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Editor’s Note: Three years ago, we lost a great friend and massive creative spirit. Brad Olsen-Ecker left far too soon. But he’s still here in the hearts and minds of his friends and family. We don’t forget those who had an impact and so, this week, we’re re-publishing the tribute to Olsen-Ecker that was created and posted in his memory in 2015. Read and enjoy it. It’s worth your time and filled with some very, very good work from a very, very good man. We never forget the good ones.
Transitions: Brad Olsen-Ecker (1945-2015). This weekend, the entire website will be devoted to the work and life–because Brad’s life was actually his art–of Brad Olsen-Ecker, a great friend and magnificent, courageous artist who died on Monday, 2 November 2015. He had many visible gifts: he was a great looking guy with slim, classic Scandinavian looks, bright blue eyes, an effortless way of being and a certain, easy grace in his movements. But it was his invisible gifts–his sense of humor, his creative courage, his risk-taking ability, the lovely, positive manner in which he approached life and work, and his pure, clean, happy spirit–that made him so special.
He was one of the most talented people I have ever met–and I have met some very talented people–and also one of the most productive. He was an artist and he worked in any medium he could find, from film to canvas to turquoise. We worked together across multiple industries and decades: publishing, advertising, marketing, television, design and the work was always good, many times great, often ground breaking and dangerous. He pushed me and I pushed him and in the moments when we were both in the zone and rolling, it was absolute magic. The work process was quick, fast, and funny….many times, we would laugh so hard that we couldn’t see well enough to draw or write. There was an interchangeable quality to the process: it didn’t matter who came up with the art concept or the headline, because each of us could do both. It was a perfect way to work because twice as many ideas could be created. There was no editing: we just generated as much material as possible and then selected the very best of the very best for development. We could produce ten or twenty campaigns in the time it would take a top pro creative team to produce one because it all just flowed out, nothing was held back. It was amazing, intoxicating, inflammatory. At the time we worked together, I always wondered how long we would last, because we were pushing every single part of our lives so hard and fast. Amazingly, despite the high wire act of high visibility creative work, there was never a single moment of worry, anger, distrust, or any of the other emotions that can make life such a pain. We just figured that everything would always work out and it always did.
It was not Olsen-Ecker’s talent that was his great gift, however; it was his spirit and his sense of humor. Everyone has one person who can crack them up, the one person whose sense of humor can reduce you to tears, and for me, that person was Brad Olsen-Ecker. People who are funny are funny all the time. It can be a problem in very serious businesses but…..Brad was funny all the time. He was funny when he sent letters or cards, funny in emails, funny on the phone, funny in person and funny when he went out for lunch. It was something he did; it was who he was. Funny.
Brad died on Monday, 2 November 2015. He had been sick for some time, maybe 15 months, maybe more. I am not certain how many of his friends knew that he was so ill. Makes no difference except for this fact: he didn’t want his friends to know.
He didn’t tell anyone, would not let anyone in his family tell anyone. He was intensely private and he was always optimistic. He was hospitalized for eight months due to complications from Rheumatoid Arthritis. Never heard a word about it. That was Brad….he just didn’t believe in negative anything.
I talked with one of his good friends, Steve Prezant, a New York Photographer, just a day ago, and Steve didn’t know. What we both knew was that there was–to use a phrase that sums it up perfectly–a “disturbance in the force”. Brad was not as visible or present as in the past. Because he traveled a lot ( he loved to travel, especially to the tropics, and he’s the only guy besides a banana republic dictator who could look good in a straw plantation owner hat) I didn’t think anything was out of balance. And anyway, I knew I’d talk with him in December, when I traditionally send out Christmas CDs to my friends.
It was not to be.
Brad had started having issues with his hands a few years earlier. He contracted arthritis. The irony of an artist who worked with his hands contracting arthritis is crushing. It’s possible to be an art director or a designer and work past the limitations caused by limited facility of your hands, but for what Brad did–the drawings, paintings, carving, scrimshaw–handwork is necessary. Understanding what happened to Brad requires a bit of a reset in your profile of that disease. If you think of Arthritis as something that affects old or older people, you’re right, but it can be much more insidious–and in Brad’s case–deadly, than that. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto-immune system disease; if it gets out of control–as with Brad–it affects your entire immune system. And so, the consequences are not just creaky joints and stiff movements, but immune system cascade infections–to the lungs (which got Brad), the heart, the entire internal plumbing and chemistry of a body. Please remember that the immune system is the key to health and that’s why increasingly, the top scientists around the world are focusing research efforts on how to optimize and utilize the immune system to take out the diseases that affect man. The immune system is the silver bullet of health–when it works, you’re golden, nothing can touch you. When it doesn’t–a cold can kill you.
Olsen-Ecker and I first met in New York in the very early sixties. He was friends with another pal of mine, Niles Siegel, a young photographer who transitioned into a big-time record promotor, video producer, and talent manager. We were on the same wavelength immediately and became close. I think at the time, he was working at CBS Records. I was working in Peter Max’s studio as his personal assistant. Then I left New York and a few years later, landed in Chicago in the mid-seventies at Playboy. Somehow Brad ended up in Chicago. I was an editor. He was an art director. We shared a common interests in creative work and indulgent lifestyles. It was a combustible relationship. After we both left Playboy, Olsen-Ecker and I worked together in Houston as an advertising creative team. In our first year in the city, we entered a creative contest that had 30 categories. We won 28 of them. We had been in town less than 8 months. We were creative gypsies. We did not know any of the other people up for awards in room that night; in fact we didn’t even know the presenters. No one knew us when we entered the room, but we had a lot of new friends at the end of the evening.
A few months after that show, we both took a look around and found the landscape non-conducive to a pair of East-Coast trained creatives and decided that without the right working situation (bigger clients with bigger budgets who would take bigger risks), it was time to call a halt to a great, even brilliant at times, creative partnership in Texas. If we couldn’t do it our way and on a bigger scale, we simply would not do it and so we broke the band up. Stopping on top is hard but it leaves the legacy pure.
Brad was restless (always) and he wanted to be in the energy and flow of New York. He’d grown up in and near the City. I was a Southern boy who had spent my time in New York and did not particularly want to go back. He left. I didn’t. But we never lost touch and I have always felt his spirit around me when I started some very challenging project. That’s quite an impact and it’s also a tribute.
We stayed in touch. I followed his advertising work (he worked extensively in advertising until he got caught in the thing that catches most people in advertising–age–and then he moved into fine art, first with prints, and then scrimshaw, finally painting). Brad did major league advertising work–in fact, he actually did advertising for Major League Baseball. He also worked with Polo/Ralph Lauren, Mead, Bonne Belle, Sony, Ryder Trucks, Reebok, American Express, Bulgari, Clairol, Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, Ford, Max Factor, Centrum. The agencies he worked for were the very best in the world: Wells Rich Greene, Leber Katz Partners, J.Walter Thompson (the film director’s series he created there for Kodak was so great it ran for 20 years), Saatchi & Saatchi, Marshalk. Brad loved music and when I met him, he was at CBS records, where he helped launch artist like The Clash, Nick Lowe, Meatloaf, and Earth, Wind, and Fire and produced promotional campaigns for Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Paul Simon, Aerosmith, and Billy Joel. Everyone of these artists are top of the food chain. He was the right man for the job.
Brad was always an artist first and he loved to paint. A selection of the books that he produced about his paintings are a part of this extended Brad Olsen-Ecker weekend. As are postcards that he created featuring his prints and scrimshaw carvings. He loved scrimshaw. There are probably only ten people left on earth–nine of them Eskimos–who appreciate scrimshaw, but Olsen-Ecker was not only into it, but good at it. He did some major pieces. He had shows. He continued to travel to paint and to produce. You can get an idea of his range by visiting his website or just looking around here.
Brad was an important, pivotal, influential, spirit in my life, and in my mind, I always thought he would live forever.
It is now my obligation to insure that he remains here, present in spirit, visible in his art and drawings and paintings.
So…..this is Brad Olsen-Ecker’s weekend. I am turning the website over to his memory and his work.
As we get older, typically we have fewer friends but the ones that remain our friends through the decades…wow, those are very special people.
Always, there are too few of them.
Always, they leave too soon.
Always, we wish for one more email, one more drink, one more phone conversation with them.
Always, there will be one empty place in our soul.
What follows is a selection of work, objects, and communications from the life of Brad Olsen-Ecker. Some of it may be familiar to you. Some of it may be new. New pieces will be added to this exhibition as they become available (i.e. when I can find it… and get it scanned and posted). In the meantime, enjoy. You are strongly encouraged to click through to links where they are available, to see/download the original PDFs….the variety of items is tied together by the consistency of the humor and artistry. There are two key links for Brad’s work, one is for his fine art, and another for his commercial art. You are strongly encouraged to visit both sites.
From Brad Olsen-Ecker’s Linked-In Profile.
A five panel cartoon sent with some other correspondence…
We had some great projects…..one of the best was producing this brochure for some friends who had a new ski company. They were all expert skiers and spent most of their time on the backside of the mountain, skiing through trees (the ne plus ultra of skiing, but no mistakes or you’re outta here) and not on the groomed trails like everyone else. We flew into Aspen, drove to the top of Aspen mountain in late afternoon to watch the sunset and get some mountain karma (and later came down a rocky mountain trail with huge drop offs at night, in a jeep with marginal lights ) and shot, wrote, designed everything in one weekend (we loved to work fast…it was always pure). It was just another time he made something happen out of thin air.
Etchings and Drawings
When you see those zany cartoons that he loved to draw, you might forget that he possessed huge bandwidth as an artist. His realistic art is superb. His a drawing of Lincoln that he produced. Notice the detail in the eyes.
From one of his frequent painting expeditions. A palm tree..with the reference palm tree also on the same page. Simple, lovely, direct, elegant.
Brad produced PDF books of all of his painting expeditions. In each book, he not only showed the painting, but also, typical Olsen-Ecker observations on the place and time. This is from one of the books he produced on a his series of Florida coastal paintings (he loved Florida). Olsen-Ecker loved to make these painting expeditions. He’d pick a place(almost always by a coast) and go, setting up his easel and paints and do a painting. And then…repeat. It was part pilgrimage, part artistic journey, part Brad absorbing life.
A painting from that same trip. Notice the size (8 x 10)….typical Olsen-Ecker: understated, elegant. His color field painting is very expressive, a bit like what Mark Rothko would have produced if he had a good sense of humor. Olsen-Ecker was cheerful and happy. It showed.
Below is a series of paintings by Brad produced on one of his frequent trips. He was a surprisingly traditional guy: he wanted to go to the place, soak up the atmosphere, paint it and pack up and go to another place. What you see in his paintings is what he saw over the time it took to paint the canvas. And always..the side story about the experience, the culture, the people. You can see more, on Brad’s site.
People are going to talk. A series of drawings about the real life world of “focus group” research, in which people you do not know tell you what you don’t want to hear. The dialogue is real. The observations are classic Olsen-Ecker.
The front cover of Brad’s background info on the Focus Group piece….and his take on the piece..
Pure Olsen-Ecker….only he could imagine someone breaking into yodeling during a focus group.
Another page from the same book…..the closer you look, the funnier it gets.
A sketch from the book on Focus Groups. This focus group was on deodorant….trying to find the original PDF on one of Brad’s servers, but if I don’t…email me and I’ll send it to you. It’s classic Olsen-Ecker humor.
And, finally, below is his take on his own focus group project….
I never knew anyone who did scrimshaw until I met Brad. I knew he had Scandinavian background, but didn’t think there was an Eskimo in the family blood line. Apparently, I was wrong. And maybe someone from Japan who emigrated to Norway. Who knows..
Brad was (maybe) the greatest modern American scrimshaw artists….maybe because he was the ONLY modern American scrimshaw artists. Who knows. It’s my story and I’m sticking with it. This type of work is expensive (Notice the jewels and the tusks on which the drawings are carved), precise and time consuming. He was very good at it. I have no explanation for his Japanese orientation. Never once saw him eat sushi.
Another jewel encrusted scrimshaw piece. This type of art is going to be increasingly difficult to create, collect, or even see. Two reasons why: a PC culture and the skill level required to create it. This piece, “Legend of Shin Tao”, scrimshaw on whale’s tooth with diamonds, emeralds, rubies. It’s 4 1/2″ inches high and is in a private collection in New York.
One of a series of ads for Mikimoto pearls…the campaign established the brand. The elegance and simplicity is typical of Brad’s work and the execution is flawless.Check out more of Brad’s advertising work( and in fact, his entire professional advertising career) by going to his website.
One of the ads for the Mikimoto Campaign that Brad created. Contrast this vision with all that’s gone before, and you’ll get a very good idea of Brad’s range of talent The entire campaign and a lot more advertising is on his commercial site.
A selection of emails from Brad. NSFW. But funny.
This email, from Brad, on one of his trips. More correspondence is below. This one after a huge storm in Texas.
And this one, about his paintings and gallery showings……
Advice about the dangers of hanging Christmas lights and using chain saws on ladders.
In Arizona to paint…..
In Egypt…all in white (except for the horse)…
The last scrimshaw artist, with one of his pieces.
One of Brad’s most iconic (and favorite) pieces: “Terminal Bar”, Acrylic on canvas, 8″ x 14 7/8″ (1986). The scan doesn’t do it justice.
“Tres Dragonas” (1997), an etching on an Emu Egg. Who etches on Emu eggs? Three dragons climbing over and around the egg, inlaid with rubies, 1 emerald and 1 sapphire. The presentation stand is brass with three griffins.
One of Brad’s Etchings, “The Rose Eater”. Don’t know how many of these he produced, but one of them is hanging in my house and it looks freaking great.
Brad produced his paintings on journeys and expeditions. He archived and memorialized them in a series of PDF books. The covers of these books are below. You are also invited to see these works in full at the following links:
The Ocean to the Desert series of paintings. Click here to see the entire series. This site has his fine art collection (there is separate site, already listed, for his commercial work).
Another of his books covering a painting trip. This one to Florida.
A piece on his painting expedition to Arizona.
Post Cards (made from Prints)
One last thing.
Brad Olsen-Ecker was a very special person with a lot of talent. He made the world better and made it a whole lot of fun for his friends. He cannot be replaced, but he will be always be with those who lived with him, worked with him, partied with him, or knew him.