Artist Statement – Peter Erling Olsen
‘Artist Statement’ seems like a misnomer….perhaps Artist’s Struggle is more realistic because every artist I’ve personally met as well as the great masters of past have struggled in their art. And I am no different. Classical training, the enriching art environment of New York City, versatility as a muralist plus a good work ethic kept me from being homeless but still I struggled finding the ‘ME’ quotient in my art, something that satisfied yet challenged me. And then a little book with an outer space cover design changed all that in 1974.
Thumbing through the book, a subtitle and its subsequent paragraph lit up my imagination as never before. I hungered to put the book down and paint what I had read...and I did – a large canvas with an angelic, commanding central figure. I was invigorated! As I read the next chapter, I easily visualized its text and excitedly began the second canvas – two impoverished looking figures possessing mysterious powers set in a surrealistic background. I was energized! I realized that by painting the narrative, or story, I was doing something completely different and I liked it! It felt right! It felt satisfying yet definitely challenging! However, discovering that an ancient and revered book was the source of this apocalyptic text created a new challenge. I needed to keep it authentic and stay true to its narrative. Much research would be required and this was at a time when there was no internet! Books, libraries and patient librarians became my stalwart sources for the planned five ‘or so’ canvasses. The paintings were received by all with “oohs and aahs”, lithographs were published and sold. They were labeled by art reviewers as surrealism, symbolic realism, even fantasy art. My plan was to do these five paintings and then move on to a different project, but what happened next would change my entire career as a fine artist.
One day while in my studio I felt a desire to pray about the direction of my art. During that prayer, I realized that I would not be moving on to another project after the five canvasses. I would continue visually portraying this sacred text of the Bible’s Book of Revelation until I had painted all of its twenty-two chapters. And…I would not sell them. WHAT???? Isn’t that why artists paint? How will I sustain a family, myself, not to mention the art? Answers to those questions were not known, yet I began this journey to paint all twenty-two chapters of Revelation with some chapters having multiple paintings. AND I DID IT!! Along the way, I taught art and received commissions for murals, paintings, and sculptures.
Were there struggles? Oh yes -- balancing time!! – time for family, the project, and the art that would support the project…staying true to the narrative… struggling to portray horrific scenes and figures in a palatable way. One particular serious struggle was cancer – colon cancer, the silent killer. My blood count had dropped to 5 before it was detected. But thanks to my amazing team of doctors, my family, friends, students and ministers who prayed vigilantly, I survived and THRIVED. Interestingly, during this cancer odyssey, while undergoing chemo after surgery, I painted what has been called one of the greatest paintings of the collection, “The Museum of Mankind”.
Despite any struggle, the blessings have been greater -- my faith, my family, my students, and my art. In addition to the oil paintings, the ‘project’ has now grown to include over 450 teaching illustrations of each of the 404 verses of Revelation plus collage illustrations, mixed media paintings, and works in wood. There are over 1,000 artworks on Revelation and correlating verses from the Old and New Testament.
Almost 40 years ago, I began this journey and have kept the collection intact. The paintings have been exhibited at museums, art centers, churches, schools, and private showings. Students, teachers and ministers throughout the world have used the imagery in slide or teaching presentations. Going forward, we are now open to exploring new dimensions for the paintings, including inquiries from interested collectors. We’re also excited that technology now enables us to provide you with giclees, prints, cards, and more of artwork based on a most intriguing, inspiring book of the Bible that exhorts us to read it, hear it, and remember it and that we will blessed. Thank you!
Peter Olsen joined Fine Art America on April 18th, 2012.