(Baltimore, Maryland, 1950 - )
Michael Olszewski was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1950. He was raised in Baltimore and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design in 1972. He pursued further study, this time in the area of fiber arts, at the Kansas City Art Institute. Olszewski continued his training in fiber art at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Michigan, graduating in 1977 with a Masters Degree in Fiber Arts. After leaving Cranbrook, he took an Instructor's position in fiber art with the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In 1980, he served as president of the Nexus Foundation for Today's Art, a not-for-profit exhibition space located in Philadelphia. Since 1977 he has held the position of Professor of Textile Design at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia.
Many influences are apparent in the development of Olszewski's work in fiber, including art historical sources, and both traditional Western and Eastern dyeing techniques, as well as his own life experiences. The ideas of Constructivism and Expressionism, as well as artists such as Mark Rothko, Sonia Delaunay, Marsden Hartley, and Kurt Schwitters, have impacted his art significantly. The Constructivists' use of line and hard edges, and the idea of piecing objects together in collage is visible in his work, achieved through the embroidery and appliqué. The Expressionists influenced the artist purely through their use of color and the simplicity of their images. In his early work he feels that he was trying to borrow from the Expressionists, attempting to see if their approach would convey a desired message (which he concluded it did not.) Rothko's specific influence was the use of colors and shapes to convey a mood or feeling while Delaunay's and Hartley's synchronistic ideas are evident in his constructed works intended to suggest depth, expansive space and a personal iconography. By reexamining art history he has realized that Wassily Kandinsky and Kurt Schwitters both layered colors and still maintained a fresh quality, an effect that he continually strives to achieve. In addition to Western art historical references he also cites Korean art as having an impact through the use of dyes. He mentions Pojagi which are fabric wrappings whose pattern demonstrates an individual's social standing.
Olszewski works primarily with fabric textile constructions. He first began to work with fiber after college in Kansas City. He worked on a tapestry loom and he simultaneously experimented with basketry. Working directly (that is not on a loom) with fiber felt more expressive and creative. At Cranbrook Academy of Art, he began experimenting with dyes and resists while incorporating his knowledge of graphic design, silk screening and collage, to make his abstract fabric constructions. The artist states, "Having designed [graphically] when I was in college I began screen printing when I got to Cranbrook and started printing on fabric." He continued to work with fabric and dyes because they were more malleable in terms of color range than paper or paint. Tactility could be achieved through the use of fabric that he felt could not be similarly captured in painting. By using fabric he feels that the pieces breath more through the thread, various layers, and the transparencies.