Rik Olson with Painting in Progress
I once made the decision that all interviews must conclude before 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The light is better in the morning – I am awake – and most artists have something to say prior to tea time. Alas, the only time to schedule was in the evening. At 6:20 P.M. in the pouring rain, I entered the driveway of Rik Olson – pitch black with only faint streams of light through the trees, I see a figure approaching my car with a welcoming smile. Thankfully, Rik gives good directions and has great signage or I would have buzzed right past the Vinegar Lane sign and ended up in Occidental. Most thankfully, my artist is Rik Olson – easy going, hospitable and uberaus talented.
Why do I use the German word “uberaus” to describe Rik? Because it fits perfectly.
Many of you already know Rik’s work. He is the informal trademark of The Sonoma Gazette. Take a look at this paper – front to back. All of those wonderfully detailed depictions of trees and landscapes and fruits are from the steady hands of Rik Olson. You have seen Rik’s signature style on Sebastopol Apple Blossom posters and the Sierra Club logo. In fact, once you start looking, you will notice that his stamp is well spread around Sonoma County and throughout the world.
While Rik is known for his woodcuts and scratch board prints, he is also a painter, a woodturner and a connoisseur of printing presses. His workshop has an antique printing press with the requisite cabinet of typeset, a modern Apple computer and everything in between. An etching press from Bologna, Italy sits near an old Sharp copier that with modification can pass as a print making device. If it has to do with printing, Rik either has it or knows where to get it.
So who is this person and how did he end up out on Occidental Road? Rik grew up in the town of Clayton in the northern shadow of Mt. Diablo. His first award in art was in third grade in the Walnut Creek Art Festival. The certificate hangs in his studio amongst his diplomas and many other parchments of distinction. Rik ventured to the great city of Oakland to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts (which is now known as California College of the Arts – CCA). After graduation in 1967 with a BFA in Illustration, Rik was drafted into the US Army and served two years in Germany as a Military Policeman. While in Germany he sought out a print shop to hone his skills and met his wife, Brita. Recognizing that he had a good thing going, on discharge he stayed in Germany and spent the next 8 years teaching Art & Crafts for the US military in Germany and Italy. He worked in a print studio and had 3 art shows in the Palozzi Strozzi in Florence. He took in the European experience and enjoyed the life of an expat artist. This is the life of dreams for a young man from a one-street American town.
But all things must come to an end. Rik and Brita returned to his native Northern California and settled in South San Francisco. Rik continued his prolific contribution to proving that illustration is a true artform. He studied wood engraving under John DePol and Barry Moser and drew inspiration from the 14thcentury printmaker, Albrecht Duerer and Oakland Arts and Crafts era printmaker artist William S. Rice.
With his great talents and engaging demeanor, Rik successfully participates in the upper circles of his chosen craft. He has illustrated over 200 books and is currently working on a rendition of Herman Melville’s Norfolk Island and the Chola Widow from the Encantadas with Nawaken Press. Rik is an active member of the San Franciso Center for the Book (SFCB), a place to learn the many arts of the book. He teaches workshops each month on methods he utilizes in book illustration such as linoleum prints and wood engraving. Each September for the last six years, a group of artists make 3’ by 3’ linoleum cuts and take their work to the streets – literally! A San Francisco street to blocked off to traffic and a steamroller is the press for 3 to 6 prints each. The event is called ROADWORKS and the prints made are sold at auction to support the work of SFCB. Rik is a favorite at these events, returning each year to wow the crowds. Rik is a member of the Graton Gallery in Graton and Local Color in Bodega Bay. Beginning on February 28, Rik will have a 2 month exhibit at Sonoma Academy, complete with a lecture to the student body, faculty and friends on March 10. Look around and you will find Rik’s art and if you are lucky, you will run into Rik. You can learn more about books and locate Rik’s workshops at www.sfcb.org. Or check out Rik's website at www.rikolson.com. Rik participates in ArtTrails and Art at the Source. However you find him and his art, you will be thankful for the experience.