Process State: From Icon to Abstraction (Part 1)

Art Talk Chicago is now inviting guest writers to contribute pieces to the blog. Each weekend a writer will be featured, writing on a topic of their choice. This week our guest writer is Stephanie Cristello, featuring Part 1 of an interview with B. Ingrid Olson. Next Saturday, return for part 2 of the interview between Cristello and Olson.


HHHold 'Stutter' (6) by B. Ingrid Olson, 5" x 6", grease pencil on paper, 2011

Part I of an Interview with B. Ingrid Olson on the recent reductive departure of her drawings.

By Stephanie Cristello

Over the past month, I've had the chance to talk with Chicago-based artist B. Ingrid Olson, a recent SAIC graduate whose work has taken a strong departure since 2010. Having just participated in Wake for the West: Racetrack Player, which took place in early May as a part of the Five Funerals Project, a series of solemn celebrations curated by Chicago's Jason Dunda and Teena McClelland, Olson's work is emerging all over the city.

Once known for her crisp iconic line, Olson's work is now venturing into more uncharted territory, using more unwieldy materials and concentrating on narrative abstraction. Her latest material fascination appears to be grease pencil. When applied as lightly to the page as Olson illustrates, the pencil becomes at once controlled and non-descript; exposing every fiber and imperfection of the paper, and allowing her figures to occupy a sort of second skin. Between the viewer and the illustrated figures lies a heavily mediated artist's hand - Olson's ghostly gestures are hauntingly captivating, especially when you consider their scale.

B. Ingrid Olson graduated from SAIC with her BFA in 2010.

SC: Your work over the past couple of years has become a lot more
suggestive and gestural, while still maintaining its figurative
illustration, placed within a more formally constructed atmospheric
space. Is this an intentional departure?

B.IO: Very much so. In my early undergraduate studies, I had honed in on
a very specific manner of making work, and repeated it to the point of
it being formulaic. My visual interests evolved from this work, which
dealt more heavily in symbolically suggestive depictions, using an
iconographic line to condense and clarify the narrative. As I
movedbeyond this body of work, my interests remained with interpersonal
relationships, the body, movement, and experiences that are too
difficult to concertize in textual language, but my method of delivery
changed. I left behind my desire for clarity in image and narrative, and
became far more interested in 'feeling', or 'tone' of an experience. My
focus shifted to the most unclear, unsettling, unsolved moments, which I
also identified as transitional moments in an action or series of
events. These are moments of processing, attempting understanding, or
just simply waiting for the next thing coming around the corner. I began
to look at more photography and watch more film to understand this
specific time that was creeping into my work.

I am still interested in the same ideas- I think the work has merely
slowed down. I realized that one of the few things I could necessarily
depict through the act of drawing was this very particular feeling that I
understand only through recreations of the body, and translating them
through drawings.

SC: I have always found there to be a visual cinematic quality to your
work. You mentioned looking at film and photography as a way to both
understand and investigate time - could you elaborate on these
influences? Are there any specific films, genres, directors or
photographers you look at while making drawings? Film noir perhaps - or
maybe Godard.

B.IO: I have definitely looked at a lot of Italian Neorealist and French
New Wave, which has lead to my attraction to the objectification of the
subjective/particular experience. I think these genres specifically
lead me to an appreciation of a kind of 'boring' narrative, and also a
fragmented narrative- a section of a day or week maybe. They tend to
show people just living life, and in this slow development, any amount
of action really makes an impact. I like the disorienting sensation of
acclimating to a speed that is very different from my daily life. One of
my ultimate favorites is Godard's Masculin Feminin. I am not as
interested in the politics of this film, or any of his film's political
undertones (or overtones), but rather the interactions of the

The film that first made me realize my love of tension was Closely
Watched Trains by Jiri Menzel. The characters can never quite get what
they want and get to where they are trying to go. I also really love
Fritz Lang. The differences between his silent films, to the transition
of the seemingly over-acted first sound films he made are fantastic. I
think that the way that action can be condensed, exaggerated, or merely
conveyed non-verbally to compensate for lack of dialogue and text is

It is extremely hard to narrow down film for me, so I will leave it at
that. Photography is the newest interest. I am entering it blind, with
very little knowledge of it. I have been very attracted to photo
still-lives, and experimental modes of abstracting the subject matter
through a photograph. I saw a show of Talia Chetrit's work at Tony Wight
in January that I loved. She sets up both surface level abstractions of
studio detritus, as well as portraits of combinatorial, iconic objects.
Irving Penn is also in this vein. I like his ability to transform the
objects that he photographs, and the curiosity that it demonstrates:
making a geometric composition out of frozen fruit, or a portrait out of
a rag on his studio floor. Florence Henri's use of mirrors to create
illusions is almost dumb, but remains entrancing. I think that I am
simply enamored with these simple ways of looking at the world from a
different angle.

