June 01, 2009 | By

In light of Vancouver artists being featured in our June issue, I decided to blog this. Enjoy.

My neighbour, friend and favorite artist, Lita Olsen is going to retire in Miami, Florida. I just know it. Maybe it's because she grew up in Bergen, Norway a rainy city so stuck on black metal you get exiled for even talking about Madonna. Or perhaps it's because she currently lives and works in Vancouver, B.C, Canada's very own isolated doom-town. But most likely, it's because beneath the gloomy grey of her living climates, Lita is just like her oil paintings - a burst of neon in a tube black world.

I met Lita Olsen about four years ago. She had her hair dyed orange with it half buzzed off and was deep into Swedish electro. Lita spent most of the time doing her own thing: drinking Pabs, stretching canvas and slopping globby paint into angular grids. I invited her over to talk about her latest series, 'Miami Ladies' and her love of Florida.

Mish: Why did you come to Canada?

Lita: My boyfriend had been accepted to university in Vancouver. I was young and naive and sort of done with Norway, so I came along. He ended up failing all his classes, so he went back home. I stayed at The Emily Carr Art Institute and kept painting.

Mish: And I'm glad you did because I love your work. You always use such bright colors in your paintings. Where does the love of those tones come from?

Lita: I really don't know where my pallette comes from, but I am just so attracted to pastels and bright, powerful colors. I am really inspired by Allison Schulnik. She uses thick paint like it is clay. She plays with oil in a sculpture manner and it's like she is molding the paint. When I first started painting I used acrylics, but now I only paint with oil because it is so forgiving and flexible. No artist goes back to acrylic.

Mish: I love the Miami Ladies series you did. I think it really draws attention to a demographic of women that is often forgotten. What inspired this series?

Lita: Well, when I go back to Norway, I always visit my Grandmother. When she and my Grandfather were in their fifties they used to vacation in Florida. As a girl I loved looking at the old photo albums they kept of those trips, you know, the colors and the architecture. The imagery really stuck with me. Also, when I am in Norway I usually end up working at my old job at the hospital as a nurse. The gender dynamic of elderly people is very funny yet stereotypical. The women are so social. At the hospital they would all sit together in the common rooms, always interacting and chatting while the men often fall back and retreat to solitude. And I tried to show that aspect of feminized life in the paintings. I recently sold my favorite one in the series.

Mish: Did an old lady buy it?

Lita: Ha, sort of. She was in her late fifties.

Mish: Hey, speaking of old ladies, you went to Miami last year for Art Basel, how was it?

Lita: Miami was fun. South Beach is awful, it's like watching The Hills.

Mish: How was Art Basel?

Lita: It wasn't exactly what I thought it would be. Art Basel is a very commercial exhibition that is based around purchase. So, half the pieces I went to see were bought and sold before I had even arrived. It was very clear if you are there to buy or there to look.

Mish: How so?

Lita: Well, for example, they had this room called 'The Cartier Dome'. It was filled with diamonds and obviously only the VIP could enter. You see what I mean? But, on the other hand, there are so many other underground art fairs going on in Miami at that time. Terrance Koh had a show called, 'Oh Wow', which was amazing.

Mish: Next year just make a fake VIP pass. You're an artist, I'm sure you could swing it.

Lita: Ha, probably.

Miami Ladies 2 - Lita Olsen, 2009

Miami Ladies 3 - Lita Olsen, 2009

Assorted Untitled works in Woo Magazine - Lita Olsen, 2009

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