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Esteemed South Dakota artists Robert Aldern and Carl Grupp once called Jay Duffin Olson (1943-2000) the best painter in South Dakota. Now, a new retrospective of his work will give the Sioux Falls community and greater region a chance to experience and be inspired by Olson once again.
"Jay Duffin Olson: A Retrospective Celebrating the Life of a Sioux Falls Artist and Professor" will be on display from Friday, Nov. 18, through Saturday, Dec. 10, at Augustana’s Eide/Dalrymple Gallery. A gallery reception is set for 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2.
An academically trained artist, Olson earned his BFA and MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Although he employed abstraction as a major visual technique, he was a classical artist in the sense that he focused his work around a select set of themes that he pursued relentlessly in series, including the Dakota landscape, rainbows, and skulls. By narrowing his subject matter to these focused visual forms, he was able to abstract and explore their visual properties to the fullest. The results are often breathtaking, with large canvases that threaten to overwhelm the viewer. His skulls become landscapes unto themselves, symbols not just of death, but also of resurrection and a universal destiny that connects all people. Likewise, his lyrical rainbows are not just symbols of hope, but become nuanced environments that invite quiet, even mournful, reflection.
A prolific painter and photographer, Olson was also a major force in shaping generations of young artists in the region. He served as a professor and chairman for more than 20 years at the University of Sioux Falls (then Sioux Falls College). Olson also taught at a time when the art departments of the University of Sioux Falls and Augustana College were affiliated, further expanding his influential reach. He was also a long-standing member and former president of the Civic Fine Arts Center of Sioux Falls.
It has been nearly two decades since a major exhibition has been staged of Olson's work. This retrospective is drawn from the private collections of the Olson family and of local Sioux Falls collectors, and will include prints made as a student, early abstract paintings, highlights from his mature series, and some of the last paintings that he produced just before his death.