Painting with Gold Leaf

Painting with Gold Leaf

A WTP Website Review

By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor

Christine Olmstead’s early childhood benefited from having an art historian for a mother, who exposed her to many styles of painting. This early exposure to impressionism and later realism influenced her as young emerging artist, though eventually she would pursue abstraction. She states on her site,, “I was drawn to a career as an abstract artist because of the global sense of unrest and decayed social awareness that pervades culture today.” While there are certainly many ways to address theses issues stylistically, she chooses to disrupt what she describes as the self-sabotaging behaviors rampant today, with abstract compositions focusing on healing, seeking peace, and restoring painful memories.

On her home page, a video snippet of her working with gold leaf caught my attention. This technique is rarely, if ever, used in contemporary painting, but has recently garnered new attention by Gustav Klimt’s 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer featured in the movie Woman in Gold.

Seeking more about her use of gold leaf, I navigated to her Shop category, and realized how literal the word is—her site is a virtual department store. Bypassing of Home Goods & Gifts, Commissions, and Prints, I skipped directly to Originals, and to the Coalesce series—a duo exhibition, featuring two artists who agreed on a limited color palette incorporating metallic elements into their complementary styles. In the small lyrical painting “Don’t Stop #5,” she uses gold fragments as accents subtly blended into a loose monochrome floating composition. The forms are held together with a spirited linear network.

painting with gold leaf by Christine Olmstead
Christine Olmstead, Don’t Stop #5 duo. Acrylic and 24k gold leaf on paper, 18” x 24” gold leaf painting

Other larger works in the series feature gold more dramatically. It seems to ride higher atop the painted surface and increases dimensionality, but risks “poking a visual hole” in the composition as seen in “Don’t Stop Making Mistakes.”

painting with gold leaf by Christine Olmstead
Christine Olmstead, Don’t Stop Making Mistakes. Acrylic and 24k gold leaf on canvas, 48” x 48” gold leaf painting
painting with gold leaf by Christine Olmstead
Christine Olmstead, Don’t Stop Making Mistakes. Acrylic and 24k gold leaf on canvas, 48” x 48”

Olmstead’s painting is conceptual in nature. She strives to create a mood or emotion, and is frequently inspired by music. Each piece is rooted in a personal experience, memory, or social concept. I was not surprised to find she works in series, which allows for variations on a theme over multiple pieces. She describes wrestling with each concept, determined to find beauty and a peaceful resolution in each experience.

The Divide series is a “A celebration of life and death, seeking beauty in both places, and finding peace in it all.” It is a large body of work that ranges from very small on paper to very large on canvas. The largest work, “Unto Ashes,” has all the drama of this content. The large areas of white-to-black are an obvious choice. Sometimes I find the gold leaf simply a decorative element, sometimes an integral component of the composition, but I cannot imagine this painting without it. Here, it is the jewel in the crown. I was also delighted with the spirited line work that unites the amorphous space.

painting with gold leaf by Christine Olmstead
Christine Olmstead, Unto Ashes. Acrylic on canvas, 6′ x 4′ gold leaf painting

Christine Olmstead has made a significant mark early in her career. It will be exciting to watch this young artist evolve.

Note: For those artists who are exploring selling their work online, a visit to Olmstead’s site may help clarify your plan for two reasons: the work is very good, and so is the marketing. Selling art online is one of the most important developments of this generation. Just having a website is not enough in this crowded marketplace. Marketing principles do not devalue the quality of the work—they help sell it.

Watch for Christine Olmstead’s work in an upcoming issue of The Woven Tale Press.

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