An other-worldly perspective
Local artist’s ‘Space’ explores a person’s place in the universe
Erik Olson is an artist who has lived in more locales than many people see in a lifetime—Boston and Nairobi to name a couple. A graduate of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, he has worked on projects in Italy, Chicago and Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympic Game. It would seem that his travels have influenced his work heavily and his newest works, entitled Space, will be on display at the Skew Gallery until Feb. 4.
The Reflector took some time to pick the brain of this intrepid creator:
‘Flec: How has living in Calgary affected your career and your work?
EO: I was born and partly raised in Calgary and, although I’m often on the road, Calgary has always acted as a place to return to. It’s where I’m from. After attending The Banff Centre a few years ago I moved back to Calgary and opened up an informal kind of DIY art gallery called IDEAL Art Space on 17th Avenue where I had my first painting show. After that exhibition, I was offered a show at The Art Gallery of Calgary and from there I started showing with the Skew Gallery.
‘Flec: After Out of India what was the inspiration behind Space?
EO: My previous show Out of India was based on a six-month motorcycle trip I took across India last year and the resulting paintings were an intense cacophony of colour, detail and a kind of violent confusion. The night that the Out of India show opened, I was up late with a friend and we watched as a brilliant moon rose in the sky.
I had an old telescope in the basement, so I brought it out, dusted it off and pointed it at the moon. The physicality and volume of the sphere, as well as the perfect simplicity of its shape really struck me. After the chaos of making the Out of India paintings, I was looking for a subject that would calm me down, suggest a larger order and expand my sense of reality.
‘Flec: What do you hope people who see this exhibit will take away from it?
EO: I think this show offers a way to get close to something that seems far away and unfamiliar. Before this series I hardly knew anything about outer space, but by going through the process of making the paintings I found a way to begin understanding the larger orders at the planetary scale. The bright colours and broad brushstrokes bear little resemblance to reality. Nevertheless, they are exactly that: they present us with a picture of something, and it’s something that really does exist. These are our planets. This is where we are.
I structured the show so that as you walk into the gallery you’re introduced to this motley crew of planets that make up the solar system. Farther into the gallery there is a large six-by-seven-foot painting called “The Gateway,” informed by NASA imagery of the farthest reaches of deep space. It’s essentially a representational painting of the most distant corner of human knowledge. I am trying to make visible what is known.
At the very back of the gallery you’re confronted with a large painting of Earth. After seeing the strangeness of the other planets I think almost anyone who stands in front of this large painting will feel a kind of familiarity and ownership towards it. It’s this feeling of connectivity that I was going for with this show. I wanted to move beyond the image of outer space as defined by science fiction and bring that same sense of discovery and wonder into the reality of the everyday. In my work I try to acknowledge that fact. I try to visualize the destructive side of reality, but also celebrate the gravity of things, the part that holds everything together.
‘Flec: How do you feel your travels and various homes contribute to your work? Especially in the light of the subject of this newest collection.
EO: I’ve been to a lot of different places in my life. There’s something about travel that keeps me in a constant state of arriving and I think this is a useful condition to be in as an artist.
For now though, I’m happy to be in my studio here in the Rocky Mountains. The open space of the large, old building and the relative solitude offers me the time to focus and paint on a larger scale than I have before. Walking back from the studio each night, with reduced light pollution I can easily see the stars.
This interview has been edited for length.