Olsen, Dean: Superb art team

Connor Coughlin, Staff Writer
February 15, 2013

The current exhibition “Topographies and Fictions” in Boswell Hall’s Corner Gallery is one that has been over 25 years in the making. Put on by the husband and wife printmakers, Dennis Olsen and Meredith Dean have each created a body of art that is unique as it is fascinating to viewers.

Dean fell in love with working with her hands at an early age and by the time she was thirteen she was taking private art lessons. She received her BFA in painting at Washington University School of Fine Arts in 1968 where at that point she developed an intense allergy to turpentine and began working with printmaking processes instead.

“Twenty five years of ideas brought these pieces,” said Dean in regards to the Corner Gallery, “It all started when a friend and I were trekking in the mountains of Tuscany. The maps we used were very unreliable and we would never go without taking three or four of them.”

Realizing a distinct relationship between maps and the landscape Dean began utilizing the idea of space and interactivity into her work, creating artwork that was magnetic and was able to be rearranged in a large number of ways. Her work that is currently on display at the Corner Gallery makes use of this factor. Each piece is made up of multiple carved-out plates that displays a layer of topographical detail and can be rearranged in a multitude of ways allowing for the creation of independent pieces that still relate to one another.

In a stark contrast to Dean’s colorful and heavily abstract work, Olsen’s art on display is a series of bizarre and surreal portraits. Within in the series there are the faces of “kings, queens, tyrants, heroes, saints and sinners,” who all live in a timeless village with no true connection to reality. Each portrait is accompanied with a short narrative or what Olsen calls “flash fiction” that details the character’s personality.

Throughout his youth Olsen was always interested in art and got into it seriously at the age of 14. He went to college at UCLA where he got his BA in 1964 and his MA in 1967. In 1967 he received the Fullbright Grant and traveled to Italy to study printmaking. It was there in 1970 Olsen co-founded the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence. For the next eleven years he spent in Italy teaching classes and working on his own artwork.

Working on mostly monotypes for the next decade, Olsen soon began to experiment with digital art with the Maya computer program. Discovering a process in which he was able to transfer computer art onto plates, he began utilizing technology to help form his handcrafted artwork.

“All the marks on these pieces are from currency notes that I’ve collected from all over the world,” said Olsen, “They’re scanned into photoshop and printed out to etch.”

Both Dean and Olsen currently reside in San Antonio and teach at The University of Texas at San Antonio. The couple returns to Italy every summer to teach printmaking workshops and live in the Tuscan countryside.

“Topographies and Fictions” will be on display in Boswell Hall’s Corner Gallery until March 29.

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