John Olsen was born in Newcastle on 21 January 1928 One of Olsen’s most successful murals, Salute to Five Bells, is currently hung in the Sydney Opera House.
Although he has been labelled as an abstract artist, Olsen rejects this accusation, stating, “I have never painted an abstract painting in my life”. He describes his work as “an exploration of the totality of landscape”. Olsen published his diaries, under the title ‘Drawn From Life’, in 1997.
He is well known for his paintings of frogs, and for including frogs in many of his works. In 2013 a major work titled King Sun was hung in Collins Place, Melbourne Docklands. It is immense, 6 by 8 metres, and made up of 8 panels. It is a depiction of a brilliant Australian sun, and it contains 3 frogs.
In the New Year’s Honours of 1977 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and in the Australia Day Honours of 2001 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.
He was awarded the Centenary Medal on 1 January 2001. He won the 2005 Archibald Prize for his portrait Self portrait Janus Faced.