An Interview With Olek

by JL SchnabelPosted on

Hailing from Poland, NYC based artist Olek is armed with crochet hooks and mountains of vivid yarn to “paint” Jonathan LeVine Gallery this upcoming August 10th with a plague of crocheted objects and an on site installation. The work exists within an indefinable genre, hovering in an intriguingly liminal space between obsessive horror vacui and a fresh, albeit narcotically colorful, feminine perspective. The artist, who has been receiving a lot of attention for her unexpected and epic street installations & performances, recently invited Hi-Fructose into her studio for a talk about her new show ‘The Bad Artists Imitate, The Great Artists Steal.’ View images of her studio and read our interview with her below.

What got you interested in crocheting?

When I was a little girl, there was nothing in the department store. My mother’s brother, who lives in Rochester, NY, used to send us parcels. At that time, any goods found in the packages were confiscated so he started to send us fabric instead. He sent us lots of beautiful and colorful fabric. During the communist era in Poland, it was impossible to purchase any clothes, let alone nice clothes. But it was very easy to find a seamstress. Between the parcels that my Uncle sent us and the local seamstress, I had the most amazing wardrobe. Well, I thought I did. No one else liked it and my was I looked at as being a strange girl. My parents wanted to encourage my interests but also have some discipline so they asked me to crochet little socks in exchange for the fabric. They sent the socks back to my Uncle in Rochester. My work was here long before I ever crossed the border.

You’ve gotten tons of press for your “Bull” installation and now you have an upcoming exhibition at Jonathan LeVine gallery. Recently there seems to be a big crossover of art made with materials that generally live in the “craft” world into fine art galleries. Can you talk a little about this?

The word “craft”. It really makes my blood boil grays my hair. I am not the firstwho used traditionally recognized craft techniques in fine art. It just takes years tobe accepted by the popular culture. After my bull action, there was a lot of comments from all over the world.Someone wrote a comment on CNN that I should have crocheted scarves insteadof wasting time on the bull. Other readers were defending me by saying :”Leaveher alone. She is an artist!” I called myself a sculptor but actually I view a world more as a painter. Were the Lascaux paintings created to communicate or to capture the soul of the hunted animals? Centuries passed and the purpose of painting shifted from utilitarian to purely aesthetic. Understanding and accepting art takes time. Rap music was not accepted for 15 years and then it dominated the 1990s and is still a prominent genre. If you remember Wild Style, the 1982 cult movie, both graffiti and rap were underground and fringe. Now rap dominates music and street art disappears from the streets and is found in major collections. I actually like to put graffiti into a public art folder. What is next? I cannot speak for others. As long as I have my hands, there is more work to come.


I’m interested in the variety of objects waiting to be crocheted in your studio, from the old sickle that was your Grandmother’s to the 1950’s hairdressing chair. What draws you to the objects you eventually crochet?

I literally crochet anything that enters my life. Each shows starts with one object, theme, or idea.

We’ve talked about how your new show is focused on gender and time. Can you talk about these inspirations?

My work is always focused on gender and time, but especially time, I made it more obvious. My philosophy is captured here

Can you talk about what inspired your text/quote pieces?

My crocheted text messages examine the new romance medium of modern relationships. By contrasting the convenience of “Txt Msgs” with the labor-intensiveness of crocheted sculpture, I transform a casual and fleeting form of communication into grand declarations of human sentiment like happiness or sadness. The fact that we use Txts Msgs to express the most basic and elemental emotions– using abbreviation and misspellings for emphasis– makes me sad. I decided to make these messages permanent by crocheting what otherwise would have been deleted and forgotten. Thus making them timeless.

Your new show also features a departure from color and is dominated by a black/white/grayness. Can you talk about this evolution?

Artwork is always a self-portrait of the artist.

What inspires you?

 Information. I believe I chose crochet as my artistic method to be able to do at least two things at once: watch movies and make art… (well.. I’ve accomplished more than being entertained by films while crocheting but I need a bottle of Polish vodka to talk about it.) In process of producing pieces for The Bad Artists Imitate,The Great Artists Steal I have seen hundreds of movies about and by artists from design to literature, to music, to muses and the fine arts, and street, of course. Anything that I could watch that had anything to do with art or art history. I was really impressed with the information I gathered from “Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies,” directed by Arne Glimcher. I keep wondering how many of us were influenced by Georges Méliès’ magic tricks or harmony of volume, line and color in Loie Fuller’s performances?

While your work has generally been shown as a cohesive installation, how do you feel each piece functions when on it’s own?

Each piece always functions on its own. Has its history and purpose in time, and 99% in life. I place them together so they can tell you a story or two. Just listen. My work is very personal. My studio apartment after being crocheted from a hanger to a toilet went to the Smithsonian Museum.

What do you consider to be the heart of your work?

I hope art in general can inspire and initiate change. I use street art as an additional viewing space, like a gallery or any other area that is showing my work. Good public art works make a person stop walking, stop staring at the ground, and focus on art. My work is never finished – the continuous response of the viewers is the art. My work is simply an instrument for their expressions. It proves that all things are interconnected.Also, my work is another example that “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” [ Marilyn Monroe ]

What is a “typical” workday for you like?

Ha! Work! I wake up, have tea, do some emails, interviews and crochet. First at home covering what surrounds me. My future ex boyfriend is used to seeing things disappear under my camo cover. Then I jump on my bike and go to yoga or gym and studio till my hands and back can’t take any more. Sometimes I take a break for dinner… around 5am.

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