The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness is a masterful allegorical tale for the 21st century, weaving together the worlds of literature, music and visual art in the poignant story of one boy’s journey into mental illness. Audiences are offered a mesmerising visual and auditory tour de force about beauty and resilience, society and belief, that at its heart expresses hope for a greater understanding and embracing of difference.

The narrative unfolds around the metaphor of a tree growing within the boy, whose flower is ecstasy and whose fruit is sadness. 

This luminous, multi-faceted work is inspired by the experiences of its award-winning creator, Matt Ottley, who has lived with bipolar disorder all his life and been hospitalised on numerous occasions in mental health facilities. Having personally experienced the prejudices and challenges that come from suffering a mental illness, Matt’s aim is to offer a sensory insight through words, music and images into the experiences of those who suffer from such debilitating illnesses, particularly psychosis.

At the heart of the work is a 50-minute orchestral composition by Matt Ottley (with guest composition by Alf Demasi), performed by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno, tenor Ben Reynolds and narrated by Tina Wilson.

This book comes with a CD recording and download link of the musical work, which forms part of this multi-modal work.

Author | Illustrator | Composer

MATT OTTLEY is a polymath: an author, artist, composer and musician who is best known for the 40 or so books for children and young adults he has illustrated, written, or both. His most recent picture book, How to make a bird (with Meg McKinlay), was the winner of the CBCA’s Picture Book of the Year Award and joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Literature.

As a composer, and an Endorsed Yamaha musician, Matt has written scores for many of his picture books, which have been performed by orchestras and musicians across Australia and internationally. 

This work is part of Ottley’s inter-modal initiative, The Sound of Picture BooksTM.

Book Reviews

It’s heartbreaking and heart-making. Just beautiful.  

Ed Le Brocq, ABC Classic

A soaring and heartbreaking multimedia vision. Wow!

Susan Wyndham – Former Literary Editor, Sydney Morning Herald

The Film

MATT OTTLEY has also created a 50-minute film of this work which is being screened at selected events/festivals upon request. Through his “Ken Burns”-like cinematic treatment he invites viewers to slow down, reflect, and immerse themselves into a world of beauty and wonder.

Below is a trailer for the film.

Film Reviews

‘It was both a privilege and heart-rending joy to attend the launch of The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness by Matt Ottley at the Chauvel Cinema in Sydney’s Paddington last night. The movie of the work, composed by Matt and performed by a full orchestra and choir, was a superlative rendition of the book. Matt’s unmatched genius came to the fore as we viewed this peerless work.’ 
Joy Lawn – Magpies Magazine

The Exhibition

MATT OTTLEY has created 74 large artworks for The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness and these are available in their original format for exhibition in full, or in part. The artworks include large scale oil paintings and mixed media artworks. Click here for enquiries.

Resource & Study Notes

Matt Ottley has written two sets of comprehensive resource notes for this work, one for the text and images, and the other for the music component. He has made these available for free from his website. Click here to download these valuable resources.