This is a story about the influence artists have on each other. The influence we all have on each other, really.
‘Cool Band’, by Rose Olson, is not a large painting. It is a ten inch square. “Very hard to photograph,” the gallery owner said to me.
That’s because this is a painting that looks dramatically different in different light and even if you are standing in a different place. Here it is on my living room wall. Use the slider to see the difference:
I did not walk into the Hutson Gallery in Provincetown that evening expecting to see any work I was familiar with. The gallery owner slowly turned the dimmer switch for the lights along the wall down, and then up again, and we watched the row of paintings change.
Olson is a painter and a professor at Montserrat College of Art. I knew about her work because she was a favorite teacher and big influence on my partner, painter Heather Adels, who died last year. On one level, Heather’s work could not be more different from her professor’s. They are both abstract artists, but Heather’s work is dense, almost sculptural, deeply concerned with natural forms. They look like they grew there.
Olson’s work is streamlined, with a superhuman rigor that reminds us of precision, mass production, digital graphics (but like the work of Agnes Martin, all those bands of color are the work of the artist’s hand, not a machine or a computer).
But it was from Olson that Heather took the idea of using very thin, translucent layers of paint to create paintings that look different at every time of day, and from different perspectives, and began to develop that technique in response to Olson’s work.
These are works that remind us of the inescapable phenomenon of perspective: things are going to look different depending on where we’re standing. Your perspective is not going to be my perspective. We may never arrive at a shared idea of the truth; we may never know a person the way another person knows them. Time passes. Our mood shifts. Our mind changes. With those changes, how we see people, places, and events also changes.
They also remind me of how we all, but perhaps queer women in particular, make use of privacy: one of our primary freedoms is to pick and choose how well other people know us. Someone looking straight on at ‘Cool Band’ only sees the flat band of color, thinks it’s an orange painting, and in a second may believe they understand everything there is to understand.
How often do we size up people with such snap judgments, not only missing deeper levels, but believing they don’t exist? Even with people we know well, few of us tell everybody everything; some levels of knowledge are a privilege, granted only to a chosen few who have earned it with the willingness to be patient, the willingness to not understand things so quickly, the willingness to accept what is revealed.
If this “Cool Band” was a person, we could imagine it giving a whispered aside to a friend, one who is allowed to see the vivid flash of iridescent purple, one the straight viewer, the passerby, never sees. And it is by offering those private insights that we change each other, our work, and our world.
‘Cool Band,’ by Rose Olson. Acrylic on wood panel; photo courtesy of the Hutson Gallery.
Rose Olson show at Kingston Gallery, photo courtesy Montserrat College of Art
All other photos Lisa Williams