" by Ron FrazierCC-BY-2.0


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