Ole Nielsen

Ole Nielsen

Nestling in the lush rainforest at the eastern end of Kangaroo Valley (about 2 hours drive south of Sydney) is the workshop of ceramist and sculptor Ole Nielsen. As this consists of little more than homemade lean-tos, with bare dirt floors and walls open to the elements, it is surprising that works of art with such purity of line and elegance emerge from this primitive environment. Nielsen has divided his small workspace into a ceramic area, with a wheel, shelves, buckets of glaze and all the paraphernalia of pottery, a kiln room, and a wood-working space with various saws, benches, cupboards for storing timber and the many carving and shaping tools that are essential to the sculptor and furniture maker. In such idyllic yet primitive surroundings, Nielsen prefers to work outdoors soaking up the sun, though with the area generally averaging 90 inches of rain per year, continuous outdoor activity is an impossibility.

To truly understand how this artist works one first needs to look at his unusual history. Not for him the safe and secure world of the big city, but the challenge of the third world. Ever since completing art school in Copenhagen in 1969, Nielsen has been a traveller, living for more than a year in eleven different countries, working for the Danish government, the ILO and the United Nations (setting up ceramic workshops) in places as diverse as Swaziland, Nepal, Trinidad, Bangladesh and Cameroun. He is used to making the most of primitive working conditions.

Since returning to Australia in 1996 he has transformed himself from a potter into a sculptor. This happened partly due to the inevitable waiting times involved in pottery – drying, firing, glazing and final firing – which mean that it can take up to a month (depending on the weather) to see a finished piece. There is also a limited market for handmade bowls and vases, no matter how beautiful they are. Imported production pottery is well-made and very cheap, with pieces often selling for less than the cost of the raw materials. The appeal of sculpture lies in the speed of the work by comparison, and that weather doesn’t interfere with the process of carving. Nielsen loves working with wood, and enjoys the excitement of responding to the structure and grain of the wood he prefers: Huon Pine and Red Cedar. The differences between each block to be carved ensure that every piece is unique. He is thrilled by the age of the wood – the Huon Pine blocks are often from very slow-growing Tasmanian trees that are thousands of years old.

Nielsen also makes furniture, especially tables, and enjoys seeing his pieces being used. His tables are strong and elegant, made to his own rustic design but with the detailed finish one knows from his sculpture. To run one’s hand over his table-tops is a pleasant experience.

In all his work Nielsen is striving to find an inner peace and calmness. His sculpture is uncluttered but communicative. Even the works of his that look to be abstract are, when examined, based on some aspect of the real world, but pared back to the essential lines. His forms are alluring and people always want to touch them. A feature of his work is the finish – he avoids sharp edges and likes to spend hours sanding his sculptures until they have a satiny smooth finish. This is an important element in the sense of restraint that they convey.

Ole Nielsen likes to relax by fishing. He regularly goes to the Snowy Mountains to fish for trout in Lake Eucumbene, and also enjoys fishing in the local lake in Kangaroo Valley. He uses his own boat, a wooden handmade rowing boat that he completed in 1998.

Born in Denmark in 1946, Ole Nielsen studied at the Academy of Art in Aarhus and the School of Art and Craft in Copenhagen. He has worked in ceramics and sculpture since 1969 from workshops in Ireland, France, Norway and Australia. Ole has also been periodically engaged as a ceramic expert for Danida and the United Nations in South Africa, Swaziland, Nepal, Bangladesh and Trinidad. From 1976 to 1984 and from 1995 to the present he has lived in Australia in the picturesque Kangaroo Valley in the Southern Highlands of NSW.

Ole’s work is held in many important public collections, including the Faenza Museum (Italy), the Australian Industrial Development Corporation (ACT), the NSW Premiers Department, Commonwealth Banking Corporation (Sydney), the Art Gallery of Western Australia, as well as private collections in Europe, Australia and the USA.

His trademark figures are called ‘Meditations’, and are seated figures projecting a sense of calm and peace in our frenetic technology-driven world. Cast bronze ‘Meditations’ result in elegant figures which make an oasis of calm in the garden. Ole also creates ‘Meditation’ pieces in Tasmania’s unique and richly-grained Huon pine timber.