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Just Asking: Greg Olsen

13542What's the most difficult part about portraying the divine in art?

I'm trying to portray something spiritual with materials that are only physical. How can an artist breathe life into mere pigment and canvas? I rely upon the viewers to bring their own spark of divinity to the viewing experience.

Which of your paintings of Christ is your favorite?

That's a bit like trying to choose which one of my children is my favorite. Some days I'm not sure about any of them! "O Jerusalem" brings back many fond memories of my first visit to the Holy Land. One evening, I climbed the Mount of Olives with my wife, Sydnie, and we watched the sunset. That evening I had the idea for that painting. Since then it has served as a constant reminder of that wonderful experience. "The Gentle Healer" would be another.  I felt like I somehow captured something in his gaze that was reassuring to me. I felt like that image symbolized a being that knew me and still loved me—someone I could relate to.

Besides the figure of Christ, what other subjects do you most enjoy painting?

I enjoy variety!  I've painted childhood scenes, the old west, fantasy, still lifes and landscapes, even sports and military subjects...I enjoy painting pretty much everything except the house! 

What have you been working on lately?

My most recent release is an image called "The Way of Joy". It depicts Jesus and John the Baptist in a lighthearted reunion. They are seated under some olive trees enjoying a happy reflective moment together. I wanted to focus on the humanness of their camaraderie and the genuine joy they found in their friendship as second cousins.

Who among your friends and family has influenced your art the most?

My hero and first cousin, Vince Bodily, who is now a professor in the art department at BYU Idaho. And my good friend, Bob Whitney, who was also my art teacher for four years at Bonneville High School in Idaho Falls.

What do you do when you have creative block? How do you push through it?

Traveling is a great way to overcome creative block. The new visual stimulation always seems to bring with it new ideas. I've also found it helpful to visit art museums and galleries. Seeing the work of other creative artists seems to have a contagious effect. 

What is your favorite color to use in your paintings?

This may sound strange but when I successfully use gray as I'm painting flesh tones it has the most magical and satisfying effect of any color I use.

What do you like to do when you're not painting?

Being in the outdoors, camping in the woods and enjoying nature probably recharges my batteries as much as anything.

What is something most people don't know about you?

I actually use paint by number kits! (Just kidding...) 

If you could meet any artist who is ever lived who would it be?

Michelangelo. I've been a fan ever since I read "The Agony and the Ecstasy" in high school.

What is your favorite hymn?

"Abide with Me".

What effect do you hope your work has on other Christian faiths?

I simply hope that my work will be a small reminder of Christ's example of living a life full of love, hope, encouragement, peace and joy.

What's the most interesting place you have traveled to for your artwork?

The Holy Land.

What's the best advice you ever received?

"Remember who you are" and "follow your passion" -from my parents.

"Flow" - from my wife Sydnie.

Find this interview in the Jan/Feb issue of LDS Living magazine, available here. 

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com