Interview with Norman J. Olson
1)First of all,..can you present yourself..?
1)My name is Norman J. Olson. I always use my middle initial “j.” because there is at least one certified maniac in the USA named Norman Olson and one or two really mediocre artists by that same name. I was born on a farm near Baldwin, Wisconsin in February of 1948. I worked in a factory for 17 years printing telephone books and now have worked at civil service jobs since 1988. I have a bachelor’s degree in art and literature and a masters degree in art. I have published hundreds of drawings and poems all over the world (we have often been in the same little magazines so I know your work well and like it a lot—it is image art like mine but very different). I have three grown children. I have done art and written poetry all my life.
2)Do you think of yourself as an artist,or what?
2)Well, yes, I do think of myself as an artist. but, my idea about what that means has changed some over the years. As I have grown older, I have come to accept that for me, art is a compulsion. It is something I do because I really cannot stop doing it. Writing and drawing/painting come from the same place within me but, I think I am a more interesting artist than poet for other people… I really learned to draw during the 17 years that I worked at the printing plant. my job was putting rolls of paper on a printing press which was as big as an apartment building…. as the rolls ran down, I would get time, from a half hour to an hour depending on the paper to sit and draw and read. I would sit on an ink can behind the printing press and draw on telephone book cover paper with a ball point pen and that is when I developed my ball point pen technique. people think those drawings are amazing but, it took me 17 years to learn how to do that and I am still learning!!!! so, yes, I am an artist even though I don’t make any money from my art and most of the people I meet do not know that I am an artist unless they see me with my drawing board. I like to sit outside and in public places and draw…. there are lots of faces around to draw from and people come up to me and want to talk about the drawings and I find that these people, ordinary working people for the most part, have a lot of interesting things to say about the drawings and are fascinated by the drawings…. so, in this internet age, people are not getting what they need from television and want to see drawings that some guy is making sitting in the corner or under a shade tree in the park, with a ball point pen and a piece of watercolour paper…. American people are I think, starved, hungry and desperate for art and all our art museums give them is warmed over shit from new york….
3)What is creativity?
3)Man, I don’t know…. maybe not watching television… reaching out to touch other people, reaching inside to hold your heart in your hand…. maybe… wanting to do art—maybe everybody can be creative if they want to but most people just don’t want to, or don’t feel like they can be…. maybe creativity is something monkeys do well, and I guess we are a species of monkeys… being open to ideas and things you see…. letting art happen, letting the sun rise, letting winter come, living through another day…. not living through another day… eating food, drinking what pepsi, water??? laughing with god and the sexual impulse?? I guess I am not sure what creativity is…
4)Does your environment influence your art,either in style/format or interference?
4)Well, I am sure it does… but like I mentioned, I learned to draw in a factory, sitting on an ink can behind a huge noisy printing press with giant rolls of paper turning at a thousand miles an hour just over my head, a deafening roar, air foul with ink and oil mist and a boss that would kick my ass if he saw me drawing on the job…. and still I did draw and learned to use chiaroscuro with the ball point pen…. so, now, all I need is time and a calm place to sit and draw…. I work at an office now answering phone questions from people who lose their jobs…. I am sorry for the people who are all fucked six ways from Friday in a soulless universe…. and are looking for help that does not exist…. but I just want to be away now…. to be sitting in the shade sipping a diet soda and drawing…. the office is in my poems and my art, as it is in my brain and body… and the factory too… I still dream, 18 years later, that I am working on the printing press, splicing the paper, fucking up some part of my job (I was not all that good at the job I had for all those years)… so, I am not a professional artist and spend my life wading through the same shit as everybody else in society who works one of these brain and body killing jobs for a lifetime only to retire at age 70 and die the next week…. yes, all of that shit is in my art, I think….
5)What are some of your influences and inspirations?
5)I love art and art museums… except the art of the twentieth century does not interest me (with like two exceptions), …. I love the old art, Victorian art from England, I love to look at those drawings and paintings… my entire subject almost is naked people and that is a big tradition in Western European and American painting, so in that way, I am very much a classical artist…. I love the old masters, Michelangelo etc. and artists like GF Watts and DG Rossetti who the art world does not think much of today…. if I had leisure and money, I would hire nude models to draw from as I love to draw naked people…. old, young, fat, skinny, whatever, we all are so interesting and beautiful without our clothes … I really should be living in some nudist society someplace…. I love to look at those old paintings and drawings…. they move me and I just dig how they drew and painted naked people…. whenever I complete a painting or a drawing, I have a feeling that this piece could be up in any art museum in the world and not be an embarrassment… and considering all of the wonderful and amazing drawings and paintings people have done down through the years, that is not a small accomplishment, of course, I may just be deluding myself too as artists usually think their art is a lot better than it actually is….
