Artists’ studios: open doors

R.Ian Lloyd. Margaret Olley in her studio in Sydney, NSW, Australia at 9:22 am on December 13th, 2005

Framed digital print, 83.82cm x 118.95cm. Photo courtesy of R. Ian Lloyd


Europe may well have the immersive chaos of Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin, the catalogued remains of the Giacometti studio in Paris–including its paint encrusted studio walls– and the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam–with recreations of his huge collection of cabinet of curiosities–but here in NSW, we now have the equally marvellous Margaret Olley Studio!

Just opened in Murwillumbah the Olley Art Centre includes rooms from Olley’s Paddington home and studio replicated in micro-detail with the promise of a behind the scenes experience of the everyday undertakings of this much loved artist ‘at work’. Our imaginations tingle in anticipation of the eclectic treasures that will be revealed as we tip-toe through Olley’s daily life. Like a clandestine trip to the attic–redolent with the promise of discovery and forgotten gems–the appeal of artists’ studios is universal.

Despite the rich and sumptuous treat which artist spaces offer, lovingly preserved and maintained artist studio museums are a rarity in Australia. In Sydney there is the Brett Whiteley Studio and the May Gibbs Nutcote homestead. Further afield, William Dobell’s studio nestled on the edge of Lake Macquarie survives intact through the sheer tenacity of a committed band of volunteers. The Hill End Murrays and Haefligers cottages, managed as continuing creative spaces by Bathurst Regional Art Gallery provide both historic and contemporary look at artists working lives. Whilst the former home and property of Australian artists Gerald and Margo Lewers, now Penrith Regional Gallery, maintains the legacy of an artist’s residence and work space for the public to visit. But apart from those, artist studios tend to be closed doors.

We tip-toe through Olley’s daily life, like a clandestine trip to the attic–redolent with the promise of discovery and forgotten gems–the appeal of artists’ studios is universal.

Artist studios have long been of interest to curators and conservators as a means to uncovering their working techniques, as insight into specific art materials experimented with and are valued as sources and references from which the artist drew their inspiration. So much so, that interviewing and videoing an artist about their private work space is common place as documentation for works entering into collections.

Opening March 22, the STUDIO exhibition includes this photograph of Margaret Olley in her creative space, taken 2005; a beautiful image of the artist in her element, and a taste of the glittering things to come at the new Margaret Olley Art Centre in Murwillumbah.

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