When Hope Olson is asked to explain “tablescapes,” her emerging artistic style, a style quickly catching fire in West Michigan, she pauses, admits it could take a while, and then delivers an elegant, emotionally-moving description that makes you want to buy one on the spot, except she doesn’t carry around 24” x 36” canvases in her back pocket.
Olson, a Holland-based artist focused on acrylic painting, is captivating because she shows rather than tells.
Her arms are animated, she’s slowly shifting from left to right, stopping, almost visualizing a previous piece and trying to recreate it now, right here, on this table, which is fitting because tables are almost sacred to her, and as it turns out, many of her customers.
Tablescapes, in a sense, are still life paintings reimagined, emblazoned with a modern attitude.
Olson says she “utilizes altered perspective, abstracted form, and unusual color in her paintings to echo stylized designs and patterns seen printed on tablecloths, wallpaper, dishes, and stained glass, all objects that can be found on and around the tables we frequent.”
In other words, your high school art teacher might not like it.
But, get this, Olson’s typical customer isn’t an art teacher.
Or art critics.
“You have to enjoy what you are making,” Olson said. “I tend to think you paint what you want to paint. And find your people.”
Olson’s people are regular people, both local residents and out-of-state tourists. They have regular problems. Her tablescape masterpieces put them at ease. Move them. Remind them of better days with family.
Which means the walls where her artwork hangs, Button Gallery in Douglas, Mich., don’t gather dust.
“It’s been fun. I really like the results of them,” Olson said, sipping on an iced coffee, unwinding after a day of painting because it’s Monday and, well, that’s the day she paints each week. “They have been selling well.”
So we can table this discussion if you want, but why…exactly…tables?
“People sit at tables with people they love,” Olson said. “Even though there are no people painted into the artwork, there is evidence people have been there.”
Wow, I get it. Now I have to pause. That’s such a true statement.
It’s like Olson’s re-discovered a timeless truth, and with each painting she sells, shares it with one more person.
During an age of increasing screen time, over-booked schedules and declining social skills, gathering around the table is a lost art. It shouldn’t be. Maybe, just maybe, Olson’s work is sparking a quiet revolution, a return to what’s worked for thousands of years.
“At the table, we keep our most necessary and most beautiful belongings within arm’s reach: a slice of bread, a glass of water, an antique vase with the garden’s hydrangeas,” Olson said. “These surfaces provide a literal support for us to gather with our children and friends or to sit in a moment of solitude with a coffee and the newspaper. When we are nourished at a table through food, conversation, or rest, our spirits and bodies can be restored.”
Moving up by moving away
Perhaps the tablescape style, her unique spin on a traditional category, was born from Olson’s pattern of avoiding the easy and comfortable and normal path.
She draws maps instead of following them.
Olson was born in Ann Arbor but moved to the Chicago area when she was young. She has loved to paint since then, but didn’t pursue it as a full-time occupation.
As college approached, she wanted to attend a Christian school in the Midwest with an interior design major. She used a basic college search Web site and filled out all the information about her interests. Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois was her choice and the choice.
“Essentially that was the only school that came up,” Olson said with a laugh.
So she went. She majored in interior design and minored in marketing. But she couldn’t shake the feelings of her first love.
“In college I was missing painting so much,” she said.
Thankfully, she could fit in some art classes as electives. And those around her began to notice her talent. One professor thought she should do art professionally. With that boost of confidence, she began selling art pieces even while in college.
Then it was time for the real world. And once again Olson didn’t let fear hold her back.
Instead of settling for a comfortable life in suburban Chicago, she decided to move to Holland about three years ago. Other than her sister, who had settled in West Michigan, she didn’t know anyone. She thought a new location would motivate her. Drive her. Spark creativity.
“I forced myself to network,” she said. “I am so happy here.”
She took an administrative assistant job in the area. And just like in college, she kept her art alive. Instead of focusing on realistic watercolors, though, her past sweet spot, she experimented with new styles and tablescapes emerged.
Entering Art Prize totally made sense. But she hesitated.
“Really, I was scared,” she recalls.
She doesn’t enjoy driving into larger cities. Or finding parking in them.
Yet in 2016, she took a leap again and entered Art Prize with three acrylic pieces. She met other artists. Learned to explain her art work to strangers. Plus, wait for it, landed free parking.
Fast forward to 2017.
Now that Olson is represented by Button Gallery, she’s crushing it even more. Think $675 for a 24″ x 24″ piece and $840 for a 24″ x 36″ piece. Besides her unique style, she is also local to the gallery, which is extra appealing to visitors.
Looking ahead, Olson hopes her work appears in more galleries along the Lakeshore. Maybe she will get into teaching art, too. Workshops. Ultimately, she’s grateful for the opportunity to make art and share it with the world, even with a day job.
“I get to do what I like to do part of the week and that’s a win for me,” she said.