John Olsen

Artist Statement

Being highly sensitive to environmental changes Frogs are a wonderful barometer of the health of the earth’s waterways and landscapes.

Many years ago I picked a tree frog from a leaf and saw it could hang upside down and this really fascinated me. I find every aspect of the species interesting, the way they jump, their transformation and metamorphosis from tiny tadpole and their extraordinary sense of fun. I love the way that frogs sing together when it rains, and croak to each other.

They also have this careful awkwardness, an interesting kind of human thing going on, extended fingers, legs going everywhere when they swim and some even bask in the sun.

I’m also captivated by the fairy-tale of the princess kissing the frog, and the frog becoming a prince.

Frogs are so important, they are such spirited creatures, and I just adore them.

Artist Background

John Olsen was born in Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1928. He studied briefly at the Desiderius Orban Art School and also attended night classes at Julian Ashton’s school of art. He is recognised as one of Australia’s most significant and accomplished artists.

After his early abstract works of the late 1950s and early 1960s, his work became increasingly figurative and recognisable. He has given us a new interpretation of Australia, redefining the Australian landscape by shifting the viewpoint from ground level to aerial perspective. Olsen has painted the deserts in the Kimberly region of Western Australia, the balance of life and death in Central Australia’s Lake Eyre, and South Australia’s Coorong National Park where he explored the complex inhabitants of the wetlands. Olsen has a deep commitment and sensitivity to the natural environment.

His creative output has been substantial and he has worked in a variety of media including tapestry, ceramics, oils, watercolours and gouache. In 1970 he was commissioned by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation to paint a large mural for the Sydney Opera House. This major work, inspired by Kenneth Slessor’s poem, ‘Salute to five Bells’ was completed in 1973 – one of his most well known works.

His work can be found in the National Gallery of Australia, all State Galleries, numerous regional galleries and many private and corporate collections. He has won the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985, the Sulman Prize in 1989, the Archibald Prize in 2005 and been awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977 and an Order of Australia (AO) in 2001 for services to the arts.

Project History

Cast in bronze and towering over 2 metres tall, this super-sized frog sculpture is a sight to behold. This sculptures will enchant you but it has not been designed purely for aesthetic fulfilment, rather to remind you of the imperative role these glorious creatures play in our eco-system and environment. As a bio-indicator, frogs draw awareness to what makes a healthy and strong society – when the frogs are singing, so is the community. Frogs are very sensitive to their environment. They absorb water and chemicals through their permeable skin. Frogs are particularly sensitive to agricultural pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and heavy metals. Frogs are under threat from changes to their habitats, and pollution. With over 200 species, Australia has one of the most diverse ranges of frogs on the planet with frog species living in our rainforests, mountains, deserts, and urban areas.

Frog was first exhibited at the Yarra Gallery, Federation Square in February 2014. The impressive work will be installed in The Children’s Pond in the picturesque Queen Victoria Gardens in December 2015, a permanent resting place. This connects the sculpture to the related concepts of water sustainability and the importance of caring for our ecosystem. Wonderment Walk has gifted the sculpture to the City of Melbourne so that it signposts the impressive work Council has done in the area to capture stormwater, purify it and reuse it in the garden’s irrigation system.