Emerging Kendall Student Margeret Olson

by Zachary Johnson

Before the 20th century, finding oneself as an artist was more straightforward than today. Generally one adopted the standard media, techniques, and styles of the culture in which one lived. In this way art forms like Byzantine mosaics, Japanese print-making, and Arabic calligraphy became visual traditions spanning centuries. Today, with the possibiites for art-making expanded dramatically, deciding what kind of artist one will become is a bit more complicated. The decision is a personal one, generally cultivated through years of study. Throughout art school and beyond, art students search and experiment, working to pin down their style and focus. However, when we look at the work of an established artist, this journey is invisible to us. We often wonder, “How did they get here? Out of the endless varieties of styles, subjects, and media available to them, how did they choose these?” To gain perspective on these questions, it’s useful to take a step backward and look at the work of an art student like Margaret Olson. While Olson and many other students share the raw talent of an established artist, unlike them, they are still working to find their voices. In her collages, paintings, and drawings, Olson tests out new compositions, distills her past and present experiences, reacts to the greater world, and lays down materials intuitively. Afterward, she takes a step back. “You can create the work not knowing where it’s coming from but [afterward] you are faced with it,” She said to me. “You know, you put something down on paper, and then you have to learn about that portion of yourself. If it came from an authentic place, you should be able to delve a bit deeper.”

Margaret Olson, Figure Study, 2014

Margaret Olson, Figure Study, 2014. Graphite and copic marker on paper, 18″x 24″

Through creating work, Olson has found a variety of themes in which she’s interested. Looking at one work in which each figure had blackened feet, I asked her why she’d made that visual decision. She explained, “I am interested in the things that we want to hide, and I thought about wearing shoes. Most of the figures are interacting and experiencing the same energy but also are at fault.”

Explaining a separate piece she said, “[With this piece] I had lost the person who I had spent the most time with me. I think about now, the weight it holds sharing your story with somebody else or to have your story be somebody else’s for a short period of time, whether you’re dating them or not. [I think about] the value in being alone and knowing yourself first. A lot of my work seems really lonely. A lot of the figures are very alone.

Margaret Olson, Untitled, 2015

Margaret Olson, Untitled, 2015, mixed media on mylar, 15″x 17″

My work now is an investigation in valuing womanhood and individualism and trying to see everyone as coming from a specific place. There’s so much that goes behind every interaction you have. You’re bringing so many memories into [each one]. It’s almost like the pinnacle of your life at that moment. Everything you’ve ever done lays out to right now. And how do you communicate effectively without losing the other person in the conversation?”

Commenting on her move towards abstraction in her work, she explained, “ I want [the viewer] to think about their own body. I want them to think about humanity. What keeps us together? What binds us? And what binds them? And to who? I think a lot about communication between two humans, and the value we place on sharing a story. And how close that can actually bring two people together.”

Margaret Olson, In the Drip, 2015. Collage and watercolor on matboard, 15

Margaret Olson, In the Drip, 2015. Collage and watercolor on matboard, 15″x 20″

In statements like these and the visual progression of Olson’s work, one can see themes emerge that might remain a part of her artwork for years: abstraction, combining visual textures, relationships, individualism, and human interaction, to name a few. Some artists hold onto specific styles and ideas for their whole careers, like Piet Mondrian or Roy Lichtenstein. Other artists eventually make a drastic change in style and subject, while still others produce widely varied work throughout their lives. Time will tell what kind of artist Olson and other students like her will become, but in the meantime, it’s fascinating to catch a glimpse of her work as she refines her voice. I wonder, how will it sound when it breaks?

Posts by Zachary Johnson are also available via instagram and tumblr under the name Vis Ed.

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