David Teng Olsen Completes One Mural on Campus and Starts Another

A Wellesley Professor paints a wall-sized mural.
July 31, 2018

Last year, David Teng Olsen, associate professor of art, designed a vinyl mural titled Smoked My Head on Yes Waters for the Davis Museum’s Special Windows Project.

Since then, Olsen, an accomplished muralist, has been invited to other campus venues to paint his signature large-scale murals. On the once bare walls of the meeting room/student workspace on the third floor of Green Hall are two murals.

Olsen spent two weeks painting and designing the work, which he named Inclusive Excellence. He began the project at the request of Robbin Chapman, the former associate provost and academic director of diversity and inclusion, and lecturer of education.

For his murals Olsen said he uses features from other paintings and combines them to create his abstracts. “I appropriate diverse elements of other paintings and make them my own,” Olsen explained. “It’s abstract that features the inclusion of different colors, forms, and shape. It’s not uniform and has an asymmetric pattern.”

Active and colorful may be the defining qualities of Olsen’s murals.

Olsen, the son of an Asian mother and a Caucasian father says the inclusivity theme resonates with him. He grew up with his family in the multicultural San Francisco Bay Area but later moved to the predominately white Seattle suburbs. “I was exposed to elements of bias but also inclusion,” he said.

Olsen studied bioengineering before switching to art as an undergraduate.

He appreciates having his works displayed outside of a gallery or a museum. “Art that’s more public and removed from barriers can be seen by greater audiences and makes art more accessible and inclusive,” he said. His mural for the Davis was viewable inside the Rafael Moneo lobby and from the courtyard plaza.

Olsen has recently started his next mural project in the creative writing suite in Founders Hall. The work, he said, will be inspired by creative writing faculty past and present, including the Lorraine C. Wang Professor of English, Dan Chiasson, the stories of Marilyn Sides, and Colin Channer, former Newhouse visiting professor in creative writing.

“They all write from the soul about art, love, and life,” said Olsen. “Because their work is so personal it becomes more universal in the same way I want my art to. The traumas of childhood, culture, love, and creativity paint a picture that I want to reinterpret on the walls of the creative writing center.”

Olsen said he finds inspiration from artists like Julie Mehretu, Takashi Murakami, Ai Weiwei, Barry McGee, and Kara Walker. These artists, he said, “challenge the status quo of race, class and gender in powerful, moving ways.”

Photo: David Teng Olsen works on a new mural project titled “Inclusive Excellence,” which is located in a meeting room in Green Hall.