As a painter, sculptor, and the creative director of Dinosaur Designs, art has always been as innate as breathing for Louise Olsen.
Featuring Louise Olsen
Photography by Eryca Green
Words by Eryca Green
How do you write about a friend? Someone you know so intimately outside their public persona—who’s become family? Louise Olsen and I could probably refer to our journey as “Three deaths and a friendship.” We first met through the death of her beautiful sister, Jane, who was also my very dear friend. We became closer following the death of her beloved mother, Valerie, a wonderful artist. And most recently, the death of her famous father, John. And yet what we share is life: a passion for art, and nature, and fun! My God, Louise is fun! And her sense of humor ensures that laughter is always possible, even in the darkest of times.
Even after all these years, I’m still learning so much about Louise every time I speak to her. There are so many layers to peel back.
The Louise I know and love is a wonderful dichotomy. Soft and poetic, yes, but she is no pushover. You do not endure nearly 40 years running a successful business (alongside her life partner, Stephen Ormandy—also an artist and dear friend), without grit and determination. She has an inner strength that emanates from a core belief in her creative vision, and the process that takes her there. This comes through in everything she does, from painting to designing, to cooking, to fashion…all of it a means to express her creative force.
And I should add that Louise Olsen is the antithesis of a tortured artist. She makes art seem easy—a pure joy, even. There is no sense of painfully dragging ideas to the surface, or suffering for her art. But don’t for one second think this implies a lack of depth, simply because she’s not pulling her hair out in a dingy attic studio somewhere. There is a profound integrity to her work, and its depth comes from over 50 years of living and breathing art. From reading poetry, and observing nature, from travel and ceaseless curiosity…and yes, from witnessing the endings of the lives of people close to her, too. She is a born artist, and an artist for life.
Resin Stool and Branch Vase by Dinosaur Designs.
Eryca: So, how would you describe your desire to paint?
Louise: It just flows out of me. I feel it. It’s a feeling in my blood, it’s my strength, it’s my everything. So many people around me say they had to fight to be an artist, but for me it was all there. That doesn’t mean it works perfectly all the time. That’s the risk you take. You learn from your mistakes and know when to bail.
The way I work is not set in stone. It’s the energy of the moment, and sometimes you can capture it perfectly, but sometimes you can’t. It’s the subconscious and the conscious working together that creates the magic.
Your upbringing was of course conducive to being utterly at home with an artistic practice.
Yes, I was at art school from the age of 6. My father would set little tasks: do a drawing with a lipstick, or look at an object for a few minutes before putting it away, and then drawing it from memory. And always always carry a sketchbook.
Do you think your gift comes from nature or nurture? Would you still be an artist if your parents had been accountants? Did you even have a choice in being an artist? Were you born an artist, or were you raised an artist?
Oh I know (laughing).. What and who am I? It just felt really natural to me. I do have a passion and an excitement for it. I don’t know how nurtured that is. It’s your feeling about something, isn’t it? I mean, maybe it’s feelings that direct us.
It’s the thing I was always good at. My natural abilities did lie with art, regardless of my heritage or upbringing. You know, I wasn’t always great at school. I did ok and I got by, but really, being in my creative element was where I just excelled and thrived.
Yes, knowing you as I do, I know that your visual language is where you are strongest. You are not so comfortable writing an email, but you are imbued with art, it’s in your every cell, and you don’t question it.
Yes exactly. I’m just so comfortable with it. I love music and poetry, all those realms spark me up. I’m like a duck in water.
You are! And you trust your inner voice. That’s where that incredible confidence that is such a beautiful thing comes from. You don’t second-guess yourself. It just pours out of you.
Yes, I just feel it. It’s the fire in my blood, and in my bones. You have to be an explorer. I feel that I get on a journey, and I just get so excited. All my senses are fired up and alive!
And you know Tim, my brother, had exactly the same upbringing and exposure to art, but he doesn’t feel it in the same way. We are very different people, and we were both brought up in the same environment. He has different strengths than me. He’s a facilitator of art. He loves words and writing. I do too, but in a different way. That’s where poetry comes in for me, because poetry is such a wonderful visualization.
Is that where the inspiration for your haiku paintings come from? You put something visual to poetic form?
Yes that’s right. You know when you read a haiku, they are describing something visual.
A frog jumps in
You immediately visualize it, don’t you. Your visual sensibility gravitates around those words.
