top of page

Meet Our Spring Exhibition, 'People's Choice' Prize Winner: BJ OLSEN


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.

'Humans of Covid-19 #1 “Astronaut Shopper”' - The winning artwork of D31 Spring Exhibition 2023, People's Choice Prize

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?

"Medieval Marginalia #3: Ancient enema" - Currently on display in D31 Art Gallery's Summer 'Power' Exhibition 2023

"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."