Perception in paint

Enjoy artist Terra Clarke Olsen’s work in the Grand Staircase Gallery

Drift away into dreamland and the fantastically abstract mind of self-taught artist Terra Clarke Olsen when you visit the Grand Staircase Gallery’s newest installation. Consisting of two series—Dreams and Viewer’s Discretion—Olsen’s work beckons visitors inward to the deep recesses of emotion and imagination.

In Dreams, a series Olsen developed after attending art therapy, clouds of amethyst drift across teal canvas that’s punctuated by rose-tinged accents. The contrast between radiant purple, vibrant pink, and deep blue imparts a calculated chaos to the series. As each work dances and flows with its neighbor, a trancelike state emerges. This cognitive dissonance echoes Olsen’s experience in creating the series. “I started Dreams after experiencing a personal loss,” she says. “I channeled intense emotions through my color choices and brush techniques.” The result? Bursts of optimistic light and color amid dark abstract forms that explore the inexplicable interplay of despair, new beginnings, loss, and hope.

Olsen’s second series on display, Viewer’s Discretion, is equally as cerebral. Originally conceived as an inkblot study, Viewer’s Discretion grew into an exploration of imagination and perception. “The original painting was meant to create feelings of serenity,” Olsen says. “When viewers had wide-ranging interpretations, I was inspired to expand the series.” In Viewer’s Discretion, bright swathes of heavily layered color sit front and center on dynamically dark backgrounds. Olsen’s paint application is wonderfully textured, imparting a depth and intensity reminiscent of the expanse of imagination.

Gaze into the stratum of ochres, golds, pinks, and reds and let your mind wander—what do you see? According to Olsen, there’s no wrong answer. “I hope my art stirs emotions in you,” she says. “But, regardless of how you connect with the work, I’m glad I got you to stop and look.”

—Terra Clarke Olsen lives on Vashon Island with her husband and two sons. She is available for commission on a limited basis. Most of Olsen’s work in the Grand Staircase Gallery is available for purchase by emailing See more of her work on Instagram @terrasum and online at

As published in the September/October 2021 issue of WAC Magazine

—Posted August 31, 2021

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