For balletomanes this was enthralling. Artistic Director David McAllister and music director and chief conductor Nicolette Fraillon from the Australian Ballet talked to Caroline Baum about the Company’s upcoming production of Nijinsky choreographed by internationally renowned John Neumeier which opens next week here in Sydney after a hugely successful season in Melbourne.
The premiere of the Nijinsky/ Stravinsky work Sacre du Printemps ( The Rite of Spring ) took place in Paris in May 1913 and famously caused a riot In the audience. What can we expect from this new work by Neumeier?!
Baum began by asking McAllister how he managed to obtain the rights to Neumeier’s work given that it is a work tightly controlled by the choreographer.
For the last Culture Club talk of 2015 we were privileged to hear one of Australia’s greatest living artists, John Olsen, in conversation with Caroline Baum, discussing Olsen’s huge work SALUTE TO FIVE BELLS which is hung in the Northern Foyer of the concert hall. Rather than being held in the Utzon room this talk was held directly in front of the work.
Caroline Baum, wearing casual blue and white, is a respected arts journalist, broadcaster and presenter. She wore casual blue and white. A former producer of ABC Radio National Arts Today, she is currently Editorial Director of Booktopia. This year she has also been awarded the Hazel Rowley fellowship for biography.
John Olsen’s reputation was firmly established by the early 1960s. By this time his name was widely associated with his innovative, colloquial You Beaut Country series and the exuberant vitality that he brought to Sydney, both in his art and his enthusiastic participation in the bohemian artistic life of the city. In the 1970’s he furthered his interpretation of Sydney Harbour in his best known commission ,the Salute to Five Bells mural for the Sydney Opera House which is over 21 metres wide and three metres tall.
Regarding himself as a landscape artist, Olsen travelled extensively both in Australia and overseas and introduced new insights into the regional and desert landscapes, as well as the avian life, flora and fauna inhabiting them. For Olsen the landscape has always been more than a purely external phenomenon and he has persistently sought to attain a mystical and spiritual understanding of the natural world adding a universal dimension to his work.
His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, and all State collections. His journals are now lodged with the National Library of Australia. He has won the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985, the Sulman Prize in 1989, the Archibald in 2005 and was awarded an OBE in 1977 and an AO in 2001 for services to the arts. His largest work to date was completed in 2013.
In 1971 Olsen was commissioned to create SALUTE TO FIVE BELLS, a mural for the Sydney Opera House. Completed in 1973, the mural wa based on poet Kenneth Slessor’s Five Bells, Slessor’s poem about a friend who drowned in Sydney harbour.
On a rainy night sometime during the 1930s, a group of artists and journalists caught a ferry across Sydney Harbour to attend a party. One of them, a cartoonist named Joe Lynch, had crammed his overcoat with bottles of beer. Another member of the group was the poet Kenneth Slessor.
Somewhere between Circular Quay and Mosman, Lynch fell overboard. Hampered by the weight of his precious cargo of beer, Lynch drowned in the harbour- his body has never been recovered. Slessor wrote his poem in response to the event. The poem became the inspiration for Olsen’s masterpiece.
The result is a sprawling, vivid semi- abstract nocturnal image of floating fluorescent sea creatures welcoming a drowning Lynch into oblivion.
Olsen, jaunty and jovial for this special occasion, wore an off-cream suit and a black beret. He spoke about the inspiration for his work, and how Slessor was amazed and thrilled that Olsen had chosen that poem as inspiration.
He went on to talk about the difficulties of creating and installing the work, choosing the lilac background, analysing the use and space of the Concert Hall foyer, the spectacular use of light, his love of Sydney Harbour and its ferries, and the varied reactions to the painting.
Olsen spoke about how when Jorn Utzon first saw photographs of his mural hanging in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House, he was so impressed he wrote to him congratulating him on his achievement.
The artist also reminisced about giving the guided tour to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip at the opening of the Opera House in 1973. Mention was made of the studio he had at the Rocks at that time and issues surrounding the security of the painting which did come under threat.
He also spoke about ‘The Art of Looking’, and how each of us has our own personal response to any art-work, independent of the artists’ own intent. Now in his eighties, Olsen still keeps a journal, paints and is extraordinarily creative.
A book has been re issued earlier this year of his journals documenting the creation of his mural as published by the National Library of Australia-
Both of these enlightening texts were available at the end of the talk and some of the patrons took the opportunity to purchase them to further explore the mind and works of this great and iconic Australian artist.
This final talk in the Culture Club series took place at Opera House on the 14th December. Running time one hour.
This second passionate and inspiring discussion, part of the current Culture Club forum series, saw Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Stephen Page and Sydney Festival’s next Artistic Director Wesley Enoch in conversation with Caroline Baum about contemporary cultural moments relying on traditional myth and storytelling.
Caroline Baum, elegantly dressed in black, is a former producer of the ABC Radio National Arts Today program, the founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor of Vogue Australia and is currently editorial director of Booktopia.