The paintings of Margaret Pettee Olsen speak to our visual culture in which we are inundated with imagery on computer screens, smart phones, high-definition televisions, and other devices of what the artist calls our “media-driven version of experience.” Informed by abstract traditions, she ventures into new territory with the latest developments in pigments and with a sensibility that taps into the turbulence of our times. All paintings are built from the relationship of elements, but her energetic canvases push boundaries with layers of distinct, dissimilar actions and strategies that resist coherence. Bold, non-referential colors reside on different reconfiguring planes, and applications of light-reflective media appear differently when seen at different angles. Insistently interactive, Pettee Olsen’s canvases are mutable perceptual events that partake of ambiguity, boundlessness, and sensation.

Pettee Olsen is relentless in combining varying painterly gestures, which she additionally breaks up with bars and irregular floaters. Movements into space or from edge to edge are interrupted by shimmering details and hues that reside on the surface. Composed of autonomous passages that transmit to one another, her paintings optically and viscerally suggest sound and rhythm combinations that register physically and hint at Pettee Olsen’s early study in dance. Drawn from the last few years, the selected works allow the viewer to acquaint themselves with the range of her expression and yet to discern her ever-expanding vocabulary. Created over a period of time, each painting is its own field of operations, but the artist’s process may introduce a theme and variations from one to the next. Our need to find consistency is rewarded by finding threads within contingencies, which in the real world may bring us to truth or have us adhere to constructed fictions.

—Stephanie Grilli, Art Historian, Yale PhD,

©Margaret Pettee Olsen 2021