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Interview: Tim Olsen

Interview: Tim Olsen

Habitusliving catches up with Sydney gallerist Tim Olsen to hear about philanthropy and the importance of drawing.

Hero Image: Tim Olsen. Photograph: Damian Bennett

In August of this year Olsen Irwin gallery supported the Habitus ‘Home’ Exhibition by generously donating an original etching by John Olsen as a prize for the exhibition. Curious to learn more about the gallery’s – and artist’s – altruism, we sat down with John’s son and gallery director Tim Olsen in the pleasantly cluttered personal quarters of the Paddington building.

The story of the ‘Evolution’ print (the same donated for the Habitus exhibition) starts with an etching John Olsen made, to do with his memories of teaching and life drawing at art school.


‘Evolution’, 35 x 49.5cm, 2013

“The figures in the print are a satire of the art world”, explains Tim, with the ensemble representing “a play on the memory of [John] being a student himself”.

The relevance of the subject matter – and medium – lies in the intended recipient of the funds its sales would raise (it was sold at a hefty discount, with proceeds of a quarter million dollars); the drawing department in the new wing at the College of Fine Arts (COFA).


View of the new ‘F’ Block building at COFA, which houses the drawing studios. Photo by Wilk. 2013.

John and Tim are stalwart supporters of the arts, with drawing occupying a place of particular importance, and their choice of beneficiary for these funds reflects their determination to maintain the resources and quality of instruction for the medium.


John Olsen. Photograph: David Loftus

This prompted questions of philanthropy in general, and the importance of art institutions giving back to the broader artistic community. Tim comments, “I’m incredibly conscious of philanthropy, and I found through my philanthropy and still giving to charities and auctions and things like that, that where the artists name came up and my name came up, people see you doing a good thing and somehow the energy comes back”.


Olsen Irwin Gallery

His optimism is encouraging, and probably has something to do with the Tim Olsen Drawing Prize approaching its fifteenth year.

Tim is also adamant that all creative expressions deserve respect, exclaiming that “there is so much snobbery between design and pure arts, it’s a disgrace”. He cites how for instance Steven Ormandy’s (jewellery designer for Dinosaur Designs) paintings are selling extremely well, with a very reputable buyer (identity confidential) snapping two up at his recent show.


Steven Ormandy exhibition, 2013. Image courtesy Olsen Irwin Gallery. 

Again, we come back to drawing as the embryo for a huge variety of art, with Tim asserting, “fundamentally, drawing is the backbone of everything” He follows with the edifying question, “if you can’t draw it, then how does it become real?”

Olsen Irwin Gallery