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 Marla Olmstead  (2000 - )

About: Marla Olmstead


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: abstract painting

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Ad Code: 4
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Notable for the artistic recognition she has received at her tender age, Marla Olmstead is a child artist whose abstract images are already selling for thousands of dollars apiece and have attracted international attention.  At age four, Marla Olmstead has impressed people in New York with paintings that some say have similarities to the styles of Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky.

Born in Johnson City, New York, in February, 2000, Marla began painting at the age of one.  At two, she was creating large works on canvas. Her first exhibition, "All Kinds of Color", was held at a Binghamton, New York coffeehouse when she was just three years old.  Only a year later, she had her own website, has become a topic for journalists, and is even made it to the BBC news.

Her father, Mark Olmstead, a manager of a Frito-Lay plant, now acts as her 'assistant', but was actually the first artist in the house.  An amateur painter himself, Olmstead says "you know how some parents put their kids in front of a TV to keep them occupied?  Well, I let her paint, so I could paint." She first picked up a brush at one, painting on an easel.  Then her dad would put her on top of the dining room table and let her paint on canvases. "Soon after, I was letting her paint and I was watching", Olmstead says.

Her mother, Laura Olmstead, who works part time as a receptionist, had a hard time with Marla's first sale.  Customers in a coffee shop asked to buy her first large canvas which was on display, and Laura priced it high, $250, hoping it wouldn't sell, as she had a sentimental attachment to it.  The painting sold the first day.

Marla's recent works, some as large as 6' X 6', feature bolts of color and depth.  She blends the raw strokes of a child with a surprising sense of balance, form, and a sometimes atmospheric composition.

"Four", her latest exhibition, opened at a Central New York City gallery in August, 2004.  After a local newspaper did a feature about her, Marla's opening at a second gallery attracted almost 2,000 people, including her preschool teacher.  Brunelli, the gallery owner, who is a former classmate of Marla's father and himself a painter, creates photorealistic works.  He was drawn to a work by Marla that had been purchased by a friend of his, and afterwards learned it was by a toddler, the child of his old schoolmate.  He is quoted as saying "I think Marla is as gifted as any child I've ever seen. I don't think she's aware of what she's doing. I think it comes from within."

Marla Uses bright acrylic paints, which she brushes, splatters and scrapes on large canvases to create her art. Sometimes she works on one piece for days at a time. When she decides she is finished, she gives her paintings names such as 'Dinosaur'.

Her parents have said that in the beginning people bought her work without knowing her age.  Now some buy it precisely because of her age. Already she has made close to high-dollar amounts from her paintings, her paintings are already held in private collections as far away as Japan, including that of California businessman and collector Stuart Simpson, who with his wife also owns works by such names as Manet, Monet, Frederick Hart, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Illustrious company for a four year old.

In 2007, when Marla Olmstead was seven, controversy persisted that her paintings, were in fact, done by her father.  The TV program, 60 Minutes, added to such rumors, and the movie, My Kid Could Paint That, by Amir Bar-Lev, stirs the discussion and "offers no easy answers---but it will leave you debating them for hours." (Kelly)

Michelle York, "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl -4 Actually" New York Times
website of BBC News World Edition
Christopher Kelly, "Kid doesn't paint decisive picture", Get-Out, Phoenix, AZ, November 1, 2007,  p. 16. (Article from McClatchy Newspapers)

Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

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