Steve Olson is a legend in many things, beginning as one of skateboarding’s first stars in the 1970s and evolving into prominent L.A. artist, model-dater, and general coolest guy in the room.
Handsomely grizzled and rarely seen without a cigarette, the 52-year-old Olson nevertheless bubbles with the wondrous energy of a grade-schooler. His latest art project, most recently exhibited at the Skate Ramp at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest last weekend, has the deceptively simple title Kids Paintings—in reality, it is an exercise in rule-breaking, unpredictability, and the value of physical creativity.
The process is straightforward: Squirt a bunch of paint on a child and have him or her take a running slide over a canvas on the ground; repeat with additional colors. The end result in most cases is a colorful, abstract, smudgy swirl that's interesting to look at in its own right. But the real art is in the mental and physical process of the creation, with lessons about mind-set that can be applied to anyone making something new.
"I like when the little kids get messy," says Olson. "It’s important because they’re always told not to—don’t get dirty, stay clean, stay clean. But you know, it’s not a clean world." For Olson, the magic moment is when the child approaches the canvas and inevitably freezes when they realize they’re covered in paint and are about to make an even bigger mess. The degree to which they’re able to overcome their ingrained fear of breaking the rules and throw themselves into the slide determines how the painting will turn out. That’s also where an audience, cheering the kid on, comes in as collaborators. "Then it’s like, yeah, everyone supports them, and then they just get nuts."
The idea came from an earlier project in 2011 with Olson’s then-25-year-old son Alex, also a professional skater, which involved tracking paint on the wheels of a skateboard over a canvas on quarter-pipe ramps. In addition to the mind-over-matter element, "it’s about incorporating physical activity with art to create a finished product that is both at once," says Olson. No matter what result you envision with your mind alone, the physical aspect means "you don’t know how it’s going to come out, so that makes it exciting at the same time."
Canvases created at Fun Fun Fun will be sold to benefit the Project LOOP 50/50 Skatepark Fundraiser, an effort to raise money and awareness for a skatepark and creative learning center in Taylor, Texas.