Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is now home to a magnificent five-metre wide tapestry, Life Burst, by one of Australia’s most celebrated contemporary artists, John Olsen AO OBE.

Victorian Premier The Hon. Daniel Andrews today unveiled the tapestry at Peter Mac’s new home within the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) building.

Commissioned specifically for Peter Mac, Life Burst was brought to life by the renowned weavers and dyer at the Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW). 

It will be enjoyed by the tens of thousands of patients who are treated and cared for at Peter Mac each year, as well Peter Mac’s staff of around 2,500 that work in the building. 

John Olsen is a highly acclaimed Australian artist. The 88-year-old won the Archibald Prize in 2015 and is perhaps best known for his Salute to Five Bells mural which hangs in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House.

Woven by five talented weavers over 1,200 hours at the ATW in South Melbourne, Life Burst comprises warm and bright hues of orange, yellow and red; with touches of green and purple – including several new custom-made tones of orange developed by the ATW’s yarn dyer. 

Mr Olsen spent time touring Peter Mac’s research labs and talking to researchers about their work before commencing Life Burst, which he says reflects the shapes of the VCCC building's architectural design and atrium.

“The new Peter Mac building has an imagery that is expressive of optimism and progress – my aim was to capture this feeling for patients and visitors to the centre to enjoy up close or from afar,” said Mr Olsen.

The tapestry has been installed in a public space on Level 2 of Peter Mac where it will remain on permanent display as the latest addition to the Peter Mac Art Collection, which is now being installed throughout public spaces in the VCCC building.   

Chief Executive Ms Dale Fisher says the Olsen tapestry will be the centrepiece of Peter Mac’s collection of over 800 artworks donated to the cancer centre since 1998, including two John Olsen works on paper.   

“We see every day how art can help cancer patients and families through their treatments and the healing process,” says Ms Fisher.

“We feel deeply privileged to be able to house this incredible work created for our patients, carers, families and visitors to our centre. We have no doubt that it, along with our broader art collection, will bring joy, hope and comfort to our patients during their time with us.

“And of course we are so thankful for the vision of the tapestry’s commissioning partners who are committed to bringing priceless works of art, such as this, to public spaces.”

Unveiling of Life Burst, a new tapestry by John Olsen for Peter Mac
Unveiling of Life Burst, a new tapestry by John Olsen for Peter Mac

Funding for the tapestry was made possible due to the generosity of the Australian Hotels Association, Mrs Anne Robertson and Mr Mark Robertson OAM, and Mrs Janet Calvert-Jones AO and Mr John Calvert-Jones AM.

Life Burst is the 9th collaboration between the Australian Tapestry Workshop and John Olsen.

“Olsen is an artist who not only realises the creative potential of the tapestry medium, but also designs specifically for tapestry, following in the footsteps of some of the greatest artists in history,” says Ms Antonia Syme, Director of the Australian Tapestry Workshop. 

John Olsen's work is represented in all Australian state gallery collections, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and regional galleries Australia-wide. He is also represented in institutional, corporate and private collections in Australasia, United Kingdom, Europe and the USA.

Watch the video of Life Burst being made: