Recently I met Carrie Olsen at her Heights home to pick up a painting for our mutual friend, “Miss Carolyn” Bertrand Hodges. I’ve often written about Hodges, a nonagenarian conceptual artist in Houston. She’s encouraged me quite frequently to interview Miss Olsen about her sculpture.
So there I was, greeted by Olsen and her triplet sister, Emily. Wow, how many triplets do you know? I mentioned Miss Carolyn’s encouragement and so, the sisters gave me a tour of what I thought was just a home.
Olsen’s home is the best combination of house, art gallery, studio spaces (there were several) and art gardens. I was enthralled. Olsen had as much of her own work as others on display throughout. I had seen her work before, just not so much all in one place.
Then I saw recent sculptures one might call “quarantine art.” One piece in particular got my attention. It is a boat, suspended from the ceiling, titled “Adrift.” Olsen said the monochrome boat full of nondescript people was made primarily of toilet paper. I knew then I had my interview.
Art Valet: Have you always been a professional artist? How did you get started? Was sculpture your first love as an art medium?
Olsen: “Actually, I was a physician assistant until seven years ago. I think knowing about anatomy helped tremendously in my figurative work. I was taking drawing classes 40 years ago and my instructor suggested attending life drawing sessions. At one of those, an orthopedist brought clay and did a portrait. I was immediately in love with the idea of sculpture and have been working at it ever since. I was primarily self-taught for many years, checking out every sculpture book in the library and reading voraciously. Eventually I took classes at the Scottsdale and Cleveland art schools and six wonderful weeks in France taking classes there.”
AV: The boat sculpture titled “Adrift” is stunning and appears to have many underlying meanings. Can you talk about that?
Olsen: “For a long time I have been moved by the tragedy of immigrants in the Middle East who pile into flimsy boats in the Mediterranean. I think we all tear up at the photo of the toddler dead in the waves on the beach. Just recently Greece loaded immigrants into flimsy blow-up boats and pushed them out to sea with no plan of rescue or where they might go. I have been thinking for a long time about this and originally was going to have a line of figures suspended on two boards. I wanted the figures lightweight and read about a paper mache technique online that would seem to fit the bill. Because the figures were so small, it turned into quite a difficult learning curve. The boat does not have a bottom and I wanted it to portray the tenuous position of the figures inside. I think right now it may also portray our country in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic. We want to help each other, but are ‘adrift’ in politics, surrounded by a sea of miscommunication and misinformation.”
Olsen also told me she wanted the boat to be lightweight so it could hang and move with air currents giving motion and a sense of peril.
“It’s a combination of toilet paper, drywall compound, a little bit of flour and water,” she said. “The figures and boat were cut out of cardboard and wire taped on them so I could form them in the position I wanted. I also added aluminum foil to bulk up certain areas.”
Olsen has an impressive list of past commissions and other work on her website, www.ckolsensculptor.com. Though she is not currently represented by a gallery, she’s certainly been in many galleries and exhibitions.
Olsen told me she has a proposal out now that she hopes will allow her to show “Adrift” to the public. I hope so, too. She works out of her home studio and is awaiting inspiration to hit.
AV: On a final note, tell us about your very unusual hobby.
Olsen: “I suppose archery is my most unusual hobby. I joined a group of traditional archers about 10 years ago and we had the thrill of going to Korea in 2014 for a competition. Unfortunately, that was the last competition Korea has so generously put on, and so I have the dubious honor of being the only USA contestant to win a shooting award there, but our team won an award for the best equipment as we were the only one of the 35 countries to make our own bows and arrows. It was especially a thrill for me as my mother was born in Korea and my grandmother started to school there, which is now over 100 years old.”
Cohen is an artist and founder of the First Saturday Arts Market and the Market at Sawyer Yards. Find him at ArtValet.com for additional highlights and artist’s stories.