Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with Leif Olson, who created the signature image for this year's Boneyard Arts Festival.
Q: How do you feel about being chosen the 2013 Boneyard Arts Festival Signature Artist?
A: Oh, I'm thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. It's good for me because I kind of live as a marginal artist in town — I'm not teaching, I'm a transplant and I don't have a long-term high profile, so this helps.
Q: Why and when did you move here?
A: We moved here in 2007 because my wife was in a Ph.D. program here.
Q: Where did you live before that?
A: Prior to that, we lived a rather nomadic life. We were in Albany, N.Y., where she was teaching at the law school. Prior to that, York, England. Those were one-year stays. And Birmingham, Ala., where we stayed for seven years.
Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I grew up in Berkeley, Calif.
Q: How and when did you get interested in art?
A: Art has been my main thing virtually all my life. I was doing my little watercolors as a kid and never stopped. I've always drawn. I would call myself mostly a drawer, and that is reflected in my graphic orientation. I went to art school at the California College of Arts and Crafts, now called the California College of the Arts. I wouldn't call it a really formative college education, given the era (1969-73). It was basically a big, long holiday, but I got exposed to a lot of great stuff.
Q: Did you graduate?
A: Yeah, with a bachelor's in drawing and print making, with honors.
Q: And then what?
A: I didn't really use my art degree in any real practical sense other than to show my work here and there. To make money, I got involved in the trades. I worked and saved money for two years, and then my girlfriend and I at the time flew to New Zealand and joined a three-masted top-sail schooner, and I was on that for three years. We were basically in New Zealand for one year and then sailed up to Fiji and hit the trades, pushing us west. Two years later, we went to Singapore, and I left the schooner in Sri Lanka. I spent about one and a half months off the boat, which was basically a commune.
Q: Did all the sites you saw inform your art?
A: Oh, most definitely, and so did the experience of living closely and integrated with people you wouldn't necessarily be friends with in another environment.
Q: What did you do when you got back to the States?
A: I started working with my brother, for people I had previously worked for, renovating properties. We bought our own house and flipped it. This was in California, mostly Oakland. Eventually I settled into painting over other aspects of carpentry. I like painting because I like to see the nice finish. That's where I've stayed as a profession; it's sort of reliable.
Q: What's your focus now in your art practice?
A: I'm doing small sculptural pieces and these highly graphic paintings, much like the Boneyard image. I work mostly with acrylics, but often it ends up being mixed media.
Q: What do you try to convey with your art?
A: I think my art is primarily spiritual. It's about self-awareness and the beauty and danger of existence.
Q: Are you represented by any galleries?
A: I've been with the Cinema Gallery (in Urbana) pretty much since the first year I've been here.
Q: How long will your work be on view at the Welcome Center (106 S. Neil St., C) and do you have any other shows coming up?
A: We're sort of winging it, but my work will probably be there about two weeks. I don't have any other shows planned at this time.