In the store, Esther Olsson’s stories dance around the room beside furniture from the Art House Collection. Magical compositions that juxtapose ancient symbols with exotic animals and popular culture icons. On a cold Tuesday morning in Melbourne, we spoke to Esther about the progress she’s made in both her profile and proficiency as an artist. Over the course of an hour, she told us about her cushions and paintings for Jardan, and the sisterly spat that shaped her visual style.
“At my age you’re thinking a lot about what you’re going to be when you’re older. Most of my works are journal entries,” says Esther Olsson, rocking busily back and fourth on her feet. “A few weeks ago someone bought one of my paintings and was like, ‘what’s this about?’” Esther smirks. “I was like, ‘umm, getting drunk in Geelong and flooding a shower!?”’
After working under Melbourne artists Beci Oprin and Kirra Jamison for the past few years, Esther has announced herself as an artist in her own right. Today, she’s painting a mural that stretches five or six metres along Greville Street in Prahran, opposite the library. “When I was younger I had one of those voice activated journals – remember those lock diaries?” she says with another smirk. “Well, my sisters used to break into my diary – they sounded really similar to me. They’d read it and tease me about my spelling. So, from then on, I started drawing my feelings instead of writing them. I’d be like, ‘I’m in love with this boy.’ But instead of writing it down I’d draw the boy and the love hearts and all of the feelings.”
Throughout middle and high school, Esther’s way of seeing the world was developed on the pages of her diary. Back then, the sketches were simple and unsophisticated. Now, her paintings are filled with exotic animals and dancing creatures. The things she goes through by day, swished around in her imagination. And now because of these paintings she’s making a living and gaining a real reputation for her work.
Interestingly, Esther’s paintings tell old archetypal stories too, featuring tigers, giants, jewellery, and hunters; symbols that humans have referenced in art for centuries. It’s the juxtaposition between symbolism of the past and popular culture artefacts of the present that defines Esther’s surreal worlds: wonderfully joyful places where laughing tigers and hunters and snakes from bygone eras cry basketball tears and worship at the feet of the Nike Swoosh.
What’s most interesting about Esther’s ability as a painter is that up until a few years ago, her style was very different indeed. In fact, while she was studying design, her style wasn’t influenced by the images she’d done as a child as much as it was by the her study of design. But soon after she finished university, while working with visual artist Kirra Jamison, the stories from Esther’s diary began making their way into her works.
“One day Kirra and I had been having some wines and she was like, ‘why aren’t you doing any painting? You have to paint!”’ says Esther, taking out a packet of rollies from the pocket of her overalls. She’s having a break from painting now, finishing one of ten or so bright yellow flowers on the mural. “So Kirra gave me some studio space and she taught me how to paint.”
With Kirra’s guidance, Esther painted every day. “She’d come and put blue tape on the areas of my paintings that she thought it would be good to talk about,” Esther says. “She’d say ‘you need to work on that’ or ‘fill that a bit more’ or ‘you’re being too fast’ or ‘the edges are rough.’
“At the start I was doing these paintings that I thought people would like, but then Kirra saw something that I’d put up – just a painting from my room – and told me that’s what I should be doing.”
As fate would have it, the image that Kirra liked was just like the images that Esther drew in her diary as a kid – in the same idiosyncratic style of all her recent work, from the mural on the wall in Prahran to the cushions and paintings dotted through the Jardan Art House collection.
“We did two cushions with two of my favourite paintings,” says Esther on her collaboration with Jardan, still bouncing up and down and around on the pavement. “It’s of a girl balling her eyes out – she has basketballs coming out of her eyes. It’s an ode to…An ode to it being cool to cry. Because crying is the most powerful emotion I think. Once you see someone cry you’ve made a connection. You’ve see them when they’ve dropped their guard. And for a cushion, I thought that was a lovely little connection…a cushion to cover one of those moments.”
“The other cushion is about becoming a stronger person” She continues. “You know, becoming older and having a say in your life. But there’s still always someone having a say in that. Cushions are beautiful – you can cover your body in them and make a little fort. You can put them on your stomach and cover your rolls.”
“I did a few paintings too,” she says, picking up the yellow brush to paint. “One’s called Bitter Standstill. It has all the things I wanted at as a kid but grew out of. Things I eventually didn’t want after all, like a horse and a peacock…It’s like the renaissance, graphic design, diary entry. It’s weird. It’s got to be weird.”
Esther Olsson’s paintings and cushions can be purchased in store and on our online store.