Olivia Guterson Carries Ancestral Patterns Into Contemporary Art

Olivia Guterson and Laura Earle, “Night Menorah” (2020) (photo courtesy the artist)

Not all stories are written with words. Some are encoded in patterns — swirling, squiggly, and zig-zagged lines that have been engraved in stone or woven into cloth for generations in nearly every culture. Olivia Guterson, also known as Midnight Olive, carries these ancient patterning traditions into contemporary art, drawing from her Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish, and African American roots to create a dazzling new ornamental language. 

An intricate surface design drapes effortlessly over Guterson’s sculptures, almost as if it emerged organically. If you haven’t crafted patterns before, you might think it gets tedious to mark the same shape over and over again. Rather, she finds it healing, telling Hyperallergic, “This meditative practice feels so spiritual and ancestral — it’s almost as if it’s like the language of everyone I came from.” She treats the pattern as another form of language, pulling in symbols and memories from her multicultural family. Her Ashkenazi grandmother was a quilter and even stitched her own doilies.

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