Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) Presents Don Olsen: Abstracts from Nature

Salt Lake City – The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) is pleased to present Don Olsen: Abstracts from Nature, an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most influential abstract artists to have worked in Utah.

Featuring ten abstracted, large-scale paintings created over a period of twenty-five years, Don Olsen: Abstracts from Nature is now on view in the G. W. Anderson Family Great Hall in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building.

Born December 3, 1910, Donald Penrod Olsen (1910-1983) was raised as a musical prodigy. He graduated from the Brigham Young University School of Music in 1935, and spent the next ten years working with the Utah WPA Orchestra and playing first violin with the Salt Lake City Symphony. Olsen’s music career ended when he was diagnosed with a throat disorder in 1945, and he refocused his creative energy on a previous interest and talent as an artist.

Olsen minored in art during his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University, and in the early 1950s he continued his art education at the University of Utah. After graduation he became an art instructor at several Utah high schools and at the College of Southern Utah.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, abstract art was occasionally met with resistance by those uncomfortable with the emerging face of modern art in Utah. While Don Olsen’s abstract expressionist paintings were sometimes criticized by local viewers, he received a number of awards for his work, including the Purchase Prize at the Utah State Fair in 1953.

In 1954, Olsen moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts to study art under the enigmatic Hans Hoffman, who introduced Olsen to his “push-pull” theory of spatial tension and color relationships in abstract art. A year later, Olsen had a solo exhibition at the Salt Lake Art Center.

Between 1958 and1960, Olsen lost his mother, father, and his wife, resulting in expressively darker, more brooding canvases. He entered a more hopeful phase of life in 1962 when he married his second wife, Betty Olsen, and began yet another ambitious stage of his artistic career. By 1965, the happy couple travelled annually to New York, Boston, and Provincetown to gain access to cutting-edge twentieth century art, and Olsen would return to Utah energized both stylistically and intellectually.

“Don Olsen’s early abstract work was hard-edged, grayed out and more controlled than his later work,” explains Donna Poulton, UMFA associate curator of the art of Utah and the West. “After he studied with Hans Hoffman, his work evolved to looser, more gestural, and high-keyed expressive compositions. He was concerned with conveying the complexity of emotion in broad, sweeping strokes. For a period during the 70s, Olsen experimented with hard-edged images, often using primary colors directly from the tube. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 1980, he returned to loose, gestural, and more expressive paintings. Throughout his career, Olsen drew from his great intellect and his commitment to explore emotion through color tensions and the plasticity of his medium.”

Today, Don Olsen is considered to be one of the most groundbreaking non-objective artists to have worked in Utah.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is located in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building on the University of Utah campus at 410 Campus Center Drive. The UMFA’s mission is to engage visitors in discovering meaningful connections with the artistic expressions of the world’s cultures. Admission is $7 adults, $5 seniors and youth ages 6-18, free for children 5 and under, higher education students in Utah, University of Utah students, faculty, staff and UMFA Members. Thanks to the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks Fund, free admission is offered the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month. Museum hours are Tuesday – Friday: 10 am – 5 pm; Wednesdays 10 am – 8 pm.; Weekends, 11 am – 5 pm; closed Mondays. For more information call (801) 581-7332 or visit www.umfa.utah.edu

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