For his fourth solo exhibition at the Michael Gibson Gallery, Erik Olson presents a deeply personal group of portrait paintings that depict his peers, close friends, and the artist himself.
Through expansive vivid color, fragmented line, and diversity in scale, these paintings portray the self in myriad ways. Combining realism with abstraction, layering and constructing, Olson balances the empirical characteristics of the sitter with a search for the spiritual.
There is a mask-like or illusory quality to many of these paintings. From the solid fields of colour to the floral looping lines of face-paint to the pictograms on a tattooed back, Olson covers or conceals the identity of each sitter: the mask framing the architecture of the face. In this new work, he plays with what is painted, what is described and what can be layered over each image. The figure, and by extension, the persona of each sitter, becomes something in the making, in revision, in-flux and open to reinterpretation.
Surprisingly, each painting still communicates a clear psychology and likeness of the sitter. The work finds parallels with contemporary technology and current events yet the paintings also exude a grounding calmness, something as ancient and timeless as the drawing of the face.
Born in Calgary in 1982, Erik Olson graduated from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2007. The following years after university, Olson travelled extensively, studying painting at artist residencies in Canada, Italy and India. Olson self-curated his first solo show in an abandoned gas station in 2008.
Since then, his paintings have been recognized by curators and galleries which has led to exhibitions at the Glenbow Museum, MOCA Calgary, Art Gallery of Calgary and the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Union Gallery.
In 2012, his painting, “The Skateboarder”, was included in the BP Portrait Award exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, UK, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, UK.
In 2014, Olson moved to Düsseldorf, Germany to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf as Peter Doig’s guest student. Since then, he has stayed in Dusseldorf where he has set up a steady studio practice.
Olson's artwork is in the collections of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, McCarthy Tetrault LLP, Richard Ivey School of Business and TD Bank.