I’m standing in front of the most amazing installation at the Tweed River Art Gallery – the carefully reconstructed replica of part of the artist Margaret Olley’s house, built as part of the new Margaret Olley wing.
As I peer into the wonderfully chaotic and colourful collection of antiques, bric-a-brac, and everyday household objects, a word springs to mind – ‘cornucopia’. This really is like an alternative reality, where sculptures where missing arms have been replaced with beads, share space with a beautiful fluted glass, and a beaded cushion; where comfy chairs are still strewn with Olley’s jumpers, and where her tubes of paints, and jamjars of paintbrushes nestle up with the inevitable ashtray – which is even full of cigarette butts.
It’s a strange feeling, seeing something so perfectly realised, right down to the outside of Duxford Street, where Olley’s house was located in Sydney’s Paddington, with it’s no parking/standing sign, and the exact dimensions of her several kitchens, filled with recognisable objects from several of her paintings.
For here was a person for whom life was indistinguishable from her art. Her life was her art – she lived and breathed her painting, evolving, as Gallery Director Susi Muddiman said to me, “through several changes during the course of her career, until she arrived at the last few years of her life, and the truly masterful paintings she created during that time. She uses all the classic techniques of a still-life painter – the use of drapery, light and shadow, colour and perspective – she is the equal of any painter in the genre.”
To get to the house, you pass through the Olley exhibition which in itself is a treat for the senses. There is even a corner set up with a wonderful juxtaposition of the old and the new – old-fashioned still life set-ups and a collection of iPads so that visitors can try their hand at creating an Olley-style masterpiece.
With the addition of the new wing, this wonderfully eclectic installation, the Olley exhibition, additional space for the café and parking, and the inclusion of an artist-in-residence studio, the Tweed Gallery is an absolute must-visit.