Embracing Contrasts with Evy Olsen Halvorsen

Embracing Contrasts with Evy Olsen Halvorsen

February 04, 2021

Evy Olsen Halvorsen (aka Halvorsen Holstein) was born in northern Norway and currently lives in Kingston WA. Evy and her parents immigrated in 1956 to the neighbourhood of Ballard in Seattle WA. After graduation from High School, Evy moved briefly to San Francisco before landing in Kitsap County with husband and daughters.

After raising her daughters, owning a couple of businesses, she continued her education at Cornish College of the Arts, receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts, cum laude in 1999, in Painting and Printmaking.


What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?

I have been an artist for as long as I can remember, I have a black and white snapshot of myself sitting on a stump with a proper drawing pad on my lap, I was six years old. Now I'm impressed that my dad bought me a pad instead of just some paper.

How would you describe your own personal style?

Lots of colour works best for me, good contrast, maybe dramatic and often with texture. I painted straight abstracts for a long time but got bored with that and now I'm painting in some way representationally.

What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?

I have loved colour since I discovered Van Gogh and Paul Klee in my teens, Klee's whimsy attracted me too. I am always dissatisfied with my work. Right now I'm working on portraits, not for realism but for emotional truth and trying to add another dimension of philosophy to some also, I don't want people to be bored looking at my work. I like to add an abstract element to even my more realistic work. I'm looking to combine more of realism and abstractness to my paintings in a logical manner.


What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?

I'm inspired by nature and poetry but also a bit of humour and philosophy

Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, maybe even other artists?

My dad was always supportive, more than mom. I wish he had pushed me to go to art school but he didn't know about such things. I had two high school art teachers who were great, one was a traditionalist and the other was very contemporary, very inspirational. Unfortunately my community college art classes were inadequate so I waited until my kids were grown to go back to school and get my degree. It was worth the wait.

When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?

I paint in oils, with brushes and palette knives and I also paint in encaustic, hot tinted wax, which is very different and requires no clean up, a big plus. Previously I created etchings but I don't have a press so that fell by the wayside though I did love it. I enjoy various mediums since one must work differently in each.


When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?

Portraits have always interested me, the challenge of it and I enjoy created a story, my favorite paintings are more complex and surprise me as I am working them.

Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?

Mostly I just start working, I get a lot of paint on a canvas and think about it, putting on abstract strokes of various colours often leads me to an idea or if not then I look through photos of people, of landscapes or read poetry to try to trigger a direction. I find it difficult sometimes because I like to paint everything, landscapes, portraits, abstracts so I have decided to combine my interests into each painting! I'm now painting portraits with abstract backgrounds and still add some realistic motifs to balance.

Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is it more a case of when the moment is right you work?

Not so much, I don't sleep well so I am slow in the morning and usually by noon I have done some chores and wander into my studio. Depending how I feel (chronic pain annoyances) I can get a lot done or I just read, relax. Often I paint in the evenings too, fewer distractions and quit about 9pm. I would like to paint more hours but I need to fix some of my physical ailments to feel up to it. I'm lucky that my husband is very supportive and takes care of a lot of housework. We are both retired.


When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?

I have always worked on multiple pieces, since I work in oils I need to let some work sit and dry a bit or if I'm not satisfied with the direction I will set it aside and wait for ideas or impetus to get back at it. It's not unusual for me to completely paint over a work and create something new or go in a new direction with it, with adjustments. Right now I have 2 large  (36") and about 5 small that are in various stages.

How has your art evolved to be where it is today?

My work is less conservative and more experimental as I get older. I just read an article about embracing contrasts, in thinking and living. Study what you don't like or understand and try to incorporate disparate views in the work. In college I chose to create a term paper on an artist I did not understand and even the professor was impressed because he didn't understand him either.

Which of your artworks are you most proud?

A couple of large, 3' square paintings with figures and fantasy are my favourites. They both started just with a figure and I painted around one abstractly and the other with fantasy flowers and landscape. They are both colourful and dramatic in very different ways. They surprised me.


Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?

There are many, Anselm Kiefer is one, big dramatic statements, Gerhart Richter is another with dramatic work and a lot of variety in approaches. The Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum is another artist who I think paints figures remarkably. I saw his huge canvases here in Seattle and I was struck by the complexity of strokes, colour, not obvious until you got up close.

If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?

Probably the post impressionists.

What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?

There has been a lot of nonsense in the past decades about what is appropriate and acceptable and I think that has leveled out some. Realist painters are accepted again  and I think that most styles can find an audience somewhere. I don't share the enthusiasm for the new conceptual art. It seems too much like gimmickry and too often like ostentatious decoration for rich people. But I suppose art has always had that possibility.

What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?

Try everything, everything. Play with your toys, I went to a great traditional art college that insisted the student try about 5 different disciplines and then choose their major or two. Go to galleries constantly to study techniques and enjoy the diversity of art forms. And travel, as much as possible, nothing can beat seeing a Botticelli in person.


Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is there another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?

I enjoy it all especially work that is foreign to my abilities. I admire good craftsmanship and adventurous creativity. Maybe deceptive realism, when a work has a lot more to digest than is immediately obvious, clever work.

We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?

Yes, there was one painting that took several years, thought I was done but I was not satisfied so I put it away, took it out to work on and put away again. I like to hang work in my studio to look at and think about. I suppose what I have told students is that it is done when nothing annoys you about it. That's about all I can do or I would be on the same painting forever.

Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expressing your creative nature?

No, no more than anyone else. I don't think that I know or understand more than others. I do like a theme and have painted with a 'moral to the story', as I said I like to tell a story, create a narrative but I prefer to leave that open to interpretation.


What are you working on at the moment?

I have 4 smaller, 16x20" paintings that I'm focused on right now, portraits just for fun not for realism, to experiment with combinations of abstract and representation. Two are of children, I find them to be interesting subjects to focus an agenda on.

Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?

No, not since school. I'm jealous of my time and we live in a more rural area. I did run an arts organization for 10 years and we produced a fine arts juried show. This put me in contact with many artists and I enjoyed that process and because of that I was approached to help artists locally, we also had a student show which was gratifying to set up. I've had a lot of frustration in that area though because it was so hard to find support for what we did, artists would enter but not volunteer. We eventually burned out like so many non-profits do.

When is your next exhibition? Is it a solo or group exhibition? Could you tell us a little about the exhibition, when and where it is?

I don't have one scheduled now, I've been in two online auctions that worked out pretty well but there aren't a lot of galleries here (in Kingston, across the sound from Seattle) and of course I can't go around right now to approach Seattle galleries. I have participated in studio tours around here for many years.

There is a gallery owner (in the Bellevue area outside of Seattle) who wants to connect for a show and we are getting our Covid shots in a couple of weeks so I plan on contacting him again to meet. Hopefully I can get out this summer to approach galleries. I have not been proactive for a long time about this because when I ran the organization it just sucked up my time and energy. I do have a digital portfolio ready to go. 

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