By Scott Campbell
“When I was a little boy, I had the usual discussion with my father about what I wanted to be when I grew up,” recalls Eric Olson. “He introduced me to the concept of the Renaissance man, and that stayed with me.”
Decades later, Olson can look back on that occasion and see to what extent it has influenced his life and vocations pursued.
“I was born in Denver, Colo., but the family didn’t stay in one place for very long,” says the 64-year-old, Harrisburg resident. “My father, who was a professor, took a sabbatical at Oxford University in the early 1960s, and that afforded the opportunity for us to see much of Europe and its treasures. It was a seminal event in my life.”
Olson earned a B.A. in industrial design from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and began his eclectic journey in the world of art and design. A less-than-satisfying gig was with a Los Angeles advertising firm.
“L.A. is basically high desert, where water is pumped in to support vegetation that doesn’t naturally grow there,” he says. “The whole area is artificial, from the plants to the architecture. I was happy to leave.”
Olson’s skill in three-dimensional art is represented by time spent designing and fabricating solid, hardwood furniture. In another pursuit that demonstrated his engineering capabilities, he developed an ergonomic writing instrument dubbed the Sensa Pen.
“When you grip the pen to write, the soft substance on the pen’s barrel conforms to your fingers,” he explains. “The substance is Silly Putty, encapsulated in a plastic sheath. I worked on that in the early 1990s, and the pen won a national design award.”
Now, Olson regards himself as “a retired artist.” He is nothing of the sort.
“Several years ago, my wife, Nancy, decided that I was an active artist. And she spent two years telling me so,” he chortles. “Finally, I accepted her declaration. I had always considered myself a painter in spirit, so I began to paint with photography.”
Through digital technology, Olson has developed what he defines as “transformations.” Utilizing Photoshop tools, he transforms representational imagery, often organic in nature, into striking non-objective designs.
“I’ve been working in Photoshop since 1996, and still don’t know all of it…perhaps only 60 percent.” Olson refers to the process he employs as “liquefying.”
There is no pre-conceived idea of the ultimate design that will emerge.
“I let myself be guided as I work with the tools,” he says. “I watch it happen, and when that point arrives at which I’m satisfied, it is deemed finished.”
The designs are printed on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper. They are mounted on Dibond, a composite of aluminum and thermoplastic, and then glazed with clear acrylic. Several pieces have been mounted on special backlit panels.
More recently, Olson has taken to printing limited editions of his colorful designs on silk scarves. The garments are supplied and printed by a company in Hangzhou, China.
“The scarves are hemmed by hand, which assures that the fabric drapes better,” he says.
The scarves have been well-received, employed for their intended functional purpose and otherwise.
The director of a Maryland hospice framed one for display. Olson offers them online and in the Harrisburg area exclusively at Brath and Hughes Fine Art, Mechanicsburg.
His mounted transformation pieces can be seen at the Art Association of Harrisburg.
To learn more about the art of Eric Olson, visit windmillcreekstudio.com.