Bernard Ollis is one of those painters who elude easy categorization. This is at best a mixed blessing, because art historians love to be able to define an artist as an expressionist, a realist, a surrealist, or some plausible combination. Ollis is a little of each, but ultimately none of the above. He is a figurative painter, but like most established artists is willing to admit that all art is abstract.
He is a painter of people, but with none of the angst and pessimism that seem to be standard features of those artists who spend their careers studying the Human Condition. There is a lot of humour in Ollis’s work, but none of the smug, all-pervasive irony beloved of the Postmodernists. He is, in short, an awkward proposition, and his paintings revel in a kind of studied awkwardness.
Ollis is a narrative painter, but each picture is nothing more than a fragment. He will begin with a simple setting such as a bedroom, a street, or a patio, and gradually add the dramatis personae and details. A work develops its own momentum, with objects, people or animals multiplying as if by spontaneous generation. While Ollis may begin with a specific idea, by the time the painting is finished it has usually metamorphosed into something quite different.
Extract from an essay by John McDonald art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald.
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