Margaret Olley once joked that people liked to paint her portrait because she had "a face like a pudding and it's easy to draw."
Her humorous response came after friend and biographer Christine France asked why Olley thought she was such a popular portrait subject for fellow artists. A new portraits collection at the Tweed Regional Gallery assembles many influential artists who painted her.
Margaret Olley is the most painted face in Australian art history and many of the best examples are included in a new exhibition, Portraits: Margaret Olley, featured at the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre from this Friday (12 May) to 10 September.
As a fledgling artist aged 25, Olley sat for friend and fellow artist William Dobell, hurtling the shy young woman into a media frenzy when the portrait won the 1948 Archibald Prize. More than six decades later, Olley was again the subject of an Archibald Prize winning portrait; this time by Ben Quilty in 2011. Olley's remarkable career is bookended by these iconic portraits.
The new exhibition includes a number of self-portraits, alongside works by 13 Australian artists considered to be among the most significant figures in Australian art: William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Margaret Cilento, Ian Fairweather, Judy Cassab, Ray Crooke, Jeffrey Smart, Robert Barnes, Nicholas Harding, Danelle Bergstrom, Adam Knott, Greg Weight and Ben Quilty.
"However, their importance to the exhibition also stems from their enduring friendships with Olley, so audiences don't just see artist portraying subject, but also friend portraying friend," Margarget Olley Art Centre Curator and Collections Manager, Ingrid Hedgcock, said.
"Much has been said about the potential of the connection between artist and sitter to take a portrait beyond mere likeness. There are many things we 'know' about Olley - garnered from her intimate biography by Meg Stewart, Margaret Olley: Far from a still life, her work and the extraordinary home studio re-creation.
"In this exhibition, we see snatches of Olley - her character, her capacity for friendship, her dedication to art and artists and her obsession with objects - through her own eyes and through those of her artist friends. In this sense, Portraits: Margaret Olley can be seen as an expressive, painterly photo album of an extraordinary life and individual."
The exhibition is complemented by supporting events:
Gallery Up Late, Friday 9 June.
After-hours access to the Gallery and Cafe from 5pm.
6.15pm (for 6.30pm) - 7.30pm: Panel Discussion: Reflections of Olley: Art Gallery of South Australia Director Nick Mitzevich hosts a panel discussion about much-loved artist, mentor and muse Margaret Olley.
Entry: $10 / $7 Friends of the Gallery and students. Bookings essential by 4 June. (02) 6670 2790 Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm or book and pay through PayPal at https://tweedregionalgallery.vendecommerce.com
Art in the Pub, Monday 10 July 6pm for 6.30pm, The Courthouse Hotel, Burringbar Street, Mullumbimby
Award-winning photographer Greg Weight discusses his artistic practice, including portraits of some of Australia's most celebrated artists. A collaborative event between Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, Contemporary Art Space and Education lnc. and Byron School of Art. Free. No bookings required.