One of an artist’s greatest strengths is the ability to create a niche for him or herself, that is, a style that is so unique that viewers think of the artist as soon as they see a single piece. Artist Frank Olt has managed to achieve this goal via his extremely original works that combine ceramics, paint, wax and cloth materials such as burlap and linen.
Frank Olt has spent his life dedicated to the arts. An abstract painter with a background and formal training in ceramics, Frank is a product of New York’s minimalist tradition. Olt first learned about the qualities and potentials of clay as an artistic medium when he was a high school student. He earned degrees in Fine Arts at LIU/Post, where he met the Bauhaus potter Rose Krebs. Krebs served as Olt’s ceramics professor and she introduced him to the European tradition of pottery. With Krebs’ guidance, Olt gained a deep appreciation for ceramics, especially traditional Korean ceramics and Japanese Raku. Whilst a student, he combined his interest in painting with his love for ceramics to produce his signature style–ceramic panels that are covered in fabrics and painted in a variety of hues. Krebs remained Olt’s mentor until her death in 1989.
Olt was an artist-in-residence at P.S.1 in Long Island City–an opportunity that provided him with great experiences, including exposure to minimalism which became a staple factor in his art. While in residence at P.S. 1, he executed several installations and site-specific works. He was awarded a commission for four large-scale ceramic and mosaic glass pieces at the 23rd & Ely subway station in Long Island City by New York City Arts in Transit. For New York Health and Hospitals Corporation, he created a wall piece consisting of sixty-six ceramic forms for a lobby at Bellevue Hospital.
Olt is a professor of art at LIU/Post, where he mentors undergraduates, graduate students, alumni and other community members. He is well-known for being supportive of his students and frequently works alongside them. It is not uncommon to find Olt’s works exhibited in the same shows as his students and former students. At LIU/Post, Olt has created a unique community that continues to attract artists who love ceramics.
Olt is a prolific artist with a large inventory and his works are exhibited widely. Collectors, dealers and art consultants visit his studio in Oyster Bay, N.Y., weekly, where they find works constantly in progress. “I usually work on a series of five pieces at a time because that’s how many fit in the kiln.”
Olt’s creative process consists of molding ceramic forms and firing them after they are uniquely hand-painted. Once the pieces are removed from the kiln, he covers them with linen, burlap or canvas, and adds additional paint. Many times, he creates patterns in the paint and glaze with print-making techniques. Fascinated by how clay and glaze undergo metamorphosis and transformation while in the hot kiln, Olt regards the interface of heat to be a direct contribution to his works.
Over the years, Olt has gained a reputation as a unique voice in the art world. At present, his work is in prominent private collections in the United States and abroad, as well as The Heckscher Museum of Art; Islip Art Museum; The Nassau County Museum of Art, and the Konggi Museum, Korea; among other institutions. Olt had a recent one-person show at the Nassau County Museum of Art’s Contemporary Gallery, where he exhibited ninety ceramic works.
Frank’s three-floor studio, which is adjacent to his home, is an immaculately kept, well-lit, window-filled structure that resembles a private museum. Using his walls as storage space, nearly every inch of the area is filled with bright and colorful artwork of various sizes, shapes and patterns. In a past interview he was quoted as saying: “My works are contemporary and they would fit in with any contemporary collection, particularly those that are boundary-pushing but still pay homage to a sense of tradition.”
The styles of Olt’s pieces are varied yet most have a theme. Some resemble the windows on a skyscraper whilst others call to mind floral patterns or seascapes. The works are planned but each piece emerges organically and always contains the element of surprise created by the impact of the kiln and the paint flowing from the artist’s brush.
Frank Olt bridges the gap between the art world and the world of contemporary ceramics and serious art made with craft media. He has developed a process that is unique to him and he produces works of art that are instantly recognizable and associated with his name. No other artist is producing work like his and it is a rare treat for viewers to get a glimpse of such colorful and stunningly patterned creations. If you are a fan of abstract art and have a chance to see Olt’s work in person, it is definitely an enjoyable experience.
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