By Andrea Teague
Greg Olsen stared at the help-wanted ads, hope dimming as he dismissed each one. His house was in foreclosure despite all his tireless work, and he had a family to support. For the first time, his wife Sydnie”s patience with his struggling art career had cracked and she had pleaded with him to find a “real job.”
“I always believed in Greg, and we had gone through hard times up until then,” Sydnie Olsen said. “This particular time it was like nothing was working out. It had been months since anything worked out.”
As Greg Olsen read each job description, he realized he would not have any luck.
“I wasn”t really qualified to do anything that paid any kind of money at all,” he said.
Finally, he looked at his wife and they knew that there was nothing else that could be done.
“He was not capable of doing anything but his art, because I could see into his heart and I could see that was everything he loved,” Sydnie said. “It was a beautiful moment for me, because I could see he was willing to give it away if he had to.”
His wife told him to go back to his studio and paint something that would sell.
Something did sell. Olsen slowly pulled himself out of debt, and eventually gained fame and success for his religious and family art. He is especially well known in the LDS community today for paintings of Jesus Christ. Through it all, he never lost his sense of who he is or forgot what it took to get where he is now.
When he started painting professionally, Olsen and his wife knew it would be a struggle for a while, but did not realize that the difficulties would last for more than ten years.
“You hear the phrase ”poor starving artist” – that”s pretty much the reality starting out,” Olsen said.
Despite all of the problems, Olsen, with the support of his wife, kept painting.
He painted non-stop for the first few months, preparing for his first art show, which turned out to be a devastating blow. They barely raised enough money for the invitations and refreshments at the show.
“We were thinking, ”What have we done?”” Olsen said.
For the next decade, Olsen was only able to finish one painting at a time, and then sell it to support his family. He was unable to get enough art together for another show. At this time, he was painting mostly Western art.
“I felt like a phony in Western art,” he said.
He said this was because most of the other Western painters were painting what was most important to them in their lives, and he wasn”t.
Eventually, he decided to start painting subjects that truly were important to him, like his religion and his family. This changed the way he painted and his career.
He was now painting in the genre in which he would become famous. Helping him toward success, he had people supporting and commissioning his art.
Steevun Lemon, managing director of Repartee Gallery in American Fork, said he saw Olsen”s talent from the beginning, and has been carrying his work for twenty -five years.
“It”s beautiful art work,” Lemon said. “Greg is really the grandfather of commercial Mormon art.”
With help from people that believed in his talent and artwork, Olsen gained success. He said he attributes everything he”s accomplished to the support of his wife and teachers and to the artwork itself.
“I”m an average, ordinary person, and my art is directed toward those type of people,” he said.
Olsen said he is still a bit surprised by what he has accomplished.
“I”m an Idaho farm boy and that”s the perspective I have,” he said. “It [my success] is kind of a mystery to me.”
Olsen grew up in a small farming community in Idaho. He was always interested in drawing and spent hours practicing.
“I was a very introverted kid and maybe that worked to my advantage because I spent a lot of time alone in my room drawing,” he said.
When he started junior high, Olsen took art classes to improve his skills, and when he reached high school, he was able to take classes from an extremely talented teacher, Bob Whitney. Whitney has taught many successful artists in his career, and is an artist in his own right, creating many works of art including sculptures for the Denver Broncos.
“You felt like a little apprentice in an old master”s studio,” Olsen said.
Olsen took many art classes from Whitney throughout all four years of high school, and spent almost all of his time in the art room.
“He was very introspective, but his wheels were always going,” Whitney said. “He always had some ideas turning. When I would give an assignment, Greg would always come back with more than one option for the assignment. He never got below an A.”
Whitney said he was impressed with Olsen”s art ability, but what he liked the best about him were his values.
“He was very loyal to his parents,” Whitney said. “He had a very good set of values because of his LDS background. He always knew he was going to go on a mission, and he always knew he was going to study art in college.”
Olsen followed through with his plans by serving a mission in Ontario, Canada, and studying illustration at Utah State University, where he met his wife.
Now that Olsen has fulfilled his plans and accomplished so much, Whitney said he is extremely proud of him.
“I”m busting all the buttons off of my shirts,” Whitney said. “I”m really proud of him.”
Olsen now lives in Provo with his family enjoying the freedom that came with his success, but never lets it go to his head.
“One thing I”ve always liked is he”s humble,” said Nathan Olsen, Greg Olsen”s son. “He”s kind of embarrassed when he gets attention. You never hear him brag. He lives humbly, acts humbly.”
Now, Greg Olsen hopes that his art will outlast him and serve as a recording of his life.
“That”s also a frightening thought,” he said with a laugh. “Your best painting will hang around, but also your worst will.”
Despite this, he is glad that he will leave his art behind for his family to enjoy.
“It”s nice to leave a little bit of my viewpoint for my kids – my family,” he said.