Jeremy Olson’s solo exhibition, this time of monsters, explores ideas of catastrophe and apocalypse, while still retaining a remarkable sense of hope and humour. These notions are captured in the artist’s paintings, which depict his familiar cast of anthropomorphic characters as they navigate a world on the brink of collapse. We delve into an analysis of a selection of Olson’s paintings, studying the idiosyncrasies of the artist’s visual language to draw out the main themes of his exhibition.
index of refractions, the largest painting in the exhibition, references the behaviour of light when passing through different substances. The work centres on a character with furry pointed ears and snout, reminiscent of a wolf. Its bare and wiry torso also recalls a goblin or elf-like creature. The figure sits in a barren wood, surrounded by leafless trees. Its eyes are fixed on a device, perhaps a phone. The cool glow of the screen illuminates the creature’s face and chest, the blue light reflected in its glassy dark eyes. Behind the strange figure, an immense dragon-like creature is curled up in blissful sleep, the scarlet colour of its hide radiating in the light of the glowing screen. The rural setting is quickly offset by a generator composed of brassy pipes. The mechanism pumps plumes of blue smoke into the air, enveloping the forest in a thick fog. The makeup of this smoky substance is uncertain; perhaps it is an industrial pollutant or it could be an environmental salve. A depiction of a pond reflects the scene, repeating the disappearance of the forest into a potentially contaminating fog. Its reflective sheen echoes the flat smooth surface of the screen that absorbs the painting’s protagonist, suggesting the infinite mirroring of the internet.
Reflection and repetition feature again in another of Olson’s paintings, interpassive landscape. The work depicts a clinical interior, perhaps that of a laboratory, in which a green mountainous landscape arises from a central table. There is a suggestion that this imaginary romantic landscape has been vat-grown in this lab only to be re-manufactured in an endless cycle. The notion of repetition is emphasised through the presence of mirrors on both sides of the room that reflect the landscape infinitely. Despite the comparative sterility of its environment, the landscape appears to have evaded the confines of the space as hints of further growth emerge from the ceiling and floor. The painting’s title references the concept of interpassivity, a phenomenon whereby a piece of art or technology acts on its audience’s behalf, performing emotions and/or politics for the viewer. Olson perhaps turns this concept on its head, thinking of how landscape might be able to function like art or technology.
In soft approach, an anthropomorphic mycelium form inches its way across the picture plane, passing from shadow into bright sunlight. It reaches out a still developing hand towards an odd stand-alone structure, composed minimally of metallic tubes. The painting’s visual language alludes to both sci-fi utopianism and minimalist aesthetics, thinking of these in relation to petro-capitalism, a capitalism that hinges on the production, exchange and consumption of petroleum. Reminiscent of a car exhaust pipe, the metallic structure dominates the image, towering upwards to a sunlit opening as if about to launch like a rocket towards a turquoise sky. The relationship between the plant-like creature and the metal construction is unclear; perhaps the creature asks for escape from its arid environment or perhaps the cold metal form has stripped the creature and its surroundings of their natural resources. In this sense, soft approach seems to question the current explosion of interest in organic plant matter, such as mushrooms and fungi. These ideas are reflected in the contrast between the living plant-like form and the sterile metallic structure, as interest in organic material seems to vary between its consumer and biochemical uses and its medicinal and environmental potential.
Don’t miss the last days of Jeremy Olson’s this time of monsters, on display now at Unit London until 19 November.
index of refractions
121.92 x 152.4 x 5.08 cm