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Mark Olshansky

When Mark Olshansky sets to work on a new embroidery, the first thing he does is put his initials in the corner. It’s a modest but significant gesture on the part of this now-93-year-old artist, a way of saying, I am here. This done, as he puts it, “I just go,” filling the pictorial field, stitch after stitch. The results may call to mind some familiar art historical touchstones: the winsome abstractions of Paul Klee, or more proximately, the adventuresome textile experiments of Gunta Stölzl, Sophie Taeuber Arp and Sonia Delaunay. But any resemblance between Olshansky’s work and that of this modernist generation, artists who were working around the time of his own birth, is strictly coincidental. He took to embroidery not in response to any precedent, but entirely instinctively, as soon as it was placed in his hands. This occurred when he was about forty years old, at a cocktail party, where needle and thread was made available as “a light-hearted accompaniment to the more serious activity of downing martinis with stylish canapes,” as he recalls. Olshansky was there in his capacity as an insurance adjuster; the house had been hit by lightning, twice, and had been renovated. It’s impossible to resist the notion that his revelation was a third bolt from the blue. He plunged into needlework, though later on he did take “a brief 20-year hiatus,” so he could concentrate on a new career as a wine importer. He’s been back at it fulltime for more than a decade now, the pictures pouring out of him, each one suggesting (without actually depicting) a landscape, a place accessible only in the mind.

Additional work available.

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