Find, Learn, Price Art
Enjoy the comprehensive art database we've compiled since 1987
Membership Details
Images, sales charts, bios, signatures, 30 artist Alerts and more ...
Art auction records:  Millions of references for pricing research
Or, register for Free Alerts
To track 10 artists.

Already a member?  Sign in here

Donald Penrod Olsen

 (1910 - 1985)
Donald Penrod Olsen was active/lived in Utah.  Donald Olsen is known for abstract expressionist painting, teaching.

Donald Penrod Olsen

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", or "brush-action-painting". 

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 EXPRESSION.

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 work."


** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Share an image of the Artist

  Full access to biographies is
  free each Friday
Photograph of Don Olsen

About  Donald Penrod Olsen

Born:  1910 - Provo, Utah
Died:   1985 - Utah
Known for:  abstract expressionist painting, teaching