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Winsted native studies art in Florence, Italy

May 11, 2009

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – When the opportunity to study art in Florence, Italy, was offered through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) last year, Mathew Ollig, a native of Winsted, jumped at the chance.

As a third-year art student at MCAD, Ollig was hoping the change in scenery and lifestyle in Italy would revive his artistic creativity and help him produce meaningful art again.

The new experience of studying at the Accademia di Belle Arti, which Ollig was told was founded, in part, by Michelangelo, brought about the transformation in himself he had been looking for.

“Artistically I’ve grown by leaps and bounds,” Ollig said. “I came here after losing both my grandmother and grandmotherly great-aunt in rapid succession. I was strained, both creatively and emotionally,” Ollig said.

With half of his six-month study program in Italy behind him, Ollig has developed the beginnings of a solid thesis and has been producing more art than ever before.

Since Ollig stepped off the airplane in Italy, he has felt at home, but he was a little disappointed when he saw the art there.

“Don’t get me wrong, it (art) was incredible, but I thought the work would be . . . different,” Ollig said.

What Ollig describes is a huge disparity between original art and its reproduction.

An example he gave was viewing art on the Internet. By removing the viewer from the actual artwork, it takes it out of context, according to Ollig.

“It’s hard to describe, but it has left an enormous impact on both me and my art,” he said.

From there, Ollig began to study how he can create paintings that are deceiving when viewed either online or in reproduction.

“My paintings are made to look like lesser artwork; oil paintings of sketchbooks, works which appear to be pirated images off the Internet with watermarks still intact, and paintings that look like they were improperly downloaded resulting in vivid blocks of color and pixilation,” he explained.

Ollig has found oil to be the perfect medium for his artwork and he has been using it for the last nine years.

“I have learned most of its (oil) working properties,” Ollig said. “I have gotten so comfortable with it, I even use it to make drawings instead of charcoal or graphite. Using different additives like cobalt drier, I can get it to dry within an hour, or by using walnut oil, it can stay wet for weeks or months.”

One of the things Ollig has enjoyed most about Italy is the relaxed atmosphere.

“They take their time to do things and don’t work themselves to exhaustion,” Ollig said of the students at the accademia.

“The students don’t get the kind of instruction we get in American universities,” Ollig said. “Here, their work is more self-motivated, and there is more expected from them.”

Even though most of the students have jobs in addition to going to school, Ollig points out that the attitude is far more relaxed.

Shops close at 7 p.m., and most places are closed from noon until 3:30 p.m. so people can go home and take a nap.

“It’s a different way of life, but it’s vastly more relaxing. I prefer that to the hectic lifestyle back home we all endure,” Ollig said.

That doesn’t mean Ollig is not looking forward to coming home.

“The one thing I am excited about is just coming back and seeing America, essentially for the first time,” Ollig said. “I’ve been here so long that this lifestyle just seems normal to me and as strange as it seems, I actually have a hard time remembering what it is like to live back home.”

Ollig’s early years started in Winsted

Ollig was born in the Winsted hospital 25 years ago to Mark Ollig and Julie Broll Ollig (now Opsal). His parents divorced when he was 7.

During his early years in school, until his junior year in high school, when he was accepted by the prestigious Perpich Center for Arts Education, Ollig was told he might have some type of attention deficit disorder.

“Growing up I would be fascinated by the grain of wood, the life cycle of jellyfish and butterflies, and anything shiny would catch my attention,” Ollig said. “I was more interested in the architecture of the classroom . . . nothing interested me in my classes, and my grades suffered.”

This is an experience Ollig said he has shared with many of his friends at Perpich and MCAD who also had similar experiences.

“Perpich was a real turning point for me,” Ollig said. “It was there for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like an outcast. We were all there because we wanted to be. We were also given enormous freedom and treated like adults. There weren’t any bells, detention halls, or other typical forms of control that other schools use.”

“The dress code was simple: don’t be naked,” Ollig said. “People wore hats, chewed gum, and ate in class. But everyone participated and was respectful to the teachers. In fact, we loved our teachers and they became our best friends. I still keep in touch and visit the ones who are still there.”

Ollig graduated from Perpich in 2002, and after a four-year break in studies, received a sizable scholarship when he applied at MCAD in 2006.


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