Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bringing art to corporate world

“Art in Action” artist Brian Olsen works on one of his characteristic paintings ?set to music and completed in eight to 15 minutes.
/ Courtesy of Brian Olsen

By Ines Min

We’re taught at a young age not to use our hands to paint, but brushes, and to shade within the lines with color pencils. For Brian Olsen, a one-man show of music and art, that’s exactly what he does — for major corporations.

Olsen brought his explosive 6-brush, hands, knees and elbow-painting style to Korea for the first time last week in Olympic Park, at the launch of Audi’s new V8 car.

At this point, many people would say: “Huh?”

Olsen, the world’s only apprentice to the ’80s name Denny Dent, specializes in a specific genre of artwork that doesn’t quite fit between the clean lines of traditional painting, performance art and speed painting.

Working with a recurring portfolio of iconic figures — his “repertoire” — the spiky-haired 37-year-old (will update Sunday) recreates the likeness of everyone from James Dean to Mohammed Ali.

Donning paint-splattered black clothing, he works on a black canvas to the beat of a rock song — furiously leaping, splashing and sliding his extremities across his medium. (While Dent’s show was the “Two-Fisted Art Attack,” Olsen goes for the alliterative “Art in Action.”)

The unique practice has evolved since the time of Olsen’s tutor, and the protege now performs predominantly for major companies.
Combining entertainment with inspirational tidbits between shows, the artist has moved from pop icons to buildings, logos and now cars.

He continues to develop his style with new levels of dimension; his newest show involves simultaneous portraits of The Beatles, painted on a rotating cube.

“In between the paintings I’ll address the audience directly and I’ll talk about my creative process, how I create artwork, and how that process can apply to someone else’s work,” Olsen told The Korea Times ahead of his Audi performance Tuesday, at the Park Hyatt Seoul.

“Whether they’re in sales, or in product development, the creative process is universal in how you approach things. And it ties into ‘How do you overcome obstacles,’ ‘How do you overcome problems,’ or ‘How do you recognize the tools that you have to work with?’

“The show is kind of motivational in that sense that I’m able to take my audience on a journey.”

A connection with his audience is what the artist seeks most, while accessibility is his best method — an important aspect considering Olsen performs 40 to 50 shows a year across the globe.

“What I do isn’t necessarily language-based, so I can create the same experience in any country that I go to,” he said.

“And it’s the excitement of art and music, in action, and kind of dance, and all these different art forms that sort of ball together into my show.”

While Olsen’s performances almost always finish without a hitch, there have been the occasional goofs such as stage lights blacking out or a CD player malfunction. Now he travels with two CD players and two CDs.

“Each show, each time I get on stage it’s an experience. Anything can happen, and that’s kind of one of the exciting (things),” said the artist-performer.

“It’s not like you hit the play button and it’s already been recorded and you can go through your track or something. It’s a moment in time.”

Reaching that stage took practice, as landscape architecture-trained Olsen worked closely with Dent to become an ambidextrous painter, create the right proportions at such a close angle, and time himself. While Dent helped his student construct his own show, an untimely death left Olsen without a mentor.

He picked himself up, however, and threw himself into the trade, learning to promote himself, create a brand and image. But through his success, it is still that desire to spread the reach of art that fuels him.

“I can go into the studio and create artwork, and sell it to a gallery, and you can go and look at it on a wall. But I think the process of creating is what’s really exciting,” he said.

“It’s not just this high-end gallery-like artwork. It’s real, it’s kind of in your face, and it happens quickly, in about eight minutes — so it fits into people’s attention spans.

“I’m able to grasp a huge population of people that aren’t interested in art because maybe they’re intimidated by it... there’s no secret. You watch it happen.”

And for all his flair on stage, Olsen isn’t just seeking the spotlight.

“Sometimes I let people in my studio, but I guess there’s still some part of me that’s this reclusive artist, and I don’t really like people to come in until it’s done,” he said with a smile.

For more information about Olsen, visit

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