Tim Olsen: Son of the Brush

‘Quixotic’ is a go-to and apt term used by author Tim Olsen in ‘Son of the Brush’, a memoir amidst one Australia’s most eminent bohemian families. He muses on the relatable milestones of his life from the politics of the schoolyard, the gamut love runs, sobriety, crafting a career and parenting. The relentless pursuit of an ideal is unique to an individual let alone a clan so the spark in this title is surely the unique accounts of how Tim, John Olsen, Louise Olsen and Valerie Strong have strived for a rich life.

‘Son of the Brush’ refers to both parents; he dotes on formative times with Dad and lauds his success but positions his Mother as the celebrated centre. Valerie is adoringly portrayed as both Mother and Artist – Tim is working on a biography come monograph on her achievements.

Tim is an bon vivant of a storyteller and it is easy to slip into a voyeuristic appreciation of boozy lunches, love and loss, art world disputes, gossip and the drama of his and family experiences at home and as they bounce from magical, dull and major moments in inner city Sydney, regional New South Wales and European sojourns.

The book follows a fairly linear narrative and pleasingly (unavoidably) personal and art history run in parallel and intersect lending a nuanced account of the advent of modernism in Australia, its artists, dealers and gallerists beside the development of Tim’s journey thus far. This tapestry creates points of entry for an art-initiated reader and one with human interest.

However, the most compelling thread is Tim’s attention to the mostly ineffable inner life of an artist. He contemplates what drives a creative spirit, in the bursts of luscious inspiration to sustaining decades of work. In doing so we see that process thrives beyond the canvas; it is found in cooking, music, sex, communal living, yoga, a deep appreciation for the Australian bush and the temerity to pursue your vision.

There is a lot packed into 459 pages and together it’s an inspiration to get out there and live, or as Tim concludes ‘F*ck art, let’s dance!’


Tim Olsen
Allen & Unwin
Purchase here