Olin West: Frontiersman, Unifier

By Kathleen Sloan

HERALD Reporter

Every time I look at Olin West’s work, I am immediately ejected out of the mundane world. I think, “he’s working on infinity,” or “he’s working on duality,” or “he’s working on reducing the material plane to its barest essence.”

My latest sweep through his Mud Mountain Studio, 324 Broadway in Truth or Consequences, elicited this latest response: “Is he working on unification theory stuff?”

I have watched this artist for a little more than six years and, unlike some artists – whose work changes so rapidly or hopscotches about so that you can’t get the connections, or unlike some artists whose work remains the same (which I’m not knocking – it may require repetition), unlike those artists – West’s development is like watching someone rebirth into increasingly larger and larger containers. It’s organic, but also has the rigor of a scientific study.

I first saw his landscapes, and like his studio sign of Mud Mountain, it reduces and knits ground and sky to a Pythagorean rightness that borders on mathematical proof, ideal form, earthly heaven, minimalist art and advertising.

Then, almost like an Australian Aborigine, whose paintings reflect their belief that past, future and now are converging, West used this repetitive and ritualized daub. The Aborigine paintings are round daubs of colored sand or paint, usually depicting a “dreamtime” map of, say, their lizard avatar meeting a watering hole god.

West’s paintings were paint pats scraped off a carefully loaded small pallet knife – fat at one end and thin at the other, each as ritualized and similar as a sumi-e brush stroke of a bamboo leaf.

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