Arts | August 2016
A local radio mainstay since the 1970s, Ron Olson is a household name who has spent decades turning people onto new music. Now, the longtime FM 100 DJ is hoping to do the same as he turns the dial to painting.
Around four years ago, Olson first picked up a brush to give his creative side a different kind of outlet when his wife, Vicki, bought him a canvas and paints. “I always wanted to paint, and I never did,” the Germantown resident says. “You’ve got to just one day decide to do it.” For years, Olson gained inspiration each time he visited his pal David Stough, owner of David’s Frames & Art in Memphis. “I go by David’s shop, talk to him and I look at all the stuff and I’m just amazed by it.” Olson also comes by his creativity honestly as his mother, Lillian, was a painter, as is his mother-in-law, Betty Smith.
Olson's first attempt at painting didn’t go as he’d hoped, causing him to shelve the idea for a year. “Then, I got the spark again and I started figuring out that you have to have this and that." Joining a local art club, Olson soon participated in an art show at the Memphis Botanic Garden, where he sold his first works. “[Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital] bought three or four pieces and that’s what took me to the moon,” he recalls. “I got real excited about it after that. When you sell your first thing, you’re like, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I’ve got a chance here. This is pretty cool.’”
Though, his elation from selling those pieces did not keep him from eating a little humble pie along the way. In fact, a run-in with a moose helped Olson along his journey. “St. George’s [Independent] School has an incredible show in the fall. I invited myself to it,” he laughs. Moments into the show, he stumbled upon a moose painting worth around $6,000. “I swear to you it looked like I could feed the moose, it was that good,” he explains. “I looked down at my stuff and I was mortified. I was embarrassed on another level.” Instead of quitting, Olson decided to “bring it” and ramped up his artistic energy. “I just really learned I’m getting started.”
Using a mixture of media from metal to cigar boxes, guitars are Olson's specialty and he usually incorporates the word ‘Memphis’ or a song lyric on each piece. “[I] kind of fell into guitars because of the music connection, and because Memphis is such a powerful word and people all over the world love the music scene in Memphis,” Olson acknowledges.“[Music has] been a big part of my life for 40 years. I never learned how to play a guitar, but I can paint one.”
Olson is a self-taught artist and admits he had little clue about painting when he first started. “I had a lady come to me at an art show, and she said, ‘You know what kills me is that you don’t even know what you’re doing,’” he recalls. “I had a couple of people tell me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get a lesson. You don’t know what you’re doing, but because of that, you’re having fun with it.'"
Starting in the radio business as a junior in college, the native Memphian has been hosting a morning radio show at the same station for 33 years — a rare feat in the radio industry. “I don’t know if there’s anybody else in the country that’s done it, and it will certainly never happen again,” Olson realizes. “I feel like I’ve been a very, very lucky person. I love Memphis and I love radio.”
With prints priced around $125, and mixed media pieces under $1,000, Olson aims to make his art affordable for buyers. “A really cool art piece can just make a boring house come to life,” he concludes. “It makes a statement that the people that live here are fun. I know the walls are all beige and we’ve got a beige couch, but at the end of the hall or above the fireplace we’ve got this crazy guitar lit up. It’s fun.”
Olson’s work can be found at Paisley Pineapple in Olive Branch, More Than Words0 Gifts in Germantown, Automatic Slims in downtown Memphis and Palladio Antiques and Art in Midtown. For more information, visit www.ronolsonmemphis.com.
The Art of Radio
Mid-South DJ Ron Olson tunes into his artistic side
Story by Christina Morgan | Photos by Casey Hilder