SC: Is the cropping of the picture plane then another way you
investigate abstraction? I see this filmic presence contained as a lost
narrative, or the isolation of an action framed as a vignette, in a way.
The more recent series such as Passings and Oh Over Over attempt to
investigate either the ghosts of an intimate moment, or the edifice of
an action. Can you talk about your relationship to this removal? Is the
original scenario intentionally disguised through a hazy aftermath?

B.IO: The cropping is an intentional venture into some formal
investigation of abstracting the figure - a 'reduction', leaving the
bare minimum in order to convey a notion. This may be the 'edifice of an
action'- I like that phrase. The pixilation or fuzziness and minimal
descriptions speak to the 'breaking down of an image', in terms of
cohesiveness, clarity and readability. I have always been interested in
transforming a body into a translator: making feeling onto information
through analogy. When simplified and referenced in only shape and form
(avoiding overt color or material), the uncontrollable messiness of the
body can be can become purely textual, or informational, even if in the
most in-concrete and nondescript way. The combination of the ineffable
fleeting feeling of the subject matter with the processed documentation
and presentation of the work seeks tension through difference.

SC: Your recent works have been using materials such as grease pencil,
which are known for leaving residue. Is this something you are
interested in terms of your subject matter?

B.IO: By comparison to most artists, I am not particularly materially
concerned- I am simply attracted to certain materials. Grease pencils
basically have the texture of a smooth crayon on paper, and when I
transitioned towards using them from making my clean line paintings, I
was almost equally repulsed by the inexactness and fumbling nature of
the material as I was attracted to it. I was inexplicably interested in
it, and so through my attraction to a foreign material, I have developed
bodies of work that try to accentuate the innate qualities of the
pencil, and at the same time try to use the pencil to bring out
important aspects of my subject matter, which would be impossible to
address in any other manner.

SC: Talking about attraction in general, is this a way you maneuver the
collections of work on your website? They are organized in a very
specific way, reminiscent of memories - dark, hazy and often out of
either chronological, or sensible order - do you see yourself working in
this type of series often? How do you decide which works get grouped
together; is there a theme you start with, or do they come together more

B.IO: The groupings of my work are mostly organized by the time of
making. I usually focus on the same set of ideas for about a month or
two, in which I expound upon my primary focus (my ongoing practice of
the body as a conveyor of feeling), by interjecting a new lens through
which to think about the topic. The 'lens' is merely a new entry point
into the work for me. These points of interest are anything from paring
the figure with objects, cropping the composition, putting the figure in
spaces, enlargement of smaller works. Through these simple
trajectories, I am able to produce a number of works that that can
clearly (to me) be placed together. Through the exploration of one idea,
the works usually transcend to further meaning, past the simplicity of
interactions or introspection. The way of viewing the works together is
totally personal and subjective, therefore not readily accessible as a
form of organization to the outside viewer, I am sure. Through - on
another note - I am very interested in the interdependence of the
drawings within a grouping. They may not have a specific order or
relationship, but when grouped or paired together, they begin to narrow
meaning, honing in on a specific feeling or situation. So, long answer
short, they begin when I become newly interested in an aspect of my
work, then through exploring and making drawings, their relationship to
one another becomes more clear and at which point I can usually
understand them as a cumulative or amalgam document of my recent mental
space. This process is complete when my interest peaks in some area of
focus and I notice my thoughts gathering around a new problem in the

B. Ingrid Olson is American b. 1987, lives and works in Chicago, IL.

Stephanie Cristello

is an artist, writer and critic living and working
in Chicago, IL. Born and raised in Toronto, ON, she came to Chicago to
study at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she is
currently pursuing a BFA in Painting & Drawing with a Liberal Arts
Thesis. Stephanie is currently the Assistant Editor for Chicago Art
Magazine, and does freelance work around the city.

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