Margaret Olley was still painting up until the day before she died in July 2011.
Margaret Olley was still painting up until the day before she died in July 2011.

Looking back: Margaret Olley was still painting at 80 plus

-This story ran in the Daily News in 2006. It is one of the historical features we will be bringing you as part of the 125th anniversary celebrations of the paper.

 

THEY say a picture is worth a thousand words - well, I'd argue Margaret Olley's are worth double.

Ms Olley AC needs no introduction, she quite simply is one of Australia's greatest living artists.

Her style, she describes as simply "still life" but look into her works and you see so much more than a still life.

The thing is, you're never the same person as you were yesterday, you're always changing like the flow of a river, it gathers momentum and carries you away.

Ms Olley scheduled this interview around her various other commitments on a day she was having lunch with the NSW Premier to do her darndest to save the Sydney Arts College she once attended.

"You know the government want to hand the school over to the university.

"It's in a historic building and the upkeep is costing too much, apparently," she said.

"But you don't need a degree to be a sculptor - or painter - it doesn't belong at the university.

"It's just all about cutting the fat."

She may be 83 years old but that means nothing to the spritely Ms Olley who continues to paint every day.

Well, that is if her many other commitments allow.

Ms Olley, who made a flying visit to the Tweed recently to open stage two of the Tweed River Art Gallery, spent some time in the Tweed as a young child when her parents moved from Tully, in Far North Queensland, to a property at Tygalgah (near Condong).

"It was an idyllic childhood in the area beside the Tweed River.

"We spent a lot of time fishing, rowing and having many adventures," she said.

"We lived there with no electricity.

"I remember when we had the phone put on ... and sitting listening to the windup gramophone.

"And to get to Tweed we had to take four punts.

"Life was much more of an adventure that's for sure ... we used to spend holidays camping at Cudgen Headland - I guess that's vastly different these days.

"But I'm looking forward to coming back to the area - I haven't really been into Murwillumbah since I was a child."

Ms Olley said she also remembered climbing Mount Warning at the age of about 10 with a group.

"There was no protection or chains at the summit ... we just scrambled up to the top."

Ms Olley said her biggest achievement - at the moment - was "still being here".

"I'm simply doing what I want to do and that is painting - although I'm struggling with another problem and that is macular degeneration in my right eye, bad news for an artist," she said.

"I'm having an injection in the eye soon and that might help."

Artist Margaret Olley's home studio.
Artist Margaret Olley's home studio. Contributed

The hardest part of losing your eyesight was still having many more paintings she wanted to do.

"I've still got more to do - I'm always after the ultimate painting, like a quest," she said. "I live for my painting."

Ms Olley is working on some large still lifes that depict scenes from her own home in Sydney - The Hat Factory.

"I've also just completed a painting of tulips for the Parkinson's Disease society, I promised it to them three years ago, but there's just so many interruptions."

The pace of life is just too fast these days, Ms Olley said.

"No one takes the time to enjoy their life anymore - we're all so busy," she said.

"The age of innocence is gone and families are not such a strong unit anymore, everyone is more self-reliant."

Ms Olley is a recovering alcoholic and has faced many demons in her life ... and survived ... but the road has not been easy.

"I'm a non-practicing alcoholic and when I was suffering from depression, I tried to kill myself.

"That's why I support the Black Dog Institute," she said.

"I do what I can to help those in AA as well.

"The thing is, you're never the same person as you were yesterday, you're always changing, like the flow of a river, it gathers momentum and carries you away.

"But you must seek help and work your way through it ... it's purely a chemical imbalance in the brain and it can be re-adjusted."

A biography depicting events in Margaret Olley's life was released in 2005 titled "Far From A Still Life: Margaret Olley" by Meg Stewart.

Ms Olley is inspiration for many to continue following their passion, no matter what your age.

"There's hope of doing things over 80 - look at me," she said.

"Learn the art of giving - we receive all our lives but the wheel has to turn for you to pass on knowledge and help others ... this is the wheel of life.

"Give to your neighbours, the community - whatever you can, just give."



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