Stan Olthuis – Silence, Shapes, Space


- John K. Grande


Stan Olthuis’ paintings go to the heart of the contemporary artist’s dilemma. It is hard to describe these paintings. They exist at a point in time when they were made. There is a gestural, linear, rhythmic sense of silence at the heart of these paintings. Pure physical sensation combines with a vibrancy that comes from a love of working with matter. Olthuis’ art intensifies the sense of art’s process, as being a part of life’s journey, a progression of life we are all in, however brief or endless it can be.

The progression in Olthuis’ art is natural, intuitive and embodies an exchange between the artist and the viewer. We sense the struggle to realize art in the moment, and these works are bathed in reality, even as they carry a surreal, otherworldly sense of entering some deeper realm where the parentheses of time are removed.

The sense of drama and tension inherent to Stan Olthuis’s art has to do with the touch and immediacy of his process – a creation and realization cycle that exists in time.

Growing up in northern Alberta, Stan Olthuis already knew he would be an artist. He went on to Chicago where he studied with Indonesian born Dutch artist Henk Krijger (1914-1979), whose ideas of “gestural enactment” as a way of practicing and making art, carried over into his design experiments. We sense some of this in Stan Olthuis’ approach… There is this sense of the action motion moment. These works are less empty than those of the French painter Georges Mathieu (1921-2012), for they are not framed by an idea of what Modernism or post-Modernism is or should be.

Stan Olthuis’ direction as a process-oriented artist was reinforced by studies at Ontario College of Art & Design, where he graduated with Honorable Mention.  Seminal artist/teachers provided the backdrop and backup and included Nobua Kubota, Tom Dean, Fred Hagan, Udo Kasemets and Dan Soloman. OCAD teachers brought an atmosphere of experimentation and exploration to Olthuis’ growing dedication to art.  A member of the Painters 11, Tom Hodgson‘s (1924-2006) action painting abstraction provided a strong affirmation to Stan Olthuis of directing his art towards “art as process” that Henk Krijger had introduced to the young artist. As Olthuis recently commented, “Tom Hodgson's restless quest for seeing things anew along with his mantra of 'Art is Process' guided me onwards”.

There is some kind of merging of a love of Pop art’s public accessibility, of the concrete object-hood of the minimal and post-Minimal era and the poetic trajectory (that all process-oriented artists seek) in Stan Olthuis’ life’s journey as an artist.  With the Time Limits series, Olthuis literally draws on reality, objects from real life that are worn, dated, affected by weather and circumstance, integrating these intuitively into artworks that bring a cadence of the times we live in, yet are inherently timeless. Out of Time (2013) with its time worn iron, chains and rock elements is harsh and immediate, even sculptural. The arcs, trajectories and lines in paint describe time’s arrow, the rhythmic movement of physical elements, and inadvertently our own spiritual and psychic motion over time in life.

The Shelter series in mixed media on wood, present dwellings as iconic prototypes, dream-like and colourful. Illusion (2013) a work from this series, with its dark silhouette of a house, is suggestive of a hidden inner world, surrounded as it is by an environment at odds with the interiority of the central house element. Inner and outer worlds likewise come together in the Shadow Play series which play with silhouettes of the human body in the land, all this done with an iPhone camera. The body shadow form serves to highlight the stone, moss, grass, wood and earth  - those places where the body shadow exists in a brief moment in time – a spirit passes. Life’s ephemeral moments, tangible, temporary and ever present in our mind’s eye!

Colour, action, fantasy and passion are all there in varying quantities and they emerge according to the specifics of each artwork. You cannot describe Olthuis’ art as pure painting, for it touches on surrealism, on displacement, on assemblage. We sense something of McLuhan’s Global Village sensibility in the merging of mediatic fashion imagery with raw textural and experiential painter’s sense in works like Storm Warning (2012).

The Canadian canoe of Group of Seven renown, here becomes a vehicle that expresses passion, a woman’s gaze, as it enters into the uncharted waters of an iconoclastic immensity of blues, whites, and text fragments. This is the world we live in, part nature, part media – a journey if ever there was one. And the Gowns series have an admixture of media and gesture, colour and fashion. Something Pop, something of a house of moments, all comes together in the classic sleeveless dress, diaphanous and worthy of Coco Chanel’s 1960s trend setting initiatives. Fashion and reality merge, fuse together in a way that is inimically Olthuis’ !


Stan Olthuis’ most recent paintings describe a certain silence. Here paintings exists in a continuum… Pyramids cones, forms emerge and extend into the space of the painterly surface. Olthuis’ method is in the moment, and he uses simple trowels and scrapers, black and white gesso, along with acrylic paints on wood. Often the colours have been reduced to simple blacks and whites.  We sense the energy and gestural moment. Here the shapes are sculptural, like plastic poems echoes of light and space. Dimensions, lines and geometries fuse texturally and express a tentative moment, a point of change through the media Olthuis choses to work with. These recent paintings evolve, and change, as if by chance, like cloud formations, that have fascinated the artists for its changeability, ambiguity, inherent environmental dynamic.


As paintings, Stan Olthuis’ new works are situational; whereby the artist makes choices about composition, texture, form, at a moment in time. And so they relate to the body, to space, to the limits of time, to experience, and above all – process. Life process and art become a journey and the artist is a witness, provocateur, a medium, above all. The traces of time’s passage are ephemeral, and draw their inspiration from the moment. Originating out of Olthuis’ love of drawing, these multi-media works become sculptural, very much 3-D, an interweaving web of line, texture, that exists on the surface of things, that evidences the surface nature of perception, of our relation to the world around us – very much actions that encourage a dialogue on perception. Life is reified through the actions, the process of Stan Olthuis’ art. The art comes full circle, defines the moment, art emerges in time, art into time. Art is a journey - the artist a passenger and participant who builds the boat you travel on. That boat is art, the boat is life… experience builds the trajectory, engages us in so many ways.


John K. Grande has curated 5 editions of Earth Art at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario and Van Dusen Gardens in Vancouver, B.C. 

The author of Balance: Art and Nature (Black Rose Books, 1994), Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists (State University of New York Press, 2007, ( , and Dialogues in Diversity: Art from Marginal to Mainstream, Pari Publishing, Italy, 2008 (, John Grande has contributed to such magazines as Artforum, Arts Review (UK), Canadian Art, Border Crossings, Sculpture (USA), Ceramics Monthly, and Vie des Arts. 

He is co-author of Nils-Udo: Art with Nature (Aachen: Ludwig Forum, 1999), Bob Verschueren: Outdoor Installations (Editions Mardaga, Brussels (2010) and Le Mouvement Intuitif: Patrick Dougherty and Adrian Maryniak  (Brussels: Atelier Muzeum 340, 2005). Eco-Art was co-curated with Peter Selz at the Pori Art Museum (2011) in Finland.