NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Artist Mark Olson will display his abstract paintings Nov. 8 to 26 and Dec. 2 to 6 in the Fine Arts Center Gallery at Bethel College, North Newton. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and open to the public. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Olson remembers liking art materials when he was young. "By a very early age I was under the spell of the special sensual allure of art materials - all the smells and consistencies," Olson says. "Scotch tape gave me a feeling of well-being, and who doesn’t remember the sticky amber stream of LePages Mucilage cement flowing from the red rubber tip of the bottle?"
In elementary school he had the idea that he wanted to be an artist, "although I really wasn’t altogether sure what that meant." His aunt was an artist, his mother a talented draftsperson and watercolorist. He remembers a copy of a Robert Motherwell painting that hung in the family’s living room.
Olson received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Oregon State University in Corvallis and his master of fine arts degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. "In graduate school I had a teacher who would say that we, as artists, don’t choose art; it chooses us. There’s some truth to that. I guess I’d say that I haven't really been inspired to do art; there is just some art that needs me to do it."
While Olson admits to not having a favorite color ("it’s a joke around our house that I am never able to choose a favorite anything"), he will say that color is most important to him as an artist. "A possible way of looking at the Bethel show would be to consider only color, especially given that all 18 pieces are identical except for their colors. The meaning in the work is carried not so much by the individual paintings but by the relationships between the paintings in the room," he says.
Olson and his wife Stefanie, an art historian, live in Lawrence with their three daughters; Emma is 14, Annie 3, and Olive 1. He claims Stefanie is better at guiding his daughters through art projects because he can be domineering when he tries to help. "I love just raising them up, watching them grow. If any of them wants help mixing just the right color or drawing a nose so it looks right, I’m there to help."
Creating his own art is important to who Olson is as a person. "Every day art ideas stream through my mind," Olson says. "But for me to want to develop an idea, it has to pass a few tests. It has to be something I can make a lot of objects out of without getting bored; it has to be something other people might get something out of; and it has to be something I find both intuitively compelling and undomesticated.
"Doing art has a defining effect for me. If I stop doing art for a time, I become gradually less recognizable to myself," Olson says.