Father-Daughter Exhibition Brings Long-Delayed Debut

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Algorithm Hell by Rich Olin. Photo by Phil Lederer.

Perhaps Pamela Olin was destined to be an artist, growing up in her father’s home-studio. A creative and curious man, Rich Olin was always up to something, crafting some strange new sculpture or embedding electronics into the old ones. And as they left his imagination, they filled the house. But where his daughter Pamela pursued the life of a professional artist, Rich Olin never showed his work. He was a businessman, after all, and the artist’s life was for someone else. But now, at age 90, the artist inside is ready to emerge, with this week’s opening of Expressions of Experience: Two Generations | Two Perspectives, a father-daughter exhibition of sculpture and painting at Plymouth Harbor Gallery.

Featuring a whopping 30 works from each Olin—largely free-standing sculpture in clay or steel but with a nice contingent of paintings and mixed-media lining the walls—Expressions of Experience explores how both have used their art to chart a course through grief, loss, and the life that must continue in the wake of family tragedy. But although they may be kin, the similarity stops there.

Fans of Pamela Olin will recognize some familiar work in steel—slender figures and leaping dancers, jigsaw spheres and flowing curves—but also get a chance to see a number of large-scale paintings not shown before, as the artist uses everything from acrylics and housepaint to bathroom caulk and fallen leaves to create her compositions. “Whatever I have within reach that gives me the texture I’m looking for,” she says. And never with a brush. Always with her hands. In much of this work, largely non-representational and varied in both medium and style, it's not hard to see the artist as seeking an answer on the canvas, exploring new techniques as new routes to truth. Much is an operation in abstraction, and the artist is more apt to talk about heady concepts of resilience and humanism in conversation, than any concrete meaning. Her father, on the other hand, opts for the more direct approach.

Working almost exclusively in ceramic, the elder Olin embraces the absurd as he alternately satirizes and meditates on the strangeness and struggles of being a human in the modern world, crafting madcap scenes and populating them with crudely shapen figures, as though emphasizing humanity as a work in progress. The figures walk tightropes and swing on trapezes, dance on docks, drown in algorithms and lose themselves in neverending embraces. Some are whimsical, like a trio of tuxedoed musicians playing cardboard paper towel tubes instead of instruments or an old man flying butt-first down a children’s slide. Others wryly comment on the realities of aging. Many feature some sort of mechanical aspect, motion sensors activating sounds, lights or movement to draw attention when onlookers come close. And with names like, treasure the little things, opacity is not the aim.

“It’s always been a dream to have a show with my dad,” says Pamela Olin. “And I hope audiences come away with a sense of joy. That they leave hopeful and humorous and curious. Always curious.”

Currently on display, Expressions of Experience: Two Generations | Two Perspectives runs at the Plymouth Harbor Gallery through February 29. An opening reception with both artists is scheduled for January 9, from 4:30 to 6:30pm.


Pictured: Algorithm Hell by Rich Olin. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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