Olsen Ormandy: A Creative Force

Louise Olsen and Stephen Ormandy have a synergistic relationship. They are lovers, business partners, parents and yet, when it comes to artistry in their own right each maintains a unique point of view. Arguably the two practices are united by an affinity for dualities; Olsen is inspired by the ebb and flow of nature, and Ormandy the dance between figurative and non-objective art. The couple met at art school in Sydney in 1983 and quickly discovered they shared a passion for art and design; more than 30 years later their reputation is unique, garnering commercial success and the regard of peers and museums. In a recent survey book gallerist Karen Woodbury states that their output is ‘very much a vernacular of the Australian landscape – the light, the forms and the palette of the natural world’ and Michael Brand, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, praises their ‘conceptually strong work, technical innovation, followed by continual experimentation.’

Stephen Ormandy, Low Profile, 2018, oil on linen, 153 x 122cm. Courtesy the artist and Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales

‘A Creative Force’ on view at Newcastle Art Gallery is a platform for more than three decades of their partnership (the popular jewellery and homeware brand Dinosaur Designs) as well as the products of two individual artistic practices. Between them there are more than 50 works of art from oil paintings to sculptures in resin and wood, textiles, metal and pieces using marble and stone. In addition Olsen reveals a never before seen series of watercolours, and Ormandy offers new ‘totems’ a smaller iteration of these made their debut at Design Week London in 2016.

On process and also material outcomes Olsen says ‘there is a something beautiful about the time things take to evolve and perfect in the natural world. Resin, one of the materials we have worked with in this exhibition has a wonderful viscous fluidity that allows us to cross the boundaries of sculpture and painting.’ An enquiring mind susceptible to whimsy is a winning combination in this instance and we see that equanimity, resolution and balance (in both senses of alchemy and being on the precipice of movement or change) are executed with a colourful palette and bold gesture in their collaborative efforts and Olsen’s work. A good example of this is the way in which she recasts elements of the natural world. We have the appearance of ‘stalactites, but they also suggest ferns or hanging succulents… Although entirely artificial, the results have the appearance of something organic, and alive,’ Andrew Frost observes in the catalogue essay.

Louise Olsen, Floating, 2018, oil on linen, 51 x 41cm. Courtesy the artist and Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales

Ormandy’s spirit of innovation is connected to this but pursues the inner landscape – our subconscious. Frost suggests the subconscious is activated by Ormandy’s prowess, and long-held interest, with not just with the relationships of colour but tone. Furthermore, he looks to art and design references from Frank Lloyd Wright to Robert Klippel and Clement Meadmore, and also the experiential – the ocean. His painting and forms stem from a drive to see line create ‘positive and negative space, searching for tonal balance through contrast or harmony while developing chroma relationships that hug or repel.’ Chroma clashes are evident in Collar Bone (2014) a wall hanging which was a joint project, also on view is Series 8: Movement (2011) from the duo to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.

In this survey show one can experience two practices and an evolving collaboration; or as Ormandy said in the pair’s book ‘Like a Chinese chef has his master stock, we are always enriching our visual language with the exploration of new techniques.’

Newcastle Art Gallery
Until 17 February, 2019
New South Wales