Martin Olsson is of the most famous Swedish artists in Buxton and he and his distinctive artwork are well-known. Martin is a bold, friendly and colourful fellow and you could say the same about his work, especially his cartoons. Before coronavirus took over our lives, he was running regular workshops at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery where he could show people how to have fun with illustration. He seemed like a natural choice for inclusion in the Arts Council’s Emergency Response Fund, established during lockdown.
Like all the artists and groups involved in the project, Martin was thrown a lifeline. However, it wasn’t money for nothing. Each participant must produce a piece of work and we think you will agree that Martin’s response exceeds all expectations. Not only has he created a jaw-dropping rendition of Buxton during the crisis (with some very familiar landmarks and scenes) but also attached a series of guides on how you can produce your own masterpiece.
The painting now hangs resplendent in the museum foyer and you can see it yourself by booking a visit to the museum. The associated series of worksheets, twenty in total, are simple and easy to follow, each featuring a detail from the painting; you can find them all on the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery Facebook page here.
Like us, you’re probably wondering where he found the inspiration for his maniacal montage of pandemic pandemonium?
Martin has been an occasional artist and cartoonist since 1991. He studied animation as a student in Dublin in the mid 90s and went on to work in the field in 1999. He moved to the UK’s highest market town in 2002 and embarked on a period as an abstract painter. In the early days of Buxton’s The Green Man Gallery, Martin was the chairman, becoming increasingly more involved with the town’s vibrant art scene. He started illustration workshops over the last couple of years and they became enormously popular. “My default setting is to draw as a 12-year-old”, he explains. “I think I use painting as a way of dealing with the world. I used humour in my cartoon work. I want to make people laugh when they see my artwork – so I hope I’ve done that with the painting I’ve created for this project for Buxton Museum”.
You may also be wondering about the process involved in producing a work like this. We asked Martin: “It probably took me one month, approximately, and I decided to approach it in the same way that I made drawings when I was a child: a horizon, a large ground area, and water at the bottom. In this approach perspective hardly matters, only the full and busy contents, as this is what creates a response in the viewer, and contents tells the story. I decided to add landmarks – Buxton is full of them, and weave in the virus as well. When I worked as a cartoonist in the past the challenge was to mix a message with characters and often a commentary from myself upon the goings on in the picture as this relates to the world around us. I added The Grim Reaper, the virus itself and people fighting said virus. So there was a bit of planning. Once I had picked the landmarks and chosen what creatures and people to include, it was just a question about sitting down and paint!”
The pandemic has been a gloomy and frightening time for everyone and we have all turned to art to get us through it, be it listening to music, watching a film, dancing on TikTok or having a go at creating your own piece of art. There is something about the distraction of creation that helps human beings get through tough times. In days to come, Martin’s work will stand as testament to his own survival technique. “The painting and the drawing sheets are a way of ‘building a bridge’ to the creative hub of the museum”’ he reflects. “If the painting makes people happy and smile then that’s great. I was so grateful when Buxton Museum manager Ros Westwood asked me to be part of the project; the grant money was very welcome too. Artists and the creative industry have been hugely hit by the pandemic and lost so much work so it’s humbling to know that the museum wanted to help local artists in whatever way they could”.
Follow Martin on Instagram where you can see updates on his latest art projects and news about coming future workshops.