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John Olsen and Curiious, Lighting of the Sails: Life Enlivened (2023), digital render. Co-commissioned by Destination NSW and Sydney Opera House.

Lighting of the Sails

Life Enlivened by John Olsen and Curiious

26 May – 17 June

Australian artist John Olsen’s vibrant paintings of life and energy within the natural world illuminates the Sydney Opera House’s sails in 2023 as part of Vivid Sydney.

Distilling the essence of Olsen’s esteemed career, spanning over sixty years, the animated artwork Lighting of the Sails: Life Enlivened spotlights Olsen’s enduring interest and fascination with Australian nature and landscape. Through images selected by curator Dr. Deborah Hart and animated by creative technologists Curiious, Life Enlivened (2023) celebrates the propulsive power of Olsen’s painterly brush to envision the natural world anew.

Screenings from 6pm to 11pm Click + to view daily scheduled times.

Friday 26 May, 6pm

Saturday 27 May, 6pm

Sunday 28 May, 6pm

Monday 29 May, 6pm

Tuesday 30 May, 6pm

Wednesday 31 May, 6pm

Thursday 1 June, 6pm

Friday 2 June, 6pm

Saturday 3 June, 6pm

Sunday 4 June, 6pm

Monday 5 June, 6pm

Tuesday 6 June, 6pm

Wednesday 7 June, 6pm

Thursday 8 June, 6pm

Friday 9 June, 6pm

Saturday 10 June, 6pm

Sunday 11 June, 6pm

Monday 12 June, 6pm

Tuesday 13 June, 6pm

Wednesday 14 June, 6pm

Thursday 15 June, 6pm

Friday 16 June, 6pm

Saturday 17 June, 6pm

Free event

Lighting of the Sails: Life Enlivened (2023) by John Olsen and Curiious is a free event for everyone to enjoy.

Make the most of your Opera House experience and explore the Vivid LIVE lineup featuring original Australian premieres, one-off projects and unmissable performances from Australian artists, alongside select global acts, emerging voices and Sydney’s vibrant local communities who amplify the nation’s culture. 

Suitable for all ages

Young people under the age of 15 must be accompanied at all times.

“In your life you’ve got to have luck. To have this opportunity, I appreciate it very much. I can’t wait for overseas people and all Australians to see Vivid. God, I’m a lucky dog.” 
Dr John Olsen
Play media

Press play to watch video

Meet the Team

Curiious Project Team

CEO: Michelle Schuberg
Creative Director: Fabio Nardo
Creative Director: Christian J Heinrich
Lead Artist: Christian J Heinrich
Senior Producer: Jo Yates
Director of Operations: Karen Arkell

Artistic Curator: Dr. Deborah Hart
with special thanks to Tim Olsen and Kylie Norton. 

Meet the Artists

Dr John Olsen

Working for the past six decades, Dr John Olsen is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. Central to his painting of the Australian landscape is his propulsive painted line that takes its cue from Paul Klee’s idea of ‘taking line for a walk’, as well as the notion that making art is akin to forming, ‘like a plant or a living organism’. Olsen received an Order of Australia (AO) in 2001. In 1977 he was awarded the OBE for services to the Arts and in 1993 he was awarded an Australian Creative Fellowship. He was awarded the Wynne Prize in 1969 and 1985, the Sulman Prize in 1989 and the Archibald Prize in 2005 amongst many other awards throughout his career. He has also received an honorary doctorate of letters from both the University of NSW (2003) and the University of Newcastle (2011).

Dr Deborah Hart

Dr Deborah Hart is the Henry Dalrymple Head Curator of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Australia. She curated John Olsen’s first retrospective in 1991 for the National Gallery of Victoria, also shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She has written numerous acclaimed publications including the monograph John Olsen (first published in 1991 by Craftsman House, later by Thames and Hudson), shortlisted for a New South Wales Literary Award and reprinted several times.

Since commencing in 2000 as a senior curator at the National Gallery in Canberra she has curated numerous exhibitions including Joy Hester and friends, Grace Cossington Smith: a retrospective, Andy and Oz: parallel visions shown at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Arthur Boyd: agony and ecstasy, Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons, Fiona Hall in context (to accompany Wrong Way Time from the Venice Biennale), and Hugh Ramsay. She also recently co-curated the exhibition Jeffrey Smart with Rebecca Edwards and Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now with Elspeth Pitt. She is currently working on a retrospective exhibition and publication on the widely travelled artist Ethel Carrick which will open in 2024.

“As an artist coming into his own in the early 1960s after time spent in Spain, Olsen was struck by the dynamism of Sydney Harbour intersecting with the metropolis – pulsing with light and life. From this point on luminosity and water are recurring sources of inspiration. In Sydney Sun (1965), rays of the sun reach out from the glowing circular orb encompassing all life, while in the Sydney Opera House commission Salute to Five Bells (1971-73), we are taken into a dream-like nocturnal space with emblematic images, inspired by Kenneth Slessor’s poem Five bells (1939).

When he travelled over time with environmentalists and filmmakers to regional Australia, Olsen discovered fertile habitats such as lily ponds; the inspiration of birds and frogs invigorating his line which seems to leap and fly in tandem with these agile creatures. Subsequent flights that he took over vast areas of the country reveal rivers running, like those pulsing through the Channel Country to Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre, animating his drawn and painted lines afresh and opening into watery expanses.

Olsen’s drawings are often as succinct as haiku poems, while his paintings at times inhabit space with swathes of luminous floating colour energised by myriad signs of life. His poetic vision seems made for the idea of Vivid Sydney, enlivening the way we see the world around us and reminding us that art, poetry and environment can coexist quite naturally.”

– Dr Deborah Hart


Curiious create award-winning immersive experiences to engage, entertain and educate global audiences. The drive to improve communications and create memorable interactive experiences leads Curiious' work in creativity and technology. Yarrkalpa - Hunting Ground (2021) by the Martu Artists and (Inspired by Yarrkalpa – Always Walking Country 2014) was executed for Vivid by the team at Curiious.

It is a privilege to create the jewel of the Vivid Sydney’s crown and pay tribute to one of Australia's most loved and most enduring artists, John Olsen. He holds a special place in the hearts of art lovers, capturing the energy, warmth and dynamism of the Australian landscape. We simply cannot wait for him and Vivid Sydney’s audiences to see his work come to life on such a meaningful canvas.”

– Curiious

Watch previous Lighting of the Sails

Lighting of the Sails 2022: Yarrkalpa - Hunting Ground

Two years in the making, this digital artwork projected onto the sails was created by Martumili Artists and Sydney-based creative technologists Curiious, bringing to life the Parnngurr community and its surrounding landscape, with a soundtrack by Electric Fields featuring the vocals of the Martu Artists.

Watch now

Lighting of the Sails, 'Austral Flora Ballet' by Andrew Thomas Huang at Vivid LIVE 2019, Vivid Sydney, Sydney Opera House

Watch all Lighting of the Sails from the past decade

The Sails have been lit with stunning artwork from the past decade, from groundbreaking visual studios to the sacred art of our First Nations people. Journey back and watch all of these artworks and learn about the creators behind them.

Watch now

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