Meet The Artist – Esther Olsson
Our Spring release features original artwork ‘POWER’ by none other than the indomitable Esther Olsson. We caught up with Esther to talk about her background, practice, inspirations and cow money.
Hey Esther, can you start by telling me where you’re from?
I grew up on a farm in Gippsland in a town called Neerim (so I call myself a Neerim Rat). After mum and dad split up I moved to Ballarat for a couple years to finish high school and then moved to Melbourne.
Are you a full time artist?
I was, but recently took a job at NGV because I found painting every day to be a bit isolating. When I would go out to socialise it didn’t feel as natural – I would go to the coffee shop and act really weird to the barista because I was so hungry for conversation. Also, I’m a person that needs structure in their timetable and being at home all day didn’t help because there were too many ways to procrastinate. I find that when I’m busier and have structure, I get more work done.
Tell me a bit about your history – how did you get involved in art?
Well I studied graphic design and then started working for a friend’s web design company. After a while realised I wasn’t really into graphic design so found a job with Pop and Scott and then a store called Hunting For George where I would paint clocks. That was how I met Beci Orpin and Kirra Jamison. Kirra asked me to come and do graphic work for her which ended up being painting work. She was really encouraging and gave me a space to work from where she’d pop down and give me some helpful critique and finesse my paintings a little. That really helped to evolve my work. I never went to art school so that was really good for me and gave me the confidence to start doing this as my main gig. I’ve had intern positions with Beci Orpin, Kirra Jamison, Supergraph and Third Drawer Down and I’ve had work experience with Pop and Scott, Hunting For George, Elkeand Romance Was Born.
Did your background in graphic design help to develop your artistic style?
Graphic design was good because it gave structure to my work with the layout and grid system. I used to do, what I call, ‘reflective painting’ so if I painted something on one side it would often go on the other side and whatever landed in the middle would be like a feature piece. Now there’s still often a feature piece in the middle but I’ll fill the space around it more organically with whatever comes to mind.
And is there much planning involved with each work or do you just let it unfold naturally?
I definitely plan it at the start very broadly. When you start adding colour the space changes (adding colours can either add or remove space) so my paintings will generally evolve as they start to take shape. They’re kind of like diary entries.
How are they like diary entries?
When I was younger, I had a diary and my sisters teased me about my spelling which made me shy to write. Because of this, my English teachers would make me draw things and then write under the drawings. Eventually, I just started drawing instead of writing and it’s just evolved from there.
Your work tends to have many recurring themes. What’s their significance to you?
They’ll often be a story from a moment, a childhood moment, or some major life experience. My sister, Amelia, moved to Japan so I use the cherry blossom to represent change in environment – it represents change and growth to me. Snakes are protectors, but they can also be dangerous….sometimes you can just tell by the facial expression haha.
What can you tell me about the work ‘POWER’ that you made for us?
When I was making the work I was thinking about how I love going to the gym but I always have an internal battle going on. I know it’s good for me but I struggle hard the next day being in pain. So the idea was that this would be a protection for your mind and body when you exercise, while still recognising the constant battle with pain and suffering.
The DNA strand is the human aspect. The cheetah/leopard/tiger always represents strength in my paintings because they’re obviously strong. The sweaty, wilting flower is because you’re beautiful but you feel like a wet dripping mess but should stay confident. The snakes are protecting you throughout the whole adventure.
Are you experimenting with anything new at the moment?
Not really, just developing and playing with my style more. I used to feel very intense about how I was structuring my work and now im being more relaxed about it. Just letting it unfold more naturally and trusting the process.
Did you always want to be an artist and what do you enjoy about it?
I still struggle with the idea of this art thing…that I’m an artist. It was never really in the plan. The advice from grown-ups was always “don’t be an artist”. It just happened and I was kind of fighting it but now I’m just letting it roll.
I’m enjoying doing collaborations with labels like Pant Active and the recent one with Jardan. A lot of people say, as an artist, you shouldn’t do collabs as it downgrades the art but I think that’s bullshit. Artist should be able to see their work in different realms and have it enjoyed by different types of people. Why restrict that? I don’t like the idea of restricting the type or class of people that get to see your work. That’s a wank and I don’t want to be that person.
Are you a physically active person? What do you do to stay healthy?
I like to move a lot so often I’ll skateboard to work or swim in summer. I just like moving. I’m the person who likes to sweat a lot and then just die. I’m pretty crazy, like sometimes I’ll walk out the door and go for a 20km run when I haven’t run for months.
I used to think yoga was a wank but then I realised how important it was and now I love it. I used to work at Good Vibes yoga studio in Northcote which gave me that exposure. I really struggled with breathing and sleeping, so when I learned about breathing and started doing it differently it changed my life. Now I do a guided meditation every night before sleep.
What have you got on for the rest of the year? Any solo shows?
I’m not doing any shows, just working on pieces for clients and also a few collabs. I was going to go to Miami for an artist residency but that’s probably not gonna happen until next year now.
Can you tell us a little known fact you’d like to share?
When I was younger, my brother and I would raise cows and sell them for pocket money. That was the money we used to buy festival tickets – cow money. My friends would work jobs and we’d raise these cows and then sell them at the end of the year for our pocket money. It was a lot of work and Dad would deduct the cost of all the food and bits and pieces from the end sale. Looking back I feel a bit conflicted about selling the cows, but it was what we did in the country. Just a farm thing – cow money.
That’s awesome – thanks so much for your time Esther!