Kjell Erik Killi Olsen is primarily known for his characteristic style in a bright and colorful pallet, and the figures he frequently depicts pcesses humanoid, sexual and grotesque imaginary traits. Killi Olsens paintings are bursting with irony and humor.
He had his breakthrough with a sequence of artworks that were made for a number of exhibitions in New York in the mid-1980s. In a climate characterized by a new focus on painting, with the emergence of bad painting and new expressionism, his style with explicit and figures in bright colors soon won recognition.
Killi Olsen combines a two-and three-dimensional expression, where his early paintings often had sculptures mounted on their surfaces. On the other hand, freestanding sculptures in papier-mâché or polyester often would be painted with patterns and bright colors. The last of Killi Olsen’s combination of painting and relief was Paals reise from 1983: on a colored canvas is an anxious human monster in papier-mâché with a naked little boy in her arms. The woman’s hair is made of rattan, as well the two hedgehog-like monsters with spikes in the same material underneath her.
Today the paintings are more abstract, and are composed of layer by layer of detailed patterns, painstakingly produced by means of small, meticulous brushstrokes. The patterns are intense and often produced in bright color combinations. He has taken the liberty of combining artistic technique with a deliberately primitive presentation. His sculptures however, remain figurative.
He represented Norway at the Biennale in Sao Paulo in 1989 with the installation Salamandernatten, consisting of total 78 sculptures, made from fiberglass and papier-mâché. The salamander is a symbol of evil in Brazilian culture, mostly because of its ability to grow back limbs and bigger parts of its body. The main sculpture in the installation is a woman breastfeeding a salamander, neutering evil. This preoccupation with social interaction and vulnerable characters from society’s underbelly has never left Killi Olsen’s artistic practice. Kjell Erik Killi Olsens grand soloexhibition at Lillehammer Kunstmuseum in 2001 featured 70 bronze sculptures in black patina staged isolation and loss.
Killi Olsen has been represented since 2015.