Naomi Olsen in her home studio. Olsen is the featured artist for the Agassiz Monday Painters’ 55th Anniversary art show held this month.

Painter finds beauty in the darker corners of life

Naomi Olsen draws inspiration from personal challenges in life

Naomi Olsen doesn’t make art to please her audience.

In fact, the multi-medium creator admits that her exhibitions have actually made some people uncomfortable.

“A lot of people ask me if I should talk to someone,” Olsen says with a laugh. “Seriously, I’ve had a lot of that.”

But Olsen needs no therapist. She just likes to express herself on canvas.

In that particular case the display in question was one of her first shows at an Agassiz Monday Painters exhibit almost 15 years ago.

She arranged her paintings created around a polio theme, including a still life of a leg brace that she’s kept since surviving the disease as a child.

Her response to the largely educational exhibit wasn’t very positive.

“People were saying I was painting death and misery,” says the short and affable Olsen. “It makes me madder and I want to paint more.”

And if the contrast of her outward character and some of her work isn’t obvious, there is the unmissable polarity of her pieces that a tour of her Morris Valley home quickly reveals.

Scenic mountains and skies in one wall-mounted landscape are soon outnumbered by bronze three dimensional heads emerging from canvases conveying extreme emotion.

“I’ve always been leaning towards the different feelings of people instead of just the casual, ‘Gee that’s a nice portrait of you, isn’t that fun,’” Olsen says. “You get a thousand pictures of Mount Cheam, how many times can you paint it?”

Much of her inspiration comes from her own struggles with polio and those fights of her family members with other complications.

There’s one of the darker mixed-media pieces on the wall of her house’s front room that is based on a period when her son had constant night terrors.

Another portrays multiple personalities, sourced from a relative’s bipolar disorder.

And now, shifting away from the paverpol and styrofoam heads, Olsen is back to oil paints.

She’s working on a portrait of her grandson who is autistic.

“Autism is just a word, you really don’t know the person,” Olsen says. “I mean the kid’s a genius. He’s seven right now and I thought, ‘I’m going to paint Sam.’ He’s the sweetest kid.”

In a photo, Sam looks at the camera holding a berry. In her painting, Olsen intends to paint him in grey and white, his gaze intent on the berry.

That is one painting she hopes to have finished for April’s Agassiz Monday Painters 55th Anniversary art show.

Olsen, who paints by the name ‘Nai’, is looking forward to the event with the people who inspire her work and is always happy to get her message out.

“I like to get my thoughts out there to different people so they can see that the world isn’t just made up of flowers and lilies and beautiful spring water,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a ripple in there.”

Olsen’s own ripples are being felt around the Lower Mainland, having shown in the Kickstart program (works by artists with disabilities) at the Pendulum Gallery in Vancouver and at the sci-fi convention VCON.

She got her start with the Agassiz Monday Painters when a neighbour convinced her to join, and has learned the ropes in the years since.

A self-taught artist, Olsen hasn’t taken much direction in her career so far.

“I took one lesson for the mountain that I did,” she gestures to the landscape on her wall. “That was fun but I like to go beyond that.”

“I’d rather do a volcano.”

The Agassiz Monday Painters 55th Anniversary art show is Saturday, April 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Agassiz United Church Hall, 6860 Lougheed Hwy, Agassiz, B.C. Admission is free and refreshments are by donation. More than 25 participating artists who use a variety of media will be present with their work. There will also be a free draw for door prizes. Contact Lynda Anderson by phone for more information: 604-794-5554.