The spirit—and studio—of Margaret Olley lives on

The studio of Australian painter Margaret Olley was filled to the brim with non-Western souvenirs, books, vases of dried flowers and tubes of paint. With Olley’s oeuvre focused on still life and interiors, her studio was clearly a place of inspiration and industry.

Now preserved as part of the Margaret Olley Art Centre at Tweed Regional Gallery, Olley’s studio and sitting room were the inspiration point for a series of new still life paintings by Mirra Whale, India Mark and Laura Jones. With the studio recreation containing original architectural features relocated from Olley’s home in Sydney, and over 20,000 objects from her vast personal collection, the artists were able to connect with Olley’s inspirations on a deeply personal level.

Laura Jones, Dahlias with blue crystal and striped jug, 2023, oil on linen, 137 x 112 cm. Collection of the artist, courtesy Chalk Horse Gallery © The artist.

“Olley’s home studio was both site and subject matter for her work for nearly 50 years, so I feel it’s vital the re-creation is still dynamic subject matter for artists,” explains curator Ingrid Hedgcock. In Light & Life, Hedgcock has paired the works by Whale, Mark, and Jones with examples of Olley’s still life paintings to reiterate her enduring legacy for a contemporary audience.

In the process of bringing the works together, Hedgcock says she could see contemporary connections to different stages of Olley’s long career. “Jones’s Dahlias with blue crystal and striped jug, 2023, connects to Olley’s work in the early 1960s when she was experimenting with colour and still life as subject matter, while Mark draws from the following decade when Olley arranged objects on drawers and tabletops with attention to form, space and light. Whale looks to Olley’s later work—domestic still lifes with a darker, more sombre poetry—in her series of charcoal on linen images.”

Linking past and present joys with natural beauty and the unassuming comforts of home, Light & Life revels in what Hedgcock calls Olley’s “humble celebration of the everyday”. As Brisbane-based gallerist Philip Bacon said during the artist’s memorial service in 2011, Olley’s work will continue to resonate because “simple is better than complicated, quiet is better than noisy, and what is close at hand is better than that which has to be sought”.

Light & Life: Margaret Olley, Laura Jones, India Mark and Mirra Whale
Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre
On now—28 April

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Briony Downes