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Dawson artist puts feelings to canvas

When Dawson City artist Jackie Olson starts a new piece of work her first step is to cover the entire canvas in yellow paint.

When Dawson City artist Jackie Olson starts a new piece of work her first step is to cover the entire canvas in yellow paint.

Yellow is her least favourite colour.

Starting with the colour she hates the most helps her get over the fear of “wrecking” a blank canvas, she said.

The way she sees it, anything will be an improvement over the yellow.

“I knew I was going to be covering that up so it was OK. If you put yellow it would be OK to wreck. It gets me past (making) the first mark on a crisp white canvas.”

Though she starts with a canvas full of yellow, Olson’s finished products are far from one-note.

Layers of colour are added to the canvas, each getting combined with the alchemy that comes from a skilled artist’s hand.

The final paintings, whether they’re the image of a raven over a mountain or a more abstract mixture of golds and reds, evoke feelings when they’re viewed. Olson herself said she depends a lot on feelings when she’s painting, they tell her where to go and when to stop.

“When I work on my canvases I don’t really have a preconceived idea of what I am going to be doing. I just start working (with) my materials and building layers.”

Inside her heated workshop she’ll often have up to five canvases on the go at once, on the floor or on the table in front of her.

She’ll focus on one for a bit until she feels the need to move onto another for a moment.

“I circulate them,” she said. “I don’t like to waste any paint.”

That continues until she feels like the piece is complete and then a blank canvas is brought in to take its place.

“I just keep adding until it says, ‘I’m done.’”

Olson’s latest collection of paintings, My Own Reality, is on display at Arts Underground until Feb. 25.

Arts Underground executive director Courtney Holmes said Olson’s work offers a lot for viewers to investigate.

“Her work, to me is a lot about sharing histories and experience and also it’s just so fascinating to see people doing abstract expressionism, particularly with an Indigenous voice.

“I think that’s something that needs to be heralded and celebrated.”

The paintings were completed over the span of a year, Olson said. Some feature images of ravens while others are more abstract, textured creations. The paint is sometimes mixed with paper pulp to help give the final product even more height off the canvas.

“This (series) is really about anger, and working through that anger, accepting it and letting it go,” she said.

“This year was a very tough year for me and I had a lot of anger at the beginning of the year… just kind of letting that go and (knowing) that it’s OK.”

Olson didn’t want to go into detail about her year but said many people can relate to how she was feeling.

When painting she’s often influenced by what she feels, she said.

“A couple of those I was really in a contemplative mode, of how we are so vulnerable to the environment around us,” she said.

“When you mature you think, OK, I’ve dealt with a lot of things and they don’t bother me anymore. But it just takes a small thing to trigger something and it kind of comes flashing back.

“In some of those paintings I was kind of going back to things that had happened earlier in my life and reflecting on them.”

Now that the year is up and the paintings are done, she said she’s feeling good.

“I hope the audience finds pleasure in my work. As much as I’m dealing with a lot of turmoil and emotional stuff, I think when I come to the completion of a painting, it is a happy painting. It’s visually pleasing.

“(I hope) that they get good vibes from it.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at