When first examining Olson’s work, one is probably most readily reminded of the Surrealist and Dada movements of the early twentieth century. The artist outlines his deep fascination with these two cultural movements, singling out the collage works of the artists Max Ernst and Hannah Höch, two key figures of Dadaism and Surrealism. The aesthetics of both movements, which frequently marry realism with a hallucinatory edge, play with the notion of the uncanny and, as such, resonate visually with Olson’s artworks. Alternate realities are created through dreamlike compositions and the familiar is rendered unfamiliar through a blending of mundane and unexpected elements.
Max Ernst, Women reveling violently and waving in menacing air, 1929, collage, 20.5 × 20.5 cm, Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin (Credit: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/max-ernst-women-reveling-violently-and-waving-in-menacing-air)
Olson also indicates a period all the more recent that had a profound influence on his own career. The artist moved to New York in the early 2000s during a time when a new body of contemporary art was emerging, signalling a return to figuration with a surrealist direction. Olson remembers that artists such as Matthew Barney, Inka Essenhigh and David Altmejd were having popular exhibitions and young figurative painters like Jules De Balincourt and Dana Schutz were becoming successful. Experiencing this first hand, Olson felt that there could be a place for him and his work in the contemporary artworld.
Jules De Balincourt, Temporary Dropout, 2004, Oil, spray paint and pen on panel, 101.6 x 121.9 cm (Credit: http://www.julesdebalincourt.com/workview.php?year=2004&id=10)
As another significant influence, Olson cites the American filmmaker and Renaissance man, David Lynch. The director’s work is strongly reminiscent of Surrealist and Dadaist tropes, leading him to be labelled the ‘first popular surrealist’ by critics. Lynch’s catalogue of films and televised series, such as Twin Peaks, have been incredibly influential for Olson who states, ‘I just want him to make more films.’ Lynch’s surrealist filmmaking style, which often follows dream logic and non-linear narrative structures, finds links with Olson’s paintings. The artist comments on themes within his work inspired by Lynch’s cinematic endeavours, indicating his interest in the notion of collapsing or blending various narratives within a single work, a technique Lynch employs in films such as Mulholland Drive.
Olson additionally names David Cronenberg, one of the main instigators of what is known as the body-horror genre, as an important inspiration. In particular, Cronenberg’s film Existenz, in which characters navigate a dangerous virtual reality, holds a unique significance for the artist. Olson equally indicates his love of written fiction, specifically the magic realism and discombobulating narratives of Haruki Murakami. Another writerly inspiration is J.G. Ballard whose novels and stories engage with the notion of a dystopian modernity as characters dwell in austere man-made settings and deal with the psychological effects of shifts within technological, social and environmental spheres. The futuristic, disquieting and dystopian elements of these literary and cinematic influences are all profoundly present within Olson’s paintings, in which his disarmingly anthropomorphic cast of characters exists in the decaying planes of quasi-real landscapes that are at once familiar and unsettling. In this vein, Olson speaks of the powerful effect of creating ‘unique worlds that are singular yet completely believable on their own terms.’
When asked to name a specific artwork that has been a great inspiration to him as an artist, Olson singled out The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1500) by Hieronymus Bosch. It is a painting that Olson continually returns to with a feeling that he could almost live inside it. In the vast triptych, figures and animals alike are both distorted and blended with each other and inanimate objects. The painting depicts scenes that are not quite unearthly but are not terrestrial either, perhaps informing the dualistic qualities of Olson’s works that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Bosch’s work itself, much like Olson’s paintings, delves into the darker aspects of the human condition, juxtaposing paradise with what could be considered vice and iniquity.
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1500, grisaille, oil on oak panel, 205.5 x 384.9 cm, Museo Del Prado, Madrid (Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights#/media/File:The_Garden_of_earthly_delights.jpg)
Olson’s influences are overtly diverse and eclectic, but all can be linked by the common thread of surrealist and distorted realities. The artist indicates that his inspirations are cumulative as he continues to discover things that are new to him, adding them to his own internal aesthetic repository. Olson’s deep well of influences conveys not just his intricate and complex artistic process, but the infinite potential of discovery to expand new possibilities.