Erwin Olaf’s (1959, Hilversum) art visualizes implicitly the unspoken, the overlooked, that which typically resists simple documentation. His trademark is to address social issues, taboos, and bourgeois conventions in a highly stylized and cunning mode of image making. With his razor-sharp aesthetic intuition, Olaf purposely conceals his themes, so that the viewer has to accept the initial concealment in his series. Yet in the end, his unconventional style never fails to deliver dramatic visual and emotional impact. With his attention to detail in lightning and design of the scene, his perfectionism in the composition, together with his passion for flawlessly conceiving scenarios, Olaf vividly captures the essence of contemporary life.
Deliberately disturbing and intended to raise awareness, Olaf committed himself in his earlier work to the subject of social exclusion in which he explored issues of class, race, sexual taste, beliefs, habits and grace. In his series Rain (2004), Hope (2005), Grief (2007) and Fall (2008) Olaf challenges the notion of domestic bliss. Entirely shot on location and using historically important settings, Olaf has committed himself to make three bodies of work. In 2012 his first signature was given; in the series Berlin that was placed in the interbellum not one person is harmless or can ignore the undercurrents of the devastating events that were about to happen. In 2018 Shanghai will be launched at Art Brussels. The portraits and scenes read as the significance of kinship ties; the power of patronage; the unuttered grief. It is when one studies its internal details, a slow erosion of the old bonds is perceived. The cherry blossom flowers in vase are dropping, one by one.
Commissioned work has always been part of the artist’s oeuvre. Olaf worked on projects like Catwalk (2015) – a costume exhibition curated by the artist and completed with new photos by his hand – for the Rijksmuseum; After Rodin (2016) – an homage exhibition dedicated to famous sculptor Auguste Rodin – for the Groninger Museum; and Ruinart (2016), a series of photos of the champagne house’s ancient chalk-pits and cellars.
Olaf was born in 1959 in Hilversum, the Netherlands, and currently lives and works in Amsterdam. His work has been exhibited at major institutions including Centro de Arte Contemporaneo de Málaga, Málaga (2016), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2015), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago (2014), La Sucrière, Lyon (2013), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (2010), Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow (2005), Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Bologna (2005), Museum Ludwig (1998), and Frankfurter Kunstverein (1993). In 2019 he will have a major retrospective at the Gemeentemuseum The Hague and The Hague Museum of Photography in honour of his 60th birthday.
He won numerous international art and media prizes as: Photographer of the Year in the International Colour Awards 2006, the Lucie Award 2008, and the Johannes Vermeer Award 2011. Olaf has also earned several Silver Lions for his commercial photography.