Erik Jon Olson is our February Artist of the Month! Olson is a local artist who uses recycled material, specifically quilted plastic waste, to create his work. “By minimizing my carbon footprint in the creation of my pieces and transcending the medium without denying what it is, my art embodies Marshall McLuhan’s concept that “the medium IS the message.”
We wanted to know more about the man behind the message, so we decided to ask him some questions:
Q: How did you become an artist?
A: My parents would tell you that I was born an artist. Ever since I can remember, I have always been making things out of whatever material was available. First toy I remember was a box of modeling clay, I was 4 and the clay came in 4 different colors. Graduated to Legos at age six and I was off and running. I used to be a creative in the advertising business to support my family; burnt out after 25 years. Shortly after I left the advertising field, at age 45, a friend of mine started a business making functional items by quilting the plastic waste he was collecting. He asked me to help with branding and initial product development. He even saved the waste from his own process. Knowing that I liked to make stuff from whatever was lying around, he encouraged me to take the scraps home and see if I could make something out of them. I took the challenge.
Q: How and where do you find inspiration?
A: Compositional inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. Structural inspiration comes from studying traditional quilt making and the old trial-and-error method. Conceptual inspiration comes from environmental reports and social justice issues.
Q: What is your process for beginning a piece?
A: A concept/phrase will pop into my mind usually from watching the news, a documentary or reading about our environment. Then I will start rough sketches that visually represent those concepts. If needed, I will then create a printable pattern on the computer.
Q: On average, how long does it take you to complete a piece?
A: About two weeks.
Q: Have you ever created a piece and decided you just couldn’t give it up? What is the story behind that piece?
A: No. But I have created one piece intentionally for myself to keep. A big Jim Dine style heart that looks like Tim Burton assembled it; very playful and extremely sentimental.
Q: Do you have a favorite artist?
A: Wow. Hard question. Can’t pick just one. I absolutely love Pop Art. As to dead artists, I particularly enjoy Stuart Davis. Among living artists, I have not yet seen anything that can compare to El Anatsui’s work. You can see both their influences in my work.
Q: What are your goals or hopes for the future in what you create?
A: In the short run, more shows, more eyeballs and more maturity; but ultimately that the need for and the messages in my work would become needless and therefor pointless.
Q: When someone walks into your studio, what will they find?
A: Stacks of boxes of color-coded and machine-quilted bits of old single use plastic bags. An old 1960 straight stitch sewing machine, a serger sewing machine, shelves filled with different colors of cones of thread and lots of little pieces of paper with doodles and ideas taped up all over the walls and furniture.