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Tim Olsen Man in Black

Messenger Collective March 8 2013

Jade Dunwoody

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Tim Olsen's presence is nothing short of colourful as he welcomes us with open arms into his gallery - except it doesn't feel like a gallery as much as it does a home, with Tim ushering us to the lounge as he makes us tea. We don't have to look took far to see a painting or two. Here is where I should mention were not in the crisp white oblong space that is the stunning Tim Olsen Gallery. We're upstairs in Tim's office, albeit it’s not what I expect.

I was perhaps a little convince that behind closed doors, it would be some sort of contained squalor, surrounded but the messy trapping of art and accumulated junk. There’s no tragic aura. No paint splattered walls or coffee- stained books. It's simply..homely.

Before we get to cosy, Tim and Lisa start bantering, like brother and sister as they joke about Tim's attire (Tim has just taken a Pilates class and is yet to change out of his tracksuit). At first it's hard to focus on Tim when you’re surrounded by some of Australia’s most stunning collections, including work by his father John Olsen. In fact, Tim belongs to an Australia's creative dynasty that also includes his sister Louise of Dinosaur Designs.
"We've been talking art for about five minutes now and the more Tim warmly expressed his affection, the clearer it becomes any preconceptions should be put to rest.
"I had very humble aspirations. I would have been happy to be a high school teacher. I was for about six month and that third for educating without having to work at a school transpired into becoming an art dealer," says Tim.
"I wasn't brought up to be a 9-5 person, being the son of a landscape painter. I was never fit to be able to travel to the city each day to work in a box."
Lisa's nodding her head as she relates all too well (she's also easily frustrated with rules and confinement) but I'm thinking, 'great, perfect door opener'. Tim knows what I'm about to ask (he obviously gets this a lot) and spares me the awkwardness.
"There are people who think I was handed all of this on a plate. John Olsen is only one of my 40 artists, I wouldn't have all of this if I just relied on him," Tim takes another gulp of his tea.
"I started this gallery without him and mature enough as a person, that he trusted his work with me. My father is 85, and I embrace him every day because he may not be here tomorrow. It's ridiculous that some people turn their back on their parents thinking it's the only way to move ahead."
Just at Tim starts to get a bit series, he throws in a joke - but oddly its comforting, like we have been friends for years. It makes it easier to ask the questions I've been dreading {maybe this explains my preconceptions).
I sift through my notes, knowing Tim has only a few minutes before his clients arrive and I'm eager to talk about The Man in Black, a Richard Dunlop portrait of Tim that was submitted and hung at The Archibald in 2008.
"That dreadful thing! Where did you find that?" says Tim. Tim tells us how he had say for many portraits before, although none had been hung. So when Richard asked Tim about six years ago, he didn't think much of it.
"It's the most dark, lugubrious version of a beat up art dealer who's poisoned by celebration. I asked, 'How on earth it got hung?' and they said, 'we saw it and thought he's really go you. He's really captured you'," recalls Tim.
"From that day forth I never drank again. I was defeated. If people think that’s me, then obviously I've got to work on my beauty."
"That’s not the Timmy I know!" Lisa nudges Tim. "It was very confronting but I think sitting for that drawing did me a favour. I certainly realised when I gave up drinking who my real friends were. Good old Tim who was good for a laugh and a drink is not so accessible in a way," says Tim.
"There's nothing worse when you're in a situation and you think, 'this is not me'."
It's one of those ah-ha moments. So this is the gorgeous softy that Lisa talks about.
"And how would you be painted now?"
Tim pulls out his phone, takes a moment to scroll through and I couldn't help but see his face light up.
"This is a really good portrait and of course it wasn't hung," Tim jokes.
"Its with my son, James (8)."
The arrival of Tim's clients couldn't come at a worse time. I wasn't ready to leave. "Wow! Have you ever seen a room like this?" asks the client. Tim excuses himself but assures us to stay put.
Lisa grins at me and I know she's thinking what I am. This is great. We get to see Tim the salesman in action. Coincidentally the clients are deciding between two works (the wife dwells between an incredible John Olsen Lake Eyre and a painting of monkey balls, while the husband, tapping his foot, tried to hurry her along, flippantly saying we already have a Lake Eyre). Sure, both paintings are only around AU$95,000- who needs an extra minute? There’s something euphoric about the way Tim works. He's a storyteller (he sold me on the monkey balls) and he's got this excess of charisma. Art is in the blood, but the way he warns the room, that’s all him.
After about 10 minutes, Tim sits back down, only to be surprised by another quick visit. This time, its artist Andrew Taylor (Rachel Griffiths husband) and daughter Clementine. Andrew is one of Tim's artists exhibited at the gallery.
"Becoming an artist is quite a noble thing. It takes enormous courage and when you can reward someone's courage by making their work collectable to strangers - that's worth far more than money ever will be," says Tim.
"I treat my job as being not only about selling art, but also education people. It's a 'Rome not being built in a day' scenario. There are many intricacies, it’s not just painting a picture and sitting on your arse waiting for someone to turn up."

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