Robert Martin Olsen was born on May 23, 1969 in Turlock CA and died on April 14, 2014 at his parent’s home in Citrus Heights, CA at the age of 44. Sometime after he finished working on a painting for the night around 3 a.m. and early that afternoon he passed away in his sleep. The preliminary coroner’s report found that he most likely died due to a heart attack, having an enlarged heart and a significantly narrowed major artery.
Robert was born in Turlock California and as he wrote in an artist’s statement: “I was born a little less than a year before my father was drafted into the Army and would end up a career soldier. Thus I was raised in the semi-nomadic life of the child of a military serviceman, moving every 3 years my entire youth.” During those years he would not have a city to call home, attending schools in California, Indiana, Germany, Tennessee, Texas and finally graduating from High School in Germany where he attended Patch High School, Dept. of Defense Dependents Schools. For all this moving he did have a fairly normal childhood, being a Cub Scout and then later a Boy Scout, earning his Eagle Scout Award. He began playing soccer in Germany through youth programs and was on the Killeen High School teams in Texas. He would attend High school proms in Texas and Germany. During his high school years in Texas, Rob began skateboarding and after moving to Germany for his senior year he and friends would travel to Paris to skate the reflecting pond in front of the Eiffel Tower, when the pool was drained for cleaning. He learned to play guitar from his mother during his first years of college. His musical tastes covered a wide variety of styles, punk and rap, but also introduced us to Katie Webster, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, and Muddy Waters. The last play list he burned to a CD was a mix of Willie Nelson. In the past couple of years he would accompany his mother when she sang in church, but when at home he leaned towards Johnny Cash. After high school he worked for a year in Germany before deciding he would go to college to study art.
From the earliest time when he could pick up a pencil or crayon, he would draw. While in first grade he won a poster contest for the school’s annual carnival, beating out the students in the higher grades in his elementary school.
Rob received his BFA from California College of Arts and Crafts in 1998 and his MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2002. It was during his grad school years that he would find his “hometown”, LA.
While in college he started showing paintings through the Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects gallery. He would later have one man shows at: Black Dragon Society, LA; Plane Space, NY; G Fine Art, Washington DC; and Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. He was in group shows at: H2O LA; Univ of North Texas, Denton; Luckman Fine Art Comples, Cal Stat LA; Marcello Marvelli Gallery NY; ArtForum Berlin, Germany; Hayworth Gallery LA; Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs NY; Monterrey Mexico; Reed College, Portland OR; Silas Marder Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY; Hartford Community College, Bel Air, MD; CCA at 100, Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Nathan Larramendy; Ojai, CA; Ars Libri, Boston MA; The Green Gallery East, Milwaukee, WI; ACP LA; Silverlake, LA, CA; Torrance Art Museum, Torrance CA; Wonderloch Kellerland, Berlin German; Anne Marten’s Home, LA; and Begovich Gallery – CSU Fullerton, CA. His last solo show was “L.A. Freeways” at Planthouse NY, and curated his last group show “I, II, III” at South of Sunset, LA.
Articles about him and his shows have been published in: the Los Angeles Times; LA Weekly; Art Issues; Art/Text; NY Arts Magazine, Harper’s Magazine; Art Net, Modern Art Notes, New York Times, The New Yorker, Artfourm.com; Washington City Paper; Grammer.police.net; Art Press; Artinfo; TimeOut; the Portland Mercury; Art in America; and A5 Magazine. Additionally articles about him as an artist appeared in his hometown paper the LA Times “The Night Painter”, “45 Painters Under 45” and Five Artists who help make the scene in L.A.”
Besides being a studio artist, he taught Beginning Painting at UCLA; was guest lecturer, San Francisco Art Institute and the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena CA: and was a core faculty member, The Critique Program, in the San Francisco Bay Area since its founding.
Rob is survived by his parents, Bob and Sandy, and his brother Jason. Rob will be missed by his family and many friends in the art community.
A memorial Service will be held on May 10, 2014 at 3 p.m. at St George’s Episcopal Church, 5600 Winding Way, Carmichael CA, 95610.