Artist Studio | Kristen Olsen

Kristen OlsenText by Wolf Schneider; Photos by Heather Macarthur

You’re a Denver-based pastel and oil painter, right?

Acrylics, too. I’ve made my living at it since 1980.

Your work is impressionistic landscapes, cityscapes, and figurative pieces?

Yes, and under every painting there is an abstract. Then I work on top of that. And some of those colors come through and vibrate in the finished painting.

Colors carry specific vibrations, don’t they?

Yes, reds bring out anger and passion. Yellows have the longest vibration; they bring out your sunny side. Blues are calming and about truth. Greens have a healing vibration. I may put purple under where the trees are going to go, or peach under the lake—so that would be sometimes the opposite complementary color.

I hear you also paint ancient Celtic symbols underneath.

I do—I have an intention for each painting. Maybe I saw a pond in the fall, and the oranges and tall grasses and reds were gorgeous, and it really was joyous. So maybe joy is what I’ll work with. In the Viking symbols, joy looks like a pointed P.

And then you might actually mix some jasmine essential oil into the paint, too?

Yes! Jasmine and mustard bring out the joy. Essential oils go right to the emotions—to the limbic center of the brain—and they can heal. I mix it into the paint or rub it onto the board. I heat the oil in the studio, too, to have the vibration in the room. In the new physics, everything is vibration.

Sounds like you might be into The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Oh, yes! I read it twice. It takes us back to those magical roots. The real magic is between people and the connection with the earth. Artists who do landscapes try to find their own spirit in that connection.

Kristen Olsen's studioYour studio is one of 20 at an old Catholic high school that’s been converted into the Grant Street Art Studios. Is this in LoDo [lower downtown Denver]?

Actually it’s in UpDo—it’s three blocks west of the Brown Palace Hotel.

It’s a Spanish Revival-style structure with archways, red-tiled roofs, and shady courtyards?

Yes, with nuns next door running a hospice. It’s like having angels next door.

How big is your studio?

It’s 1,100 square feet. This place is every artist’s dream—8-by-4-foot windows, 14-foot ceilings, wood floors. Cream walls. Stained-glass windows with diamonds, which are symbols for angels! It would probably cost $6,000 to rent as a business, but the Catholic Church has kept this space, and they are benevolent to us.

You also have a salon/gallery there where you curate shows?

Yes, Anderson Brase Gallery.

Where in the Colorado mountains do you live?

In Genesee, 25 minutes west. It’s a village with wood-frame homes. We’re on the elk and deer path because we’re at the end of the village, with greenbelt on three sides. We just saw a baby fawn there, maybe 18 inches tall.

Where are you from originally?

Northeastern Colorado near the Wyoming border. My family’s been here since the late 1800s.

Which other artists in the Denver art scene do you hang out with?

Well, I belong to the Colorado Pastel Society. I know everyone from Quang Ho to Mary Morrison, a contemporary artist here.

What’s your astrological sign, and how much do you relate to it?

I’m a double Aries with Pisces. I relate! The Pisces is the knowing magic connection, and the Aries keeps going forward.

What’s your mantra?

“I can do anything I want.”

What’s the trait that’s served you best in your career, and what’s the trait you deplore in yourself?

Best is my confidence. I deplore that I can procrastinate.

On what occasion do you fudge the truth?

Probably about eating fudge. [Laughs]

Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?

Joaquin Sorolla.

Which artist would you most like an hour of advice from?

Anders Zorn.

What’s the range that your work sells for?

From $995 up to $10,000.

What kind of folks do you gravitate toward, and what kind turn you off?

I gravitate toward bright, creative, responsive, talkative people with a spiritual bent. What turns me off are extremely critical, negative people.

What does an artist need most: a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine?

What artists need most is a muse or an angel. Somebody who really gets who they are and loves them anyway.

When your time comes to kick the bucket, what sentence would accurately sum it up for your life?

“Her life was a joyous journey and a party—with all the dark and light.”

Olsen is represented by Gallery A, Taos, NM; Summerfield Fine Art, Aspen, CO; Smith-Klein Gallery, Boulder, CO; and Anderson Brase Gallery, Denver, CO.

Featured in “My World” November 2005