By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN “I knew I was going to be an artist before I could walk,” Winsted native Mat Ollig said. “It was just like creating your own little world.”
As a toddler, Ollig drew jack-o’-lanterns for his mother, but today, Ollig’s oil paintings grace the walls of high-end galleries, businesses, and homes throughout the world.
“With enough hard work and dedication, you can turn your passion into a career,” Ollig said.
Becoming a full-time artist didn’t happen overnight, though.
“I was definitely not pushed toward art as a kid. It’s a case for nature vs. nurture,” said Ollig, whose father, Mark, has a technology background and writes Bits and Bytes columns for the Herald Journal.
In high school, Ollig was accepted at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, where half his school day focused solely on art. After graduation in 2002, Ollig spent four years learning traditional techniques and color theory independently.
He then enrolled at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), where he excelled at both painting and sculpting.
“In college, I was completely divided between the two,” he said.
Ultimately, the decision to pursue painting was an issue of practicality, because wall art is easier to sell.
“Creating work that people want to buy is important,” Ollig said.
Fortunately, Ollig is finding that people appreciate the type of art he enjoys creating most.
“I merge images in a way that they both destroy each other, but retain some of their original identities,” he said. “I utilize how the brain processes imagery, so you’re able to go back and forth between the designs. It’s not complete abstraction.”
One example of this can be seen at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Minneapolis, where 250 rooms feature Ollig’s painting of an old Gold Medal Flour ad with the Minneapolis skyline in the background.
Before creating his paintings, Ollig composes the work digitally using Photoshop. He then prepares his canvas traditionally, and works with top-of-the-line oil paints.
“I usually spend 12 to 16 hours a day painting,” he said.
Most of Ollig’s waking hours are immersed in the creation of art, a work ethic he developed in college.
“I had a toothbrush in my studio,” he said. “Some nights I didn’t go home.”
Dedication is what often separates the “wheat from the chaff” in the art world, according to Ollig.
When he graduated from MCAD, Ollig took a full-time screen-printing job to help pay the bills. After work, he’d go home and spend another full workday on his paintings.
Because of his talent and determination, Ollig was able to quit his day job just three months later.
“It was Dec. 1, 2010,” he said. “That was a very good day.”
When it comes to painting, Ollig prefers to think big. His largest piece 12-feet-by-12-feet required scaffolding to complete.
“Art is about how the viewer perceives the work, and scale is part of that,” he said. “To see a large piece, you have to step away from the painting.”
Smaller paintings require a more intimate, detailed approach, and can actually take longer to complete, according to Ollig.
Ollig will have all sizes of paintings available at the MCAD art sale Thursday, Nov. 15 through Saturday, Nov. 17. The event features art by current students and alumni up to five years beyond graduation.
More information is available at http://mcad.edu/events-fellowships/art-sale