Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Nancy Andruk Olson’s “Lover Lay Down” is a Paradisiacal Love Story

“Eastward in Eden”

The Bible, oddly enough, is full of love stories, with none so prominent as that of the first man and woman. Nancy Andruk Olson explores this ancient romance, before the arrival of the serpent and the couple’s ultimate expulsion, in her collection Lover Lay Down.

Snuggled away in downtown Provo, Writ & Vision, is a collection of books and art. Upon entrance, past the many bookshelves and through a small archway, Olson’s large watercolor panels greet you on the right, while smaller framed studies decorate the left side of the gallery. Through a series of whimsical brush strokes, flush with vibrant and metallic colors she carefully composes the paradisiacal garden as a lush and flourishing oasis. Dullness is expunged as any of the imperfect frailties of mortality, such as death or decay, remain absent from her work. Everything is bright, with iridescent pinks and blues emphasizing unnaturally bold hues of foliage and animal life. Olson pushes the watercolors’ characteristically washed out presence to create an Eden that is mesmerizing and ethereal.

In a true, impressionistic style, Olson’s scenes seem to revolve around color. Each large panel seems to bleed into the next and is named for a specific arch of the rainbow, from red to violet. The small studies follow suit, though their names, such as “Expulsion” and “Fecundity,” seem to reveal more of the familiar biblical description that is more commonly taught. On the back wall “Eastward in Eden” displays the full color spectrum in two panels with Eve on the left and Adam on the right: perhaps the beginning of their story; or the end.

Olson’s grasp of color is especially evident in her collection of smaller studies. “Bluebells” utilizes an array of blues and purples to allude to normally green stems and leaves, with a cold, pearly background that beautifully highlights the misleading simplicity of the plants’ composition. In contrast, “Sunflowers” uses yellows and oranges to create a warm, summery feel of the happy flower.

Like any pair, Adam and Eve are painted together as well as separately. “Red, Orange, Eve,” and “Fecundity” demonstrate how twain can only become “one flesh” by the merging of individuals. Eve sits and ponders alone. Adam enjoys a repose in solitude. Each half of any complementary duo is their own person with their own thoughts, feelings, and interests. A whole person. And when two wholes combine something even more powerful and amazing emerges. A woman who invites the man she loves to stay with her. A man willing to leave perfection in order to