BJ OLSEN @QUAREMBROIDERY
Winner of D31 Art Gallery's, Spring 'Magic of Transformation' Exhibition, 2023 'People's Choice' Prize
Describe yourself in 5 sentences... " 1. I'm a lifelong artist and world traveling nurse with adhd and asd that has a unique take on still life.
2. I live in Northern Ireland with my partner and two children.
3. My embroidery designs are based on candid photos taken all over the world during covid19.
4. A second series I work on is based on medieval illumination illustrations, particularly medical illumination manuscripts and marginalia.
5. I also knit, cross stitch and paint, but not as often as I embroider."
What inspires you to make art? "Truthfully, anxiety, existential dread and chronic depression drive me to create. If I don’t feel particularly creative, I’ll work on a kit. If dramatic things happen in the hospital I work at, the incident sits in the back of my brain until I express how I feel through some form of art.
Covid19 had a lot of us feeling unsure and isolated. The funny masks I saw people wearing online inspired me to make my own versions of their still life with thread. Embroidery is an ancient art with traditional rules, but today’s fibre artists including myself are working to make it modern, thought provoking, beautiful and interesting. I choose images the evoke feelings, sadness, worry, disgust, joviality. The emotions we encountered navigating life from our “covid bubbles”."
What inspired your 'Humans of Covid-19 #1 Astronaut Shopper' artwork? "This was my first HoC19 piece, I just loved the viral image of a man in a space helmet, walking home with a bag of groceries. I related to the image in many ways, feeling foreign, still having to complete everyday tasks during a frightening pandemic; the empty streets feeling very otherworldly. I added Morse code to the yellow caution tape as an Easter egg- it says SOS."
Do you think art always has to have a deeper meaning? "Oh no. Sometimes it’s just fun, beautiful, distracting or terrifying! Sometimes a painting of a cigar, is just a painting of a cigar."
What are some of the challenges you face as an artist? How do you combat these?
"The biggest challenge I face as a textile artist is getting equal respect other media automatically receive without question.
It comes down to anything thread-related being “women’s work” and thus worth less in our patriarchal society. I spend large amounts of time carefully embroidering interesting images but they are dismissed quickly by many galleries based on the medium. "
What is your favourite medium to work with? "Fabric, thread, wool, I love textiles. Texture is an important aspect of art to me, probably more than most because of my neurodiversity. Little is more satisfying than the different textures afforded by needle and thread."
Is there a particular artwork you've created which you are especially proud of? "HoC19 #8 superspreader is technically one of my best pieces, and it surprisingly irritates a LOT of people due to the trump hat. I chose this image because it was a good example of the blind idolatry so many trump supporters took part in; it’s a man wearing a trump hat, spitting everywhere, in a crowded area (January 6, the insurrection, Washington DC, where I am from). It received a lot of backlash, I was pelted with comments online about how disgusting it was that I made a picture of a guy in a trump hat. I feel like maybe most of these people missed the big picture? I thought it was clear his lack of common sense was being lampooned, but I suppose not!"
How do you balance your creative work life with your personal life? " I think my lack of sleep assists me in finding time for work, family and making art. My lack of expendable income also helps quite a bit!"
What would you say to your younger self if you could? "Run away from Florida as fast as you can! "
Would you like to leave a legacy? If yes, what would your legacy be? "Yes! I want to leave behind memorable art of the times I lived in. I want to illustrate history, and I want people to see my work and enjoy it. I don’t need my name to be remembered, it’s the moment of people appreciating what I’ve made that I enjoy so much.
One of my other obsessions is medieval manuscripts and illuminations. I hope one day my work will capture the attention and imagination of future history buffs and/or artists."
Exhibit with D31 Art Gallery!