Odysseus: Backstory


“Odysseus” came from a desire of two artists to collaborate. Craig B. Friesen and David A. Nielsen, first met in 2010 when Friesen was a student teacher for 8 months in Nielsen’s Art studio at Bishop O’Byrne High School in Calgary, Alberta. Nielsen had been working for Calgary Catholic for several years in various schools in the district, and building his own painting practice generally doing plein aire landscape. Friesen was in his second year of his BEd at the University of Calgary. He was building a body of work that combined many of his interests such as play, drawing, painting, sculpture, writing and movement, all of which could be wrapped up in a single “contraption”. The pieces were not scrupulously designed but come together "ad hoc". One component necessitating the next, each one supporting a story.


It was quickly evident that Friesen and Nielsen both shared the same sense of humor, love of music, a love of Art History, and were passionate about making art. More importantly, they had long conversations about art and developed a friendship that went beyond student teacher / mentor teacher. Both were enthusiastic supporters of each others work, and both frequently would discuss how to take the next steps with their creativity. At the time there was no talk of collaboration, but a strong friendship grew from the student teaching experience.

Of the many discussions the two had, one of particular note was their discovery of a mutual respect for German expressionist, Max Beckmann. Both were drawn to Beckmann’s use of multiple panels, use of narrative, metaphor, strong sense of space, emphasized dark lines. Friesen encouraged, or “gave permission” to Nielsen to take his plein aire in a new direction. Previously, Nielsen had sketched directly on to his canvas with white Conté, and then would paint. Friesen, told Nielsen to trust his skills, and “draw” directly on the canvas with paint. This method was also used by Alice Neal, whom both artists greatly admired. What resulted was a complete shift in Nielsen’s work. By “drawing” directly on his venetian red tinted canvasses, he became more spontaneous and confident. His landscape moved from it’s more traditional look, to a more expressive and dynamic place. Friesen’s work was expanding and gaining speed. It continued in a playful and raw direction. Working with found objects and abstraction as a foundation from which to build his improvised narratives was leading him to wonder about the ideas of genre, art history and the legacy of storytelling. But the work was not being seen. Nielsen encouraged him to show someone, build a website and apply for shows. Friesen did so and started to make connections.