John Wolseley

J o h n   W o l s e l e y

The Life of Inland Waters, Durabudboi River

I see myself as a curious mix of artist and scientist who relates the minutiae of the natural world – leaf, feather and beetle wing – to the abstract dimensions of the earth’s dynamic systems.

My large-scale works on paper, watercolours and installations are often based around scientific themes, like the movement of tides or sand dunes or even the forces of continental drift and evolution. My tendency to immerse myself in a landscape has given rise to a variety of different ways of collaborating with the land itself. For the last decade, this has involved moving paper against burnt trees and shrubs to harvest the amazing black marks and scratches left by the carbonised wood. But now it seems I have again left the dry desert country for bogs and river plains where the medium of watercolour can be pushed to its uttermost pooling, flooding and swampy limits.

A painter, printmaker and installation artist, John Wolseley was born in Somerset, England. He attended St. Martins School of Art between 1957 and 1958 before studying printmaking at the Byam Shaw School of Art from 1958 to 1963, having worked for a time with renowned printmaker Stanley W. Hayter in Paris. Since relocating to Australia in 1976, he has travelled extensively throughout this continent, being currently based in Whipstick Forest, Bendigo, Victoria.

Wolseley has been artist-in-residence at Deakin University, Geelong; the Joye Art Foundation, the Art Gallery of Western Australia and George Cottage, Launceston, and has taught painting in Northern Territory communities since 1978.

He has had numerous solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra and survey exhibitions of his work have been held at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the University of Melbourne and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Tasmania. His work has been included in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne.

Among his many art awards are the Art Gallery of NSW Trustees’ Watercolour Prize (1982, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004), the Alice Prize (1982, 1985, 1988, 1996, 2004) and the 1992 Kedumba Drawing Award. He was awarded a bicentennial commission from the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1988, a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship in 2003, an Honorary PhD in Science from Macquarie University, Sydney, and the Emeritus Medal from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council in 2005.


His work is represented in numerous collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; most state galleries; Parliament House, Canberra; several regional and tertiary collections and internationally in collections in England and Yugoslavia.

A monograph on his work was published in 1998 and Lines for Birds, a collection of artworks accompanied by poetry, was published in 2011. His work was also the subject of Sasha Grishin’s series of three volumes, John Wolseley Landmarks, published in 1999, 2006 and 2015, and Midawarr Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley, a companion book to the exhibition of the artists at the National Museum of Australia, was published in 2018.

John Wolseley has been a member of the Australian Watercolour Institute since 2010.

Copyright © Australian Watercolour Institute