Some artists paint sea creatures to capture their beauty and majesty.
Not Skot Olsen.
He paints sea creatures because they absolutely terrify him.
Take, for example, the common subject of his psychedelic sea paintings: The giant squid.
“Oh my God, that’s the most horrifying thing on Earth,” the Deerfield Beach artist says. “It’s like 100 feet long, swimming through the icy blackness of the ocean. It’s got a beak. It’s got tentacles. It’s got eyes the size of dinner plates.
“It’s a horrible sea monster that actually exists.”
And yet, Olsen can’t help but paint giant squids, over and over again. Likewise for sperm whales and other fearsome monsters of the deep.
In his surreal pop art – shown in a Howl Gallery exhibit opening today – Olsen takes that fear/fascination and mixes in his love of religious artwork and 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, who invented terrifying ancient gods that were beyond human comprehension.
The result: Otherworldy scenes such as a god-like squid getting tattooed by worshipful island tribesmen, or a one-eyed squid/saint brandishing a holy scepter and a harpoon.
Olsen uses his symbolic paintings to explore the idea of the mysterious and the unknowable – whether those unknowable things exist in the afterlife or under the sea.
“I like the surface,” he says. “If you notice, I never paint underwater scenes. It’s that whole in-between world, that world between underwater and the air.
“I just think of it as a weird bridge between the two worlds.”
The Connecticut native grew up on the water, sailing the West Indies and the east coast of New England with his parents. So he feels both a strong connection to the sea and a healthy respect for what lies beneath the surface.
There’s nothing like being out on the water, far from land, he says. You feel simultaneously insignificant and full of awe. “You forget your troubles and start thinking about bigger stuff,” he says.
He admits that hallucinogenic drugs were also a factor in his paintings. Now 42, he used psychedelic mushrooms and other natural drugs in his 30s, he says. Those left a lasting impression that still affects his art today.
Olsen often sets his paintings in an imaginary alternate universe where giant squids were hunted instead of whales in the 19th century. That gives them a deeper realism.
“I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody that,” he says. “I invented the entire thing, and I’ve always just presented it as if it had actually existed.”
In that invented world, squid hunters worshipped fictional sea gods and saints, including the squid-shaped, one-eyed Saint Architeuthis (the genus name for the giant squid).
“He’s the guy you pray to when your ship is sinking and you don’t want to be eaten by sharks,” Olsen says. “He’s who you pray to when you just want a nice peaceful death.”
NEWS-PRESS April 6th 2012