Rhythm & Blues 2023
oil and acrylic on linen
It’s so true. Do you think it’s the temp of a haiku that gives you that?
Yes, that too—the space between the words. It’s like that when you make a mark on a canvas. It’s the tension between the empty and the full. You make a mark, and if you crowd it in, it says something. But you can create a different voice by allowing the marks space to breathe.
Is that about knowing when to stop? Is it the secret of abstract art?
I’m not a ‘look and put’ painter. I like other realms, other truths, other kinds of observations. It’s funny when people talk about abstract art. I mean, in a way nothing is abstract. This is where haikus come in: they talk about something fleeting, about an energy. And it’s about capturing that energy in that moment.
That is a lovely way to describe it.
Yes, I find the painting begins to talk to me. I listen and I respond, and I’m always experimenting with new techniques to capture what I feel.
I think that’s an incredible thing—a gift. During those times you’ve encouraged me to paint, I don’t know when to stop, so I keep going and lose something in the process. I don’t ‘listen’ to the painting.
But that’s because you haven’t spent enough time with it yet. Every medium has its voice, doesn’t it? You just have to spend time and fine-tune your medium. Like you with your photography. I can take a photo, but when you do it, I go WOW! You’ve spent time with it, so you understand it, and it speaks to you.
Yes, I guess that is true in a different way. We’re all just trying to tell a story, aren’t we? I may take 100 photos, but I often know the moment the shutter clicks, which is ‘the one’ that expresses the narrative.
So maybe photography is the perfect medium for you, because you know and feel that.
Do you think there is a hierarchy in art, and that painting is seen as the pinnacle of it? And that to be a true artist, you must paint?
Hmmmmm, I think those ideas have been broken down quite a lot over the last few decades, don’t you?
I’d like to think so, but I think there is a residue of it.
Perhaps there is a residue of it, because there is a purity in painting, and it’s such a great way of showing someone’s sensibility, isn’t it? I remember there was a period in the 80’s when people were saying ‘painting is dead.’ But painting will never die, because it keeps growing, and it keeps progressing, and it keeps changing in its very nature—shifting into new realms. There will always be people that can see it, and people that can’t. I mean, it’s the same with photography. People are saying photography is finished because of Instagram, but I don’t believe that.
Yes, it’s interesting. I hope it isn’t finished, but there is such an immediacy to photography these days. Everyone with a phone can be a photographer, but to paint you must make the space and the time, as you do in your studio.
You’re right, not everyone wants to spend time painting. It’s not as accessible as picking up your phone, but not everyone has that eye, that sensibility. I think with my painting, and you with photography, you get in this strange kind of zone with it, don’t you? Where you get the feel and the instinct for it.
Louise, along with her daughter Camille, who is also an artist, wear jewelry by Lo Collection and Dinosaur Designs.
We absolutely do. How does the zone you get into when painting differ from the zone of designing for Dinosaur Designs? Is there a crossover?
There’s definitely a similarity, but the difference is in the sense of purpose. Personally, I find painting more liberating. There’s less sense of time and parameters. Having said that, it’s the parameters that design presents that I find challenging and satisfying. I’m very lucky to be doing something that I love.
What do you think you would be, if not an artist?
I can’t imagine a life without painting. It is so innate within me. If there was no art to explore, it would feel like losing a limb. Art is a life force
Hoorah for art! And for friendship.
Paris in July - Natacha Panot
It was during a school trip to the Rodin Museum when Natacha Panot discovered her calling. Margot visits the French sculptor in her Paris studio to discuss her love of clay, texture and volume.
A Woman Free - Edwina Sandys
Edwina Sandys believes art should challenge, provoke and delight. And this talented artist has been doing just that throughout her impressive career.
Whether it's the wild blooms from her sylvan childhood in France or the magnificent arrangements she conjures for her company Buunch, a passion for flowers is a constant in Caroline Bailly’s life.
New York Island Girl - Mokshini
For fashion illustrator and artist Mokshini, creativity is greater than self-expression. It’s a way of life. And her world, an intersection of art, fashion and joy, is thoroughly enchanting.
Blacksmith Felicity Jones is endlessly enrapt by the shapeable, often contradictory components of metal. No two projects are ever the same—and that’s the appeal.
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s experience to know the truest sense of belonging. When she co-founded the Brixton Project several years ago, Binki Taylor understood that a community for oneself is also very often a community for others.