Darleen Bungey - Author Q & A

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5 minutes with Darleen Bungey

Darleen BungeyOriginally a copywriter in Australian, American and UK advertising, Darleen Bungey worked as an associate editor and freelance journalist for a number of prestigious British-based magazines while she raised a family in London. In 1999 she began researching and writing a biography of Arthur Boyd, both for publication and as a doctorate.

What was the last good book you read?

The last great book I read was The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

Do you have a favourite Library?

Trinity College Library in Dublin is one. Woollahra Library, being the first library I ever belonged to, is another. My grandmother would dress me up and we would travel a short distance on the tram. It was a real outing. The sight of the long steep entrance stairway and leadlight windows never fails to bring back the excitement of those visits, and the thrill of my books being stamped.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever read about yourself or your work?

On my convent school report card, Sister Maureen memorably wrote: “Darleen takes her punishment so well, I feel obliged to give her more”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My mother’s advice for combating all manner of ills: “Just get on with it”.

What drew you to the subject matter of your latest book?

I attended an exhibition of John Olsen at the Olsen Gallery in Woollahra and I was in awe at the vitality and brilliance of the works that had been produced by a man in his eightieth year. The amazing thing is that six years on he is still creating wonderful paintings – still in his studio, wanting and needing to work everyday.

Want to know more about John Olsen: An Artist's Life?

John OlsenThis landmark biography by Darleen Bungey, the author of the celebrated biography of Arthur Boyd, graphically depicts the forces that drove John Olsen to become one of the country's greatest artists. An exhilarating book, both trenchant and tender, it strips away the veneer of showmanship and fame to show the substance of a painter driven by a need to depict his country's landscape as Australians had never seen it before.

Given access to his uncensored diaries and drawing on years of extensive interviews with both Olsen and those who have known him best, she explores his passionate life and follows his navigation though the friendships, rivalries and politics of the Australian art world. How did a shy, stuttering boy from Newcastle, neglected by his alcoholic father, come to paint the great mural Salute to Five Bells at the Sydney Opera House?

This biography follows that journey - through Olsen's early experiences in the bush, particularly a formative period at Yass (a time previously unrecorded), to years of cleaning jobs to pay his way through art school, to a milestone time spent in France and Spain - and traces his constant travels and relocations within Australia, including his epic journeys into the outback and to Kati thanda-Lake Eyre.

From a child who was never taken to an art gallery, who learnt how to draw from comics, we come to see the famous artist in the black beret, the writer and poet, the engaging public speaker, the bon vivant - whose life has been defined by an absolute need to paint.

John Olsen: An Artist's Life is published by Harper Collins Australia and available now