Notable Artist Profile: Erik Olson

Have you ever stood in front of a painting and felt like the subject might jump off the canvas and onto the gallery floor? This is how you feel when you look at one of Erik Olson’s oil paintings. The talented young artist takes traditional portraiture to the next level with his use of rich colours and dynamic brushwork. There is a clear cubist inspiration in Olson’s work, meaning that conventional notions of time and space are completely thrown out the window. Instead of just capturing the still life of a sitter, Olson deconstructs portraits and rebuilds them as vibrant mosaics that have come to life. He already has a pretty impressive list of exhibitions under his belt, his work having been displayed at the Glenbow, the Art Gallery of Calgary, the National Portrait Gallery of England, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The busy painter was able to take a break from preparing for his next exhibition to talk a little bit about his muses and where to find the best cup of coffee in Calgary. 

Homegrown in Calgary or Transplant?
Born and partly raised in Calgary. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I also lived in Nairobi, Boston, Winnipeg, and then moved to Vancouver to enroll at the Emily Carr University.

What is your creative process like? 
I follow my curiosity. A body of work will often begin with a simple interest or question, from there I’ll go in for a closer look. In order for me to paint something, I have to know it quite well, so the need to make the paintings ends up taking me to some pretty interesting places. When I begin a body of work, there is a time for looking and researching, but at some point, once I’ve gathered enough source material, I enter the studio and I begin painting. While the paint is wet I work quite quickly, often finishing a painting in a day. I try not to question as much at this point and just accept the way the material articulates the subject.

How does Calgary inspire your art? 
There’s a sort of youthful enthusiasm to the city that I find inspiring. For someone working in the visual arts, it feels like there’s lots of room to grow; like we haven’t hit the ceiling yet. It’s also the surrounding landscape and the climate that I love. Calgary has so many clear skies that the light is really crisp and sharp. I think there’s something in the quality of light that‘s positive for my paintings. It’s been a good year in Calgary, in that I’ve been living here making paintings of my local friends, but I’ve also been exhibiting the paintings in many other places: Vancouver, New York, London. By having the paintings travelling for me, it has cut down on my wanderlust.

Any other muses we can know about? 
I try to put as much of my life in my work as possible. I look to my friends for inspiration, the surrounding landscape, the city, and clear skies at night… my muses are quite diverse.

Do you take on commissioned work? 

Where’s your go-to spot for a cup of Joe? 
That would have to be Cafe Beano.

Where can we see your work? 
I have an upcoming solo show opening at BravinLee programs New York, October 25th, 2013.