Thursday, April 29th I sat down with Skot Olsen at Babylon Tattoo in downtown Fort Lauderdale to talk art.
I was introduced to Skot Olsen’s work back in 1998 and I had my first show for him a year later. Skot was already well known and had his own cult following, a kind of local celebrity. Over the years we have worked on lots of shows together and even produced a couple of books. His work is now in galleries around the country and collected around the world. Skot is one of my favorite painters and a great friend. Along with his paintings Skot is also an incredible tattoo artist. Thursday April 29th I sat down with Skot at Babylon Tattoo in downtown Fort Lauderdale to talk art.
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GL: Seen any good shows lately?
SO: Yes, well first at Bear and Bird Gallery, this artist Terribly Odd is having a show of I think is his best work. Phenomenal work, great artist. And Mitch O'Connell just had a good show at Harold Golen’s gallery. Best thing I’ve seen in the last year was the Luis Gispert show at the Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood, Luis Gispert, Holy God in heaven. That’s my favorite Miami based artist by the way. That show was incredible.
GL: Last museum show?
SO: The last one I went to was the Norman Rockwell show in Fort Lauderdale.
GL: Wasn’t that great?
SO: Oh my God!
GL: I saw you quoted somewhere on that.
SO: Yea, Sean Piccoli interviewed me for that show.
GL: I loved that show and it was a little subversive. I thought we were going to get the apple pie American story and that was not what was going on with him.
SO: I think “The Problem We All Live With” is the definitive civil rights painting. I mean you don’t even realize what an important painter he was until you go to a show like that. You can poo poo it and say it’s just illustration but God in Heaven he was an important artist.
GL: I loved his process of modeling and staging things out, photographing it, changing the light.
SO: That’s a professional. He spent as much time photographing that stuff as painting.
GL: Talk about the process of creating one of your paintings?
SO: I can only draw one size so I make a whole series of drawings. If it’s a complicated painting I make all the elements separately, Then I scan everything, put it into the computer and rearrange it like a collage until I find the composition I like, then I print it out in pieces and tape them together to fit the canvas. I coat the back with chalk. First I prime the canvas with what ever base color then I trace the entire thing like a tattoo stencil onto the canvases so you have this chalk drawing on there, then I paint on top of that, under painting first. The chalk just disappears.
GL: You paint a lot of history and pseudo-history, how much research do you do before you paint?
SO: A lot. In some cases I take as much time researching as painting. I research everything, even the riggings and structure of the ships.
GL: Where do you shop for art supplies?
SO: Jerry’s or Utrecht. I like Jerry’s, it’s a phenomenal art store and Utrecht is great.
GL: What time of the day do you paint?
SO: Now when ever I can. It used to be 9 to 5 or evenings. Now that I’m tattooing it’s late at night. I’ve turned into a night owl.
GL: Three things you couldn’t be without while your painting?
SO: Music, sunlight, I hate painting under lamps, and quality paint, it has to be quality paint, Holbein or Old Holland.
GL: Do you collect other artists, what’s your favorite piece?
SO: Well if I could afford to collect Todd Shorr I would. I only have one, a Todd Shorr drawing. It’s a beautiful one. It’s from a painting called The Deviled Egg. It’s on the cover of one book and in two of his other books.
GL: That’s your favorite piece?
SO: Well, I have a piece by Brendan Danielsson out of Georgia I love. It’s hard to have a favorite. My Grandfather’s paintings I love. I have a painting my Grandfather did of a naked woman which was the first naked woman I ever saw and I still have that one and love it and a painting he did of an Indian that’s so great, it looks like an illustration from like Boy’s Life.
GL: You get your love of paintings from your Grandfather, just like me, how old were you when he started teaching you?
SO: 5. He introduced me to everything, He taught me lots and lots about art. First drawing then when I was eleven we did a painting together.
GL: What was it a painting of?
SO: A sailboat. My parents still have it. It’s at their place in Africa.
GL: What’s the name of your favorite gallery, local gallery?
SO: Harold Golen Gallery. He puts on the coolest shows.
GL: What are you working on next?
SO: I’m going to do more nautical stuff. If I have the room I’m doing a big cover of, you know Thomas Eakins’ Doctor Stewart’s Anatomy lesson painting, he was a 19th century painter that did a lot of paintings of sculling. It’s an anatomy lesson but I’m doing it as a tattoo lesson. It’s kind of hard to explain. And I’m doing a series of paintings about the Masonic wars. Different sects of freemasonry battle each other but they battle by constructing and tearing down simultaneously so their fighting with construction equipment and old scaffolding stuff, building columns, the Scottish Right is building and the Eastern Star is tearing down and they are directing cranes like cannons and generals poring over plans instead of maps, it’ll be cool.
GL: Any advice for emerging artists?
SO: Yea, stay out of my way, junior!
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* interview edited for some reason or another