On Display: QAG, Gallery 17
Olive Ashworth is one of the few Australians, and the only Queensland-based artist, to contribute significantly to textile design in the mid twentieth century. Ashworth dedicated much time to studying the Great Barrier Reef from an underwater viewing observatory, producing pencil, gouache and watercolour sketches of the sublime displays of coral, shells and fish. These sketches were reproduced in tourist brochures and carefully repeated as patterned prints for textiles. Although influenced by graphic styles and high-key colour palettes of the time, her early work was quite faithful to what she observed on the reef. Her later work became more stylised, perhaps in keeping with Australia’s kitsch sensibility of the 1970s and 80s.
Born in Brisbane in 1915, Olive Ashworth was educated at the private girls’ school Somerville House, where she was taught art by Enid Dickson. After the death of her father, the family moved to Melbourne, where she studied commercial art at the Art Training Institute, completing the course by correspondence on her return to Brisbane. She ran Burns Philp’s art department before starting her own business in 1945, and Olive Ashworth Publicity Services lasted for over 20 years.1
Ashworth became involved in the promotion of Queensland’s burgeoning tourist industry, designing brochures for Surfers Paradise and the Reef Islands, and later for Townsville, Innisfail and Mackay. Inspired by the tropical north, and especially by the marine life of the Great Barrier Reef, she started to design her own textiles. In 1958-60, she was commissioned by a Swedish firm to produce a design based on the Great Barrier Reef, which retailed successfully in Europe. In 1971, she established her own design firm, which produced many furnishing and fashion fabrics.
Olive Ashworth is one of the few Australians, and the only Queensland-based artist, to contribute significantly to textile design in the 1950s.
1 Joan Kerr, ‘Olive Ashworth: Biography’, Design and Art Australia Online, www.daao.org.au/bio/olive-ashworth/biography/, 1995 (updated 2011), accessed 26 September 2017. Also, see Bronwyn Larner and Fran Considine, ‘A complementary caste: A homage to women artists’ in Queensland, Past and Present [exhibition catalogue], Centre Gallery, Surfers Paradise, Qld., 1988, p.71.