Kent OH artist Scott Olson

Made in Kent
showcasing local talent!

                                                     An Interview with Scott Olson –  Lesley Sickle

Kent Ohio Artist Scott Olson intro recently had the pleasure of sitting down with artist Scott Olson in his downtown Kent studio  space. His studio overlooks the main street of Kent in a building above local businesses. We began our discussion with a bit about his history and how he arrived in Kent. He attended Alfred University in New York for his under-graduate studies. There he met his now wife, Gianna Commito, a full-time painting professor at Kent State University. After graduation, in 1999, Scott attended a residency
in Japan at the Center for Contemporary Art. During his two years there, he helped administratively and with curatorial duties. That opportunity put him in touch with interesting artists. He then went to New York in 2001, and due to his gallery connection, received a position at a fast-paced gallery. His job was a great way to start connections in the art community and New York scene.

Kent OH artist Scott Olson painting     Scott continued making his own work. Intricate
and sensitive to format and space, his small scale, meditative, therapeutic paintings were created in his cramped, small apartment in New York. His surroundings dictated the scale to some extent.
During that time, a co-worker and friend curated a show with young artists including Scott. One person saw his work, liked it and it took off from there. He was known as a trust worthy grunt worker at the gallery, and then was noticed for his own paintings. Soon, a low-key gallery offered him a solo show in New York. He has since had three exhibitions with them, with the most recent last spring. Scott feels lucky and thrilled to be in this situation.

    In 2006, Scott left New York to attend Graduate school. He and Gianna were committing to one another and in order to be closer to her, he chose to go to Ohio State. After graduation in 2008, Scott moved to Kent with his wife Gianna.

Kent OH artist Scott Olson painting 2     They no longer needed to commute to see one another. He began teaching a time-based art class involving video, sound and installation at Kent State University. He is glad to have a connection to the KSU community. He has had opportunities to be a guest on lecture panels and bring in visiting artists. His painting career has been very successful, with solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Stockholm, and New York. He has been a part of group exhibitions in Italy, Austria, and Japan. With reviews in Artforum and the New York Times, to name a few, he is a young, talented and inspiring artist.

Have you always been
interested in painting?
Always been a painter?

Early on, I experimented a lot, exploring printmaking, (which gave me a sense of tools and consistency of ink), experimental music and video, but they all connect to my painting. It’s a rich medium. It’s very interesting, strange, and has a huge history. I love how weird it is. There are all kinds of things about painting that I embrace. It has religious history, and socio-cultural history. I am interested in illusion vs. abstraction. There’s sometimes a little bit of a spatial illusion in my work. There’s depth in some of the paintings. Does that mean there’s
a picture of something? Am I representing a space? Is it accidental? Or is it just this blunt sculptural object? I love all of those slippery questions.

Can you talk about your
your approach
and method to painting?

I have a lot happening at once. That’s the nature of oil painting. In an evening I could touch up to or work on 5 or 6 different paintings. It’s a very quick reaction to what’s going on. I see my paintings as objects made from materials rather than something that’s speaking to you as an image. They are very sculptural. The white spaces you see are traditional gesso, a way
of creating a white surface out of organic materials. I use a mixture of rabbit skin glue
and chalk. It can be mat like plaster or you can polish it like ivory. It’s almost like working on a stone surface. It’s very luscious. I’m interested
in doing something contemporary with very old materials. I also paint on plywood, canvas and linen. I like the variety of surfaces and having
to respond to different textures. With linen I can stain, saturate & soak it and it becomes about absorption, and on panels I can build up layers on the surface. They can handle the stress and strain and many layers.

Do you have any
inspirations or influences?

I love looking at paintings. I don’t have specific influences. I let the materials speak for them-
selves. The way things look are a result of the materials mixed with a process or gesture. I like to have blind gestures or blind processes so things happen without me knowing the results. Letting yourself loose control a little, like interlocking puzzle pieces that just arrive through the working process. I’m picking certain shapes and colors and a lot of them are intuitive, just going through and feeling a sense of a color or an interest of a particular color.
I don’t think colors for me have a lot of specific meaning. For me it’s just about this dance between color and their relationships to each other. Finally what you see is just the result of a very joyful improvisation that happens. It’s not labored, it’s quick gestures. They are defiantly abstract. I’ve never felt pressure to be specific about meaning. I’ve already created a sort of context; they are paintings, they are abstract, they are an investment in materials and craft. Take it from there. Enjoy it. I love the way these paintings look in relation to other contemporary art, because some can be very flashy, quickly and cheaply put together, things are very slip shot and that’s the aesthetic right now. So I’m investing a lot of care and precision into these things and that suits me.

I know you have an interest in music. Does this interest influence your work?
I always listen to music. I’m very adventurous and have a huge appetite for music. I haven’t really studied music, but I love all kinds. I will have endless sessions of painting while listening to music. I collect records from around town and have a record player in my studio. I’m always diving in the record bins for strange music, jazz, rock & roll classic rock, minimal piano, space age. I’m not painting about music or even painting to music, its just part of my life that’s always there. It helps me let my brain go.


Do you have any advice for
aspiring artists and students?

I love teaching and love working with students and I feel like I have a lot to offer. I’m not that much older than them, but not so old and wise that I can’t relate either. A lot of students in Kent are interested in both making a name for themselves locally but also going to New York or other cities and doing something along the lines of my experience. So, very basic advice, despite all of life’s things that get in the way; hardships, jobs, family stuff,  you have to just keep doing what you love and keep working at it. Stick with it and work hard. If you take what you do seriously, others will take it seriously also.

Can you talk about your
connection to the area?

Coming from a small town originally, I feel comfortable and love living in Kent. Gianna and I have made many friends here. My studio downtown is the perfect setting. I love the view from my window of the grain mill and love being a part of a downtown. Whenever I can, I try to utilize local resources. I try to stock my studio with items from downtown shops. I go to Sue Nelson to buy paint trays, brushes, tape and supplies. It’s convenient. I love that I can be at my studio and walk to the Co-Op for linch. When I take breaks from the studio I have a simple routine; I visit Last Exit books regularly for inspiration, peruse Spin-More's old record collection for listening material for the studio. These are all important distractions that Kent provides and they feed back into my work.
Also, I rent my studio from Jim and Bill Arthur who own a lot of space downtown. They do an important service to the art community in Kent: they provide numerous, affordable spaces for artist.  That makes Kent a little more interesting and complex. There are not just the galleries and shops that you see but also an extensive network of artists working away in their studios. Kent is a great place to be an artist and has a thriving community of serious artists.


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