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The Buoyant Heart

The very nature of the female image permeates the current artwork of Patricia Olson. Her paintings are often an extension of her deeper questions about human nature, archetypes and personal mythologies, particularly as it relates to women’s experience in the world. Olson, who describes herself as being fascinated with the reinterpretation of myth, addresses traditional Greek mythology in her work, but updates it, bringing the same issues surrounding the relationships between male and female into the present. Experimenting with image, she pays homage to the strong, active female figures often found in the Olympian pantheon. The women found in her paintings channel these ancient mythological women, and the characteristics traditionally associated with them. Her portraits are updates of classical archetypes, yet the women she depicts are women we encounter every day: they are our neighbors, friends, daughters, mothers, and colleagues. Olson’s paintings remind us that we all have our own personal set of archetypes that we carry with us, which are not so dissimilar from women who have come before us. Indeed, after stripping away labels and cultural identifiers, the stories of our lives as women have been repeated and strengthened throughout the centuries and across the continents. Olson conveys visually these iconic archetypal characteristics that are ultimately to be found in all of us. As the artist has succinctly stated, “I am painting/drawing/imaging woman into the world”.

Olson, as a self-described “chronicler of the people in her life,” is that distinctive type of artist who holds an allegiance to the image, as opposed to simply the process or concept. A series of monumental portraits featuring some of the most important women in the artist’s life, as well as self-portraiture, offers the viewer an opportunity to examine their own responses to traditional female archetypes. Here, the work is about the immediate image confronting the viewer. What is it that is so arresting about these images? They are at once powerful and engaging, and highly individual, yet they project deeply held notions of historical female archetypes. True, titles such as The Domina, The Psychopomp or The Scholar further evince these notions; but what the artist proves in these works is that from an image alone, an entire world can be intuited.

The Buoyant Heart, at the Catherine G Murphy Gallery, St. Catherine University (2007)

—Erika Holmquist-Wall, from the catalog, The Buoyant Heart: Recent Paintings by Patricia Olson. © 2007 Erika Holmquist-Wall

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