6)What’s your favourite mediums(pen,charcoal,paint,canvas,etc…)to work in/on?
6)I love to do large oil paintings, but I need time and energy to do those and my job takes so much of my time, it is hard to find blocks of time to do oil paintings. So, I mostly work on small drawings that I can do a little bit here and a little bit there as I get time…. I use ball point pen and steel pen as well as watercolour, acrylic and sometimes some collage….all on watercolour paper… it is funny but the large oil paintings come out in photographic images looking just like the smaller works… weird….
7)Who are some of your favourite painters/artists?
7)I mentioned above some of the Victorian and classical artists I like, GF Watts, DG Rossetti, G. Moreau, etc…. I think the most wonderful painting I have ever seen is “flaming june” by a british academic painter named Leighton. in the 20th century, back at the start, Salvador Dali did some interesting paintings and I love those paintings that Marcel Duchamp did that are in the Philadelphia museum of art, “nude descending a staircase” and a wonderful painting called “the king and queen surrounded by swift nudes.” I have studied the old masters and renaissance artists extensively but look at them less now than I used to although I still love to look at Titian and Van Eyck… I enjoy the work of swiss surrealist HR Giger and my contemporaries in the little magazines, Jouni Varakangas, Dee Rimbaud, marc de hay, Blair Wilson and Claudio Parentela who have all done lots of cool images on these small publications that bring art to the people!!!!!!!!!!!!
8)How long does it normally take you to complete a piece of your artwork?
8)I do one or two drawings a week but then sometimes a week goes by when I do nothing…. the large oil paintings take me a few weeks to do but I need like days and hours to work on them just because the physical act of oil painting is more complex for me than drawing and not something I can do a little here and a little there…. I have to really get into it to make one of those large paintings happen and that takes time which I often do not have…
9)What else are you interested in besides visual arts?
9)I love music… I have two guitars and although I am not a very good guitarist, I sit outside in the summer and play little tunes that I make up for the people who walk by my house…. my house is by a lake and people walk around the lake for exercise, so there are always a lot of people walking by my house in the summer.
10)Got any new projects planned?
10)Yes Maria Valicova who is a wonderful person and art lover in Houston, Texas is putting the finishing touches on a web site that will have many of my images as well as some poetry and other stuff, so I am very excited about that as it will be a chance for lots of people to see my art and hopefully some of them will dig it.
11)How would you describe your art to someone who could not see it?
11)Funny question, my best friend is partially blind and his wife is totally blind, so I have done that for them. I just told them that it was patterns and images of fragmented faces and naked people…. with some shading sometimes….
12)What other talent would most like to have?
12)I always wanted to be able to sing, but my singing voice is very bad…. off key and monotone…. I would also like to be able to repair automobiles as one can make a lot of money doing that, but I am not very mechanical…
13)What are your most beloved items?
13)My older guitar is an old Gibson that I bought from a guy I worked with at the printing plant back in 1969 for $50…. it has a beautiful sound… I also have a painting easel that my brother made for himself back in the 1960s, but when he gave up painting, he gave the easel to me and I have used it ever since….
14)I love Charles Bukowski and have reread his books many times…. they always make me laugh…. I love the Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh otherwise, I read everything and anything…. like at least one novel a week and tons of poetry that people send me in the mail…. I love biographies, recently read bios of Robert Frost, Percy Shelley, Salvador Dali, Antoine Watteau, Pablo Picasso and Kurt Cobain….
15)Do you remember the first drawing you made?
15)Yes, when I was four or five years old, living on the farm, my father had a picture of a cow and I drew a pile of shit behind the cow and wrote the word “shit.” My dad thought that was really really funny, and I think it was too….
16)What kind of music do you like and do you listen…And is the music importan for your art…?
16)I listen to classical music a lot as it relaxes me when I am stressed, which is a lot of the time…. I also like alt rock, Nirvana, etc and hard rock, AC/DC… I used to listen to a lot of folk music and I still love 1960s folk music…. old bob dylan and joan baez and guitar music of john fahey… I like to listen to music when I draw or paint…
17)Any advice do you have for artists?
17)Work it out for yourself… and try to be as honest as you can
people can write to me at:
Norman J. Olson
946 N. McKnight Rd.
Maplewood, MN 55119-3635
Beaver Lake Press
946 N. McKnight Rd.
Maplewood, MN 55119-3635
I will send the web address as soon as it gets finished….