1910 (Provo, Utah)
Photograph of Don Olsen
Often Known For
abstract expressionist painting, teaching
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following biography was complied by Donna Mae Peters Nunley, former student of the artist.|
Don Penrod Olsen was born in 1910 and died in Utah 1985. He made
Utah his home. Don was one of the most significant artists of
Utah to emerge with more of a direct line with radical modernism.
He was an art teacher at Jordan High School and the Art Barn, which
later became the Salt Lake Art Center. Olsen wanted to meld the
Utah School with national directions of abstract expressionism in art.
He bridged the early and later Utah generations of modernism most
effectively. Don worked through many of the abstract languages of
art more brutally, from “BRUSHED-ACTION PAINTING” (abstract
expressionism) to “HARD- EDGE” (minimalism). He fell in between
the lines of Gothic abstract painting. He understood the intent
of abstract expression better than anyother Utahn.
Abstraction #4 (1953, SF AC ) was exhibited at the Utah State Fair and purchased for the State despite wide spread controversy.
Olsen’s style became freer after he studied the summer of 1954 at Hans
Hofmanns School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 1955,
he exhibited at the Salt Lake Art Center with a one-man show developed
from his recent study with Hofmann. For a decade more, her would
be known solely for his “large thickly painted-with-muscle brushwork”,
With his painting, Don reached an immediacy, involvement, and energy
level seldom attained by his Utah peers. It is an explosively
vital work which attacks the viewer’s sensitivities with internal
expressiveness. His work protests the niceties of his colleagues
and escapes to art of a different nature at its most ferocious.
In Olsens words: “Painting is not and illusion. A painting can
only be itself; it does not simulate, borrow from, or pretend to be
anything outside itself. It is a real thing and its reality lies
in being itself. A painting reveals the internal expression of
the artist and has nothing to do with observation of visual facts”.
Following his marriage to Betty in 1962, Don did some of his most
outburst, feeling work. A series of canvases dominated by white
as positive shape, negative passage or ground, dripped line or textural
splatter. His colors are more often used unmixed, directly from
the tube, with reds still prominent and blues, greens and yellow
playing a secondary role.
In Oct of 1966, after a dozen years of “push and pull” of “force and
counterforce”, “hazard and tension” of abstract expression, Olsen the
“Great Introducer” surprised Utah with a new direction in his art when
he exhibited fifteen “hard-edge” works at the Phillips Gallery in Salt
Lake City. He replaced his method of “action-painting” with the
architectural precision of masking tape, spraypaint and flat
acrylic. If his work in the early sixties projected raw power,
then cool intellectualism might describe his later work.
Some of his paintings are in the main collection of art at the Springville Art Museum.
At Jordan High School, Don Olsen was my art teacher in 1956-57.
Later I studied Art under Don Olsen at the Art Barn in 1958. His
view on art and expression has had an lasting effect on me. His
lesson was to feel free to put anything, any color, on the
canvas. I worked with brushes, toothbrushes, wirebrushes,
fingers, crushed eggshells, and anything I could think of to make the
canvas express my feelings. THATS WHAT HE WANTED A TOTAL FREE
UTAH ART by Swanson-Olpin-Seifrit (1991) Whimore Library 709.792
Note from Donna Nunley:
"When I did Don Olsen's history I found out he played the violin very
well. So did my dad. When I did histories on the older 'masters'
a very lot of them played the violin. It didn’t seem to matter if they
were abstract, realistic, etc. This must have a connection to art
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