Margaret Olley: A Life in Paint

Margaret Olley: A Life in Paint

One-Hour Artscape Special Feature

ABC1 TUESDAY 24 JULY 2012 @ 9.30PM

“It’s for the love of doing it and if you knew you could do it, I suppose you wouldn’t do it. It’s something to do with the challenge.”  Margaret Olley on her lifelong pursuit to understand painting.

Margaret Olley painted every day of her life. A year since her death, the act of painting is the subject of this new documentary on Olley because when all is said and done that was her ‘raison d’être’.

MARGARET OLLEY: A LIFE IN PAINT is an intimate one-hour documentary about one of Australia’s best loved painters. A well-known figure from the time she was painted by William Dobell in 1948, Margaret Olley’s celebrity status tended to overshadow her life as a painter. This film puts OIley the painter on centre stage. Many believe her last works – those painted in the 18 months leading up to her death on 26 July 2011 – were amongst her finest.

“I felt her paintings were becoming translucent almost like her skin – there were just layers that were coming through and they became more and more beautiful towards the end,” says artist Ben Quilty whose portrait of Margaret Olley won the 2011 Archibald Prize.

Emeritus curator Barry Pearce calls the Sydney house in which Olley lived her “inner sanctum”. The house is the starting point for this documentary, as Pearce takes an intensely personal tour through the house which over time became more studio space than living space.

“I think really towards the end the house became chaotic and after a while I don’t think she saw it because she could hone in on with tunnel vision almost on just a tabletop where all around was chaos but just in the centre of it would be this arrangement of things she was going to paint and it was perfect and that is all she saw.” explains Philip Bacon, Olley’s dealer.

Olley bought the house in Duxford Street, Paddington, in 1964. It was a large Sydney terrace with an annex previously used as a hat factory. Between the ‘hat factory’ and the main house was a kind of transit area with bedsit room, small kitchen and bathroom. This was the ‘yellow room’ where she lived initially while renting out the rest of the house. In time, it became her muse and the subject of what Pearce calls “her greatest masterpiece”, The Yellow Room Triptych.  It is this work which is the centre of NERAM’s fundraising campaign, and which is currently on show at NERAM.

To donate to The Yellow Room Appeal, go to