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Rudi Gudmund Olsen was born on 23 June 1937 in Bronshoej, Denmark, to a father who was a recognised painter and a mother who worked as a saleswoman. He was considered to be a child prodigy when, as an eight year old boy, his pictures were exhibited by art dealer, Borge Birch, and at just eleven years of age his pictures were accepted at Denmark’s Kunsternes Efterarsudstilling (KE). This was very noteworthy as KE is one of the Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art’s most important institutions and ever since it was established in1900 KE has focused on the new art of tomorrow. This has allowed new artists without funds to be recognised.
Olsen studied at the P Rostrup Boyesen Malersk, Denmark, from 1952-53 and then went on to the Ecole des Metiers d’Art in Paris from 1953-55. He travelled widely all his life, with many visits to France, but also to Spain, the United States and Singapore.
In 1956 Olsen was a member of a group of six painters and two textile artists who decided to overcome the obstacles that prevented their works being seen in Denmark. They rented a venue and presented their own group exhibition. This broke an unwritten rule that a group should not be formed until its members had been accepted several times at one of the official, censored exhibitions. Initially they were successful but after three years this venture failed because of the negative comments of art critics and the press. Nevertheless, they were seen to have blown fresh air into Danish art.
Olsen’s early work was naturalistic painting. He developed to a partially abstract idiom that was inspired by cubism. In 1963, at age 26, he started to paint large pictures with nature as the starting point and in which he used black as the predominant colour. An example of this is Antonio Tapies. Three years later, in what became known as his lyrical period, lighter colours became his focus and, in particular, hot pink, yellow and white colours.
It was in the late 1960’s that Olsen’s interest was focused on astronomy, space travel and constellations. This resulted in a series of images that were based on these themes and they often had an almost relief like colour surface. After this he became inspired by all things maritime and focused on the sea and the countryside of Normandy and Brittany in France and Skagen in his native Denmark.
In 1995, Olsen received a Bikubens scholarship to study in Paris. This led to him living in Paris towards the end of his life when he was inspired to paint figures whose faces reflected the deprivation and anxiety that is sometimes associated with city dwellers. He died on 1 January 2000.