Olsen and Ormandy
Helen Wyatt 2019
Freelance Visual Arts writer and artist
Glasshouse Regional Gallery at Port Macquarie has mounted a striking exhibition of paintings and sculptures by artists Louise Olsen and Stephen Ormandy. Bridget Purtill, curator, has taken full advantage of the height and levels of the space at the Glasshouse to present works allowing them a sense of gravitas. A large show of their work was mounted at Newcastle Art Gallery early this year. However, this exhibition presents some significant new pieces.
Olsen and Ormandy are best known for the now iconic Australian brand Dinosaur Designs - jewellery and homewares now marketed internationally. They are renown for the craftsmanship of their sculptural forms and the masterful application of resin. At Port Macquarie they have foregrounded scale as well as colour and they have chosen to work not only in resin but also with timber and canvas.
When entering the gallery space, the visitors are struck by the playful figures by Stephen Ormandy – Assorted Totems 2016-2018. Simple bold colours define forms that are anthropomorphic, even toy-like. Grouped together they seem to be having an engaged, inclusive conversation.
An adjacent piece, –Alphabet, 2018 - comprises several timber forms that continue the playtime feel but the objects cross-over into architectural explorations that an adult and child would want to physically explore. A very large wall-mounted painting – Night Moves, 2019 - continues the simplicity and precision, bold shape and abstraction in two dimensions.
Evident in Ormandy’s sculptural work is the influence of Robert Klippel and, in his paintings, a new incarnation of some familiar elements from the work of John Coburn.
Louise Olsen’s work is also pre-occupied with colour and arrangement but it is looser and very lively. While intimately connected to artists whose work defined Australian painting in mid-20thcentury - her father John Olsen for one – she has defined her own vocabulary. There are links to this lineage in her choice of palette, freedom and use of line, but Louise Olsen’s work is bold, confident and distinct. Modernist abstract painters – Jackson Pollock, Andre Masson, Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko –seem also to have provided her a legacy.
Olsen’s painting Peachy Cloud 2019 is mystical – almost transcendental; Coral Sea, 2019 and Water Moon 2019 both have a striking calligraphic quality with a subtle sense of structure and dynamic colour arrangement. All are very personal and intuitive paintings.
While her work references the Australian landscape, she foregrounds the elements of painting itself - making her (and Ormandy in his formalism) inheritors of Modernism. The Rugs mounted side by side in the Mezzanine capture their opposing styles and their commonalities. Woven form has a way of ‘freezing’ the dynamic moment in thread. There is irony where Olsen’s ‘spontaneous’ line and blobs of paint are revealed, close up, in a tangible, tactile material - Composition, 2018. Ormandy’s Spirit Tree, 2018, is serene and still – it positively glows at its heart and lends itself to the thread.
The artists have collaborated on their design practice for nearly 40 years. In this show they have exhibited some works developed jointly that are an extension of the work for Dinosaur Designs. The super-sized ‘platters’ are seductive and are displayed on a shelf that implies an over-long ikea sideboard. Originally developed for an exhibition at Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, the discs feature in the Glasshouse space. The giant Collarbones 2, 2018 are small resin pieces writ huge. Sensitively lit, these are not “wearable pieces” but rather “wall ornaments”.
As with all artists’ materials, there are environmental and work practice concerns. On their design website, the artists espouse a commitment to a sustainable and ethical practice - the resin is developed with a by-product from the oil industry and the hand craftsmanship of the pieces is undertaken with awareness and a respect for those making the objects for them.
It is important to note that this exhibition opened when catastrophic fires threatened country close by to ‘Port’ with loss of property and lives in NSW. Since then, the fires have continued in NSW, in Queensland and South Australia. The Mid-North Coast koalas (and all the other animals without burrows) have been tragically impacted. Coincidentally, this exhibition both honours the landscape, its heat and its strong colours but it has also brought a positive focus to the community. The forms and images embody a sense of optimism.
Upstairs, members of the community – Vana Ford and Kerry Wheeldon – are showing Threaded Earth. Their work celebrates friendship and craftsmanship alongside their love of nature. Also exhibited, Beric Henderson brings together science and art in his elaborately detailed works for Symmetry of Nature. Both small shows deal with the beauty and complexity of the physical environment and the impact of the human hand.
The gallery is impressive and continues to host work that rewards the senses and the mind. If you are visiting the Northern region of NSW – take in its natural beauty but leave with cultural enrichment that Glasshouse, Port Macquarie, offers.