These days, it is not uncommon to find an artist appropriating the methods and forms of commercial advertising into his or her art, but it is uncommon to find them giving it away free of charge.
In two separate events scheduled for the end of this month, local art-about Grant Olsen will be releasing two posters of his design to be given away on a first-come-first-served basis. They are all printed in English and Spanish and feature images of classic Mexican wrestlers.
Technically and formally these pieces are exactly what they appear to be, event posters. They are not paintings, drawings, etchings, or bas-reliefs based on, or inspired by event posters. They are posters designed by Olsen and professionally printed by Carpenter's Screen Printing in Caldwell. Aesthetically the disguise is complete. Specifically, fictionally, they are Mexican wrestling posters that rely both on the simple melodrama built into that tradition and the event poster form for their effect.
But what is the effect? Olsen described it as compressing complex ideas into a simple context. At first glance the posters appear to be reproductions of classic wrestling ads and as classic wrestling ads you might expect them to work within the storybook boundaries of the continuing battle between Good and Evil. Who will win out? The Blue Demon or The Saint. Who will save the day? Could it be El Halcon? Will the grace and sight of the Falcon be enough to save us from menacing darkness? Of course, in this day and age, the costumes look like leather pajamas and the storybook battle between Good and Evil makes us snicker. What Olsen has done is borrow the entertainment value of professional wrestling and use it to frame the kind of battle he takes more seriously. In his posters the question is posed: "Who Will Win Out? Grief and Loss or Hope and Love?" He pits what he calls The Phantoms of Persistence against The Angels of Everyday Living. The battle now is one that touches us somewhere deeper than the funny bone. In the second poster he begins the process of creating a new kind of low-fi superhero. It reads: "Pure of Heart & Body of Steel / The Seeker Takes on all Comers / Who Will or Who Can Defeat the Enlightened One?
What began to resonate for me as I tried to decide exactly what was going on in these posters was that they really work in the same way the originals did. The battle between Good and Evil is not ipso facto a simplistic storybook idea. Some of the greatest thinkers of our time spent huge amounts of energy trying to make sense of it. Hannah Arendt comes to mind. Classic Mexican wrestling, like classic Western cinema, dresses the idea up in simple costumes and treats it like a simple case of versus, but that doesn't mean the ideas have to be simple. In other words, the issue is only as good as its embodiment. Olsen's posters don't do any more for the issues of grief and loss or hope and love than the originals did for good and evil. In fact they provide the same kind of outlet. In simple, entertaining style they introduce us to the kind of religious, poetic language that touches a deep nerve. In our recently "psychologized" and chemically-indexed world, it's not easy to find ways to introduce a phrase like "Angels of Everyday Living" into a discussion. Olsen found a way, even if the phrase is introduced with a wink.
If they do nothing else, these posters announce a daily event in the kind of poetic language we like to hear but fail to say. Personally, I'd rather see Hope and Love embodied as classic Mexican wrestlers than chemical compounds.
Meet artist Grant Olsen and receive your free print:
• Thursday, August 26, 5:30 p.m. The Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho, 315 Stampede Dr., Nampa.
• Friday, August 27, 5 p.m., Record Exchange, corner of 11th and Idaho, downtown Boise.
Posters not given away at these two events will be available at the Flying M Gift Shop at 5th and Idaho in Boise and at The Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho in Nampa.