Lost Friends: Brad Olsen-Ecker

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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.
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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.

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A five panel cartoon sent with some other correspondence…

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Product Brochures

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.

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Etchings and Drawings

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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.  

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From one of his frequent painting expeditions. A palm tree..with the reference palm tree also on the same page. Simple, lovely, direct, elegant.


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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.

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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. 

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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.

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The front cover of Brad’s background info on the Focus Group piece….and his take on the piece..

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Pure Olsen-Ecker….only he could imagine someone breaking into yodeling during a focus group. 

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Another page from the same book…..the closer you look, the funnier it gets.

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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….

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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..

The Legend of Shin Tao copy

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.

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A knife envisioned by Brad Olsen-Ecker. The scrimshaw handle goes back to a time when weapons were pieces of art as well as instruments of destruction.
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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. 

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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.

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This email, from Brad, on one of his trips. More correspondence is below. This one after a huge storm in Texas.

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And this one, about his paintings and gallery showings……

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Advice about the dangers of hanging Christmas lights and using chain saws on ladders.

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In Arizona to paint…..

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In Egypt…all in white (except for the horse)…

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The last scrimshaw artist, with one of his pieces.

Other Artwork

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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.

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“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. 

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 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.

The Books

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: 





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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).

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Another of his books covering a painting trip. This one to Florida. 

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A piece on his painting expedition to Arizona.

Post Cards (made from Prints)

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 10.05.05 AMOne of several prints he made of Marilyn Monroe. This one, “Norma Jean” (1988), a two-color serigraph 12 5/16″ x 10 1/8″ on museum paper. It’s SFW.The others in this series are not…

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.

Join the Conversation


  1. Brad was a great friend. We met in the mat room at Ted Bates. We made some short crazy films together. When I got off active duty with the army he hired me at CBS Records. Thanks to him I had a wonderful career at CBS and Sony music. He was fun to be around. I miss him.

  2. June 25, 2021- so strange life is. I’m in the middle of reading a Bob Dylan biography and I think of Bradley. I get out a 1967 photo of me and him at a “rio’s party” that my husband took and I google Bradley only to read he is gone. How could that be? The last time we spoke was maybe 12-13 years ago when I called him to tell him that joe had gone on. Oh Bradley you were handsome, smart, fun-living and so so talented. I told you i had cats and that Christmas you sent a Bradley special cat Christmas card. I feel incredibly sad for your family. I’m so sorry that I came upon this now. Rest In Peace Bradley I will continue to think of you and keep that photo out of us dancing at “Rio’s party”. Pat amato

    1. Dear Pat-
      First, thank you for taking the time to write…don’t know if I had replied earlier but things have been a bit foggy in 2021 as we moved to Oxford, Mississippi to renovate a house and finish a book i’ve been writing that got stalled while doing too much at the same time. I met Brad in New York, in the late 60s, early 70s. I was working for the artist Peter Max and we met through another friend, Niles Siegel, who was in the record business. We became very close friends and later in that same period we both ended up working in Chicago. After Chicago I moved to Houston, about 1974/75 and Brad came down and worked with me for about a year–we started a very small advertising agency. It was spectacularly successful…the first year, we entered the big advertising awards show and won 30 of the 31 awards that were offered….we did not know anyone in the city, literally. We knew photographers, illustrators, but no agency people…we did a few other projects but Brad was an East Coast guy and needed a bigger stage and I was starting to write and edit magazines (and launch them)…we turned down multiple zillion dollar offers to take over much bigger agencies because we refused to answer to anyone…it was never about money….I didn’t want to go back to New York, but he did, and so we broke the band up..we stayed in touch until he passed and visited a few times, always in NYC or Connecticut. Brad was one of the very best creative people ever…he did Ralph Lauren’s advertising and design, and also KODAK. He also worked in the recording industry–name a famous artist, Brad did their album or promotional campaign. He was incredibly funny and was the one person who could alway make me laugh until I was in tears….we were–and this is not hyperbole but fact–brilliant together and so fast that no one else could keep up. He was the only person I ever worked with who could keep up with me and vice versa….and, if you know brad, you also know he was intellectually fearless…which was required for the way we worked. One night we did twenty advertising campaigns in about two hours..music, tequila, and other stuff flowing as the work was a wild magic blur….it won’t ever be that way again but it was that way once and that was enough….no doubt, we would not have survived a few years of living/working that way because it was amazing…on a Friday night about a decade ago, walking into my home, I got a call from Connecticutt, from a number that was Brad’s; it was his wife and she told me that he had passed, from the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis, which ultimately affects your immune system and shuts down your vital systems….I was so stunned I almost fell down…simply could not believe it…she asked me if I would write a eulogy for his very small and private service, and of course, yes, i could. after I hung up, I had a few stiff drinks and did something I have never done before–shed a tear for the passing of one the very best (and talented) people ever. The air literally went out of the room for a few minutes….so I wrote the eulogy and then immediately started on the piece that you saw (i think) on my blog about Brad, determined that he should be remembered…a few years ago, my server company screwed up and lost 4000 posts and it took me about six months to find everything (and move to a new server in Norway or someplace like that)…need to go in and re-format the post so makes more sense, but your letter will get me moving….please forgive me for the tardy response, but know that he was special to a lot of us who appreciated that unique personality and view of life and that he won’t be forgotten…via a separate email, will send you a photo of brad and i from the days when we were bulletproof…it was great fun and everyone should one or more of those periods in their life….thanks again..have a great holiday season…very best regards

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