Don Olsen – Utah’s Abstract Pioneer

"Thespian" - 1978

"Composition" - 1963

I’ve never really been a pure abstract painter, but I have always loved that style. It’s always a special treat to come across the artwork of one of Utah’s abstract pioneers, Don Olsen. I’ve often spent hours looking at his color and lines. Usually at the Phillips Gallery, Springville Art Center, or the Salt Lake Art Center. Something about his painting makes my eyes sing for joy! “La La La!”

Don Olsen was born in Provo, Utah in 1910. Olsen studied the violin at BYU and graduated with a degree in music in 1935. In the 50’s, Olsen began his career as a professional painter and split his time between Utah and New York so he could study with the first generation Abstract Expressionists. Hans Hofmann specifically, but also Franz Kline, Willem De Kooning, etc. Incredible painters.

"Chelsea VI" - 1980

Don Olsen died in 1983 and I never had the chance to meet him personally, but I did meet his widow, Betty. I was actually able to spend some time in his old studio at their home in Murray, Ut. What a treat! I was honored when Betty gave me a book and some posters that were used for a retrospective at the Salt Lake Arts Center. I’m going to go through my book again right now.. If you haven’t met one of Don Olsen’s paintings yet in person, I hope you’re able to soon.


  1. I found about Don from one of his friend’s websites ( I love some of his work. Too bad there is not enough good abstract art in Utah. I know it is out there, but it tends to get lost in the shuffle of landscapes, potraits, and still-lifes.

    I am also a Utah painter and I love to work in abstracts…. check out my site to see some of my work.

    Thanks for posting some of Don;s images for the rest of us to see!


  2. Hey there Clarence. Good to see you made it on over to Artduh 🙂 We shared the space and a show at the Utah Arts Alliance a little over a year ago. I’ve seen you’re work around town a bit since then too. Keep it up!

    Very cool to hear you know Francis Zimbeaux. I met him a time or two myself. He liked to tell me my artwork was “very colorful”. I couldn’t tell if he thought that was a good thing or a bad thing, haha! I was actually able to go and shoot the shit with him at his studio too. Probably about ten years or so ago. I remember seeing a lot of what he has on his website.. Anyway, didn’t realize he and Don Olsen were friends.

    Glad you enjoyed the post on Don Olsen. He was definitely a great painter


  3. I am such a goof. I thought your name was familiar. Of course, I remember you. I still show some stuff now and then at your friend, Scott’s place in Sugarhouse.

    If only my art was as good as my memory is bad for names…. 😉

    I am sure we will bump into one another again.


  4. Great post Todd! That first image…wow. “Makes my eyes sing for joy!” is right. I was unfamiliar with this artist until now, but the third image seemed vaguely familiar. So I checked my copy of the book “Utah Art” and sure enough, I had seen it (and loved it) there. Good stuff!


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