Filmmaker, screenwriter, director
Age: 23, or, as she puts it, “23 going on 58”
Current hometown: Albany
Current project: Creating art for a summer show at the Albany Barn planned as an exploration of womanhood
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Christie Olson describes herself as “a pretty private person,” yet her work offers a highly personal, intimate look into the psyche of a young woman who’s weathered a lot of emotional turbulence. She is the founder of Wild Rose Arts, through which she has produced work like her Anti-Pretty Art series and served as a resource for other artists looking to broaden their creative network. Until recently, the Albany Barn was her home base; she was the winner of the “Battle of the Brushes” at its annual Fusion fundraising event, which was held virtually for the first time this past January. In 2020, she started the Atypical Art Podcast as a way of giving voice to underrepresented artists.
I’m curious what it’s like, having a studio at the Albany Barn. Seems like a pretty rich cultural experience.
I actually shared a studio space with my then-partner, so it was kind of close quarters. But just being around all of those other creatives, and getting to work with (them)… I worked more with Casey (Polomaine, the Barn’s director of programming and residencies), and she was absolutely amazing. She worked with us a lot; I hosted quite a few open studios… we even got to do one during COVID. She set up the scheduling so guests could sign in, and everyone had a certain time slot and everything. It’s just cool to have neighbors that are, you know, your art neighbors. I met a lot of really cool people, and then they introduced me to some of their people. I’m all about networking, so it was really cool to be around other creatives.
Why Wild Rose Arts? How’d you come up with the name?
My middle name is Rose. It’s funny, actually no one’s ever asked me about that. I started doing photography (and) I was also really involved in theatre in high school. I was more the theatre kid, but I always loved art, felt most at home in the studio. But I suck at drawing. (laughs) Like I can’t draw a bowl of fruit. That never interested me. I’m more into contemporary stuff. I was kind of just deemed “the wannabe” because I wasn’t good at drawing, and then I found photography… that kind of made me the outcast, that I was into photography and more abstract stuff. Because no one in my school really understood.
So, my middle name is Rose, and I was always brought up to be, like, you know, “the perfect little Rose.” And then somebody called me wild, or something like that… it kind of just turned into that. At that point, I was just finding my voice as an artist — more so after college, than in college. Because I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted.
You graduated from Saint Rose. You studied art there?
My long-term goal is to actually have my own residency place, that I also have an art gallery at. So I went for Business Administration, and I minored in photography… when I actually started going to Saint Rose, they didn’t even offer a photography minor.
That changed while you were there?
I pestered them quite a bit.
Oh, you made it happen!
I won’t take credit! (laughs) There were a lot of people behind it. But I definitely think I annoyed them to the point of considering it. Because I told them: I don’t care if you actually recognize the minor, but I’m gonna take all of the classes anyway, and I’m gonna tell everyone that I got it. So they made it official.
You mention on your website that you incorporate imagery that conveys the struggle of womanhood in 2021. A really great example is the Out of Your Control series of portraits.
That was kind of my baby awakening… into doing what I actually have always wanted to do. Since I was — oh god, since I could write, I guess; since I was a little kid, I always kept a journal. I always wrote down, you know, sometimes stupid stuff, but sometimes pretty profound things for a little kid to write.
For my senior thesis, they said “You can do whatever you want.” I was going through a really, really hard time with my personal life, with my family life, with school; it was my junior year, and I was like, “I’m just gonna journal about it.”… I was 21 at the time, so I was like, “Well, I can do 21 portraits conveying my 21 years on this earth, and all my different struggles.”
I would come hours before and stay hours late, sign out the studio. My classmates hated me for it. I was always in there.
Because you were using it, they couldn’t get in there?
I signed it out every chance I got. (laughs) So, I had all my journals spread out… I started scanning them in, and then I just went into the studio and I would reread journals… I had one from 2007; I don’t even remember what it said, it was stupid. I was camping or something, it was like “I’m alone in the woods, like I’m alone in this world.” And I was like, “Oh my god, calm down!”
I just read them, and some of them were stupid and some of them were like, “Wow, I got through that. That’s pretty cool.” So I would just take portraits based on all the things I’ve been through, and how I felt rereading them, and what I wanted to say… things to my parents, things to my family, things to my friends I never got to say. I just put ’em on there. And then, I got a solo show out of it, at The Photo Center in Troy, and most of the people that I had kind of focused on in that series came and saw (the show).
What was that like?
It’s kinda cool, because a lot of the issues I was having were actually with my dad. I made this project, and it was the first time that I kind of said: I don’t care. Like he can’t possibly be any more disappointed, so I’m just gonna make this art and if he doesn’t like it, if he doesn’t get it, fine. I didn’t even think he would go. And then he came.
My biggest fear as a kid was for my parents to take my journal — and then I put it up.
That is great, Christie, I gotta say.
I was horrified! I didn’t really make a lot of friends in college; I kind of kept to myself, because they all thought of me as the business major and all the business majors thought of me as the weird art kid. I never really found my spot, but that night a lot of people came. And it felt very rewarding to have them all there while my dad was there… it was at an actual art gallery, and all of my professors and classmates, and my teachers from high school — like all the people that really influenced me throughout my life — were there and saw it.
My relationship with my dad is great now.
That’s the question I really want to ask. Was he upset by it, or did that spark conversation or what happened?
He was… we didn’t really talk about it, but after that things just kind of started to get better. I don’t know if it was because of that, or… if it was just because I stopped being so worried about it. But, yeah, our relationship is the best it’s ever been.
And it sounds like you processed a lot of that struggle for yourself, with your art.
Yeah. I was talking to someone before about it, and I was like: Trauma isn’t unique. But how you deal with it is. For me, journaling and art has always been like my therapy… it has helped me immensely. Even just going to see other people’s art, or reading about it, or just making something — even if it sucks. It just helps; it really does. And so, I did it, and I feel a lot better about life.
Tell me about the Anti-Pretty Art series.
I made the Out of Your Control series in college, and that was my junior year. Then after that, I did a much more lighthearted one for my second advanced class, which was The Shit Show… it was essentially just environmental portraits of people on the toilet. I had a ballerina, I had a witch, I had a poet, I had a lady with a chainsaw… after Out of Your Control, I was too emotionally exhausted to put much of my heart into anything, but I loved my Shit Show.
After I graduated, I didn’t have any space to work. I didn’t have a studio, I didn’t have a classroom; I had my little tiny apartment, and so I moved into the Barn. My partner was very nice and let me move into his space to have some — you know, I’m very messy when I work. I like to spread out on the floor and make a mess. I couldn’t really do that anywhere else.
I had a lot of images left over; I had printed thousands, probably, of smaller thumbnails for when I was kind of storyboarding Out of Your Control. Whenever we would have the critiques, I would put up all the new photos I took, and they were like, “There’s too much.” But I kept them, and I had a big moving box filled with them. One day I had some canvas, and I just got mad. It was so stupid, I was like, “I’m not an artist. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do… I’m gonna break something.” I ripped this photo in half that I had taken such care in making, and then I was like, “Hm.”
So these are photos that you ripped up and turned into something else. It wasn’t like you took the photos intending to create the collage pieces.
No, not initially… (but) I ran out of photos. (laughs)
I usually start with something, either a phrase or a day or a moment or a feeling, and I write poems… I just write them for myself, and then I use that to make a piece around it. When I’m taking photos, I don’t necessarily have an idea of what I’m gonna do. I just kind of take them, print them out and throw them in the box. And then, when I’m ready to make one, I get my box out and I look for ones that should go together. In some pieces, I include journaling; sometimes I include other pieces of garbage or scraps or whatever I can find. I have gum wrappers, and chewed-on gum…
So really anything can be a part of these.
Yeah. When they say, “mixed media” and people roll their eyes, that’s me. (laughs)
You also call yourself “Your Personal Hype-Woman,” hosting open studios and a podcast. Tell me more about that.
I’m really big (on) networking and community, and my dream is to have a place like the Barn… with a little gallery and possibly a restaurant attached to it. Like long, long-term goal… I just really like being around artists and other creatives, and I just love to hype people up.
I just really like to encourage people and help them with what I know business-wise, or art-wise, or marketing-wise… I don’t like to do those things for myself because I feel like that’s weird, even though I should do it more. I don’t advocate for myself nearly as well as I do for others.
I could do so much to help so many people if they would let me. I have a lot of great ideas. And I love listening to what artists want and what they want to accomplish and trying to do the research and find the resources for them.
How would you say the pandemic has impacted you as an artist?
I love being home. I hate everything that’s going on, obviously… but other than going out to shows, I like being home. I like doing my thing, I like being with my immediate family. It’s given me a lot more time, and more excuses to not go out with people, which is nice. I would much rather spend my whole weekend by myself, making my weird art and crafts and stuff, than going out. I really, really do miss going out to openings… I still had quite a few shows (virtually) and I had a few in-person ones… even during the pandemic, so that was cool. 2020 wasn’t a total bust.
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