Dutch multidisciplinary artist Erwin Olaf is a veteran of editorial and commercial photography, having worked for clients such as Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta, Vogue and The New York Times. In his art photography he often puts the conventions of fashion photography into the service of beautifully complex, often existentially terse portraiture. His emphasis is on precision in all of the visual elements — painterly lighting, flawless hair and make-up, settings that create an allure of serenity — but these highly stylised, polished depictions always have a subtext, addressing social issues, societal taboos and gender politics.
Olaf found inspiration for many series of art photographs in his own life, from the experience of growing older (Mature, 1998) his relationship with his mother (Separation, 2003) or traveling and staying in various hotel rooms (Hotel, 2010). In series Rain (2004), Hope (2005), Grief (2007) and Fall (2008) he explored, and challenged, the notion of domestic bliss. Dusk (2009) and Dawn (2010) indicated how culture can become repression, despite a beautiful appearance. Some of his more recent series, such as Berlin (2012), Waiting (2014), Tamed & Anger (2015) and Skin Deep (2015), push the boundaries of his earlier studio work and explore new physical and emotional territory.
Born in Hilversum, the Netherlands, Olaf was educated at the Utrecht School for Journalism and first emerged on the international art scene in 1988, when his series Chessmen won first price in the Young European Photographer competition. Since then, he has won numerous other international art and media prizes, such as Photographer of the Year in the International Colour Awards in 2006, Kunstbeeld magazine’s Artist of the Year of the Netherlands in 2007, a Dutch Johannes Vermeer Prize in 2011 and a Lucie Award from the United States for his entire oeuvre. Olaf has also earned several Silver Lions for his commercial photography.
Olaf has been involved in scores of group shows, and has had solo exhibitions at many major museums including the Bilbao Art Centre in Spain, the Modern Art Gallery of Bologna in Italy, the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, The Hague Museum of Photography and the Rijksmuseum. He also designed the Dutch euro coins that have been in circulation since 2014, both featuring a portrait of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. In 1987 Olaf began working with film, and in recent years his films have been screened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Museum at FIT in New York.
Olaf’s work is represented in several major exhibitions in 2016. Until 1 May, Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Malaga in Spain will host a solo show featuring works from Olaf’s series Berlin, Keyhole, Grief and Hope. And until 20 April, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow exhibits a solo show of works from his series Les Derniers Hosneurs Rendus Aux Infortunes Illustrisismes Comtes D’Egmont Et De Horne, an homage to 19th century Belgian painter Louis Gallait, alongside the original paintings that inspired the photographs. Olaf has also designed the Rijksmuseum’s exhibition Catwalk, a large selection of the Amsterdam museum’s fashion collection, which was on show until 15 May.
Besides that Erwin worked on a 30 channeled video-installation named “L'Éveil”, curated by Jean de Loisy (director Palais de Tokyo) on Hotel de Ville for Nuit Blanche, Paris. Erwin Olaf also had a screening of his film Waiting for Nuit Blanche in Toronto. This viewing was an interdisciplinaire project, where several pianists played the music that was composed for this film.