Remember reading picture books as a kid? Then, one day, the teacher assigned a book without a single picture in it. What a disappointment! In addition to making the book seem shorter and more fun, the illustrations also made it easier to understand. Now consider The Holy Bible. Even someone with a good imagination may have difficulty picturing everything written in it. So how can we connect with God when there are no pictures to help us connect with the words?
Thankfully, local artist Peter Olsen has spent 40 years researching and using his artistic gifts to transform biblical themes into art. The scriptures simply come to life upon seeing his work. His choice of media includes pen, ink, oil, collage, wood carving and pigment. He also uses pyrography, a technique of using a heated metallic point to burn a design onto wood. His color schemes range from black and white to vibrant rainbow arrays. From a distance, many of his oil paintings have the precision of ink or colored pencil. His style choices are seemingly limitless—as easily as breathing, he moves from striking realism to surrealism akin to Salvador Dalí’s. His artwork is as educational as it is inspiring.
Women in the Bible
Olsen’s current project is to illustrate every woman in the Bible. “The idea for Women of Biblical History Illustrated actually came from my wife Samantha during one of our planning meetings,” said Olsen. “Throughout biblical history, every event was influenced directly or indirectly by a woman. Although there were thousands of women who lived and contributed greatly, we are researching approximately 500. Their lives and lessons from their stories are as important today as when they lived.” His illustrations depict Eve, Mary, Elizabeth, Esther, Zelelponit (Samson’s mother), the widow with two mites, Hagar, Rebekah and Delilah, just to name a few.
Olsen has also illustrated every verse in the book of Revelation. He explains that “Revelation is filled with adventure, surrealistic themes, promises, warnings, and the repeated exhortation that if we read it, hear it and remember it, we will be blessed.”
The birth of Olsen’s biblical art projects took place with his first oil painting in 1974.
“What I thought would be just a few paintings became a very large collection of apocalyptic art that grew with each year,” reflected Olsen. “The paintings are largely based on themes within each chapter. For example, Revelation Chapter 1 has six oil paintings: The Alpha and Omega, Time is at Hand, Coming in the Clouds, Museum of Mankind, John on the Isle of Patmos [and] Death Vanished. In 2007, we began receiving requests from pastors and theological professors around the world for artwork on specific Revelation verses. So I changed my focus to develop a verse-by-verse illustration series of the 404 verses. Some verses were so moving that I had to create multiple illustrations. Altogether, there are around 1,000 illustrations.”
“I can share some exciting news with you!” exclaims Olsen. “We’ve just learned that my work will be part of an amazing exhibit to celebrate and commemorate Jewish History.” Ben Menasche, sculptor and art curator for the City of Pembroke Pines, is organizing the exhibit, which will begin in spring 2015 at a venue to be revealed soon. As of now, some of the works slated for the exhibit include Women of Biblical History Illustrated Tribes of Israel (wood), The Patriarchs (wood), The Minor Prophets (12 oil paintings), Moses (oil), Cain and Abel (oil), and Genesis (series of mixed media).
Olsen’s father, who he watched and learned from, was a painter and decorator. Despite his parents’ desire for him to become a professor or minister like his siblings, they recognized his artistic gift and sent him to a private art academy.
“Growing up in New York City for a young artist was wonderful. I had the best museums, galleries and art openings at my doorstep. Some of the artists I admire are Michelangelo and DaVinci, Rodin, Bosch, Bruegel… Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth, Jackson Pollack, Dali, Warhol.” He prefers using oil paints for their flexibility and richness. “I thoroughly enjoy challenging art with a creative edge,” comments Olsen.
Leaving a Legacy
In an effort to pass the torch along to young artists, Olsen has taught art in parochial schools for many years and always teaches Originality, Imagination and Creativity (OIC). “Art is extremely important for children of all ages,” remarked Olsen. “Learning the basics of drawing and how to transfer an idea from the imagination to paper or canvas has long lasting benefits.” He teaches group and private art classes with any medium or genre at his studio year-round and summer classes for children three mornings per week. He also offers to do murals and paintings for churches, businesses and residences.
The studio address is 4380 NE 5 Ave., Oakland Park. He can be reached at 954-565-0054 or [email protected]. A great way to regularly see his newest works is on social media using the keyword peterolsenart.
Sasha Richardson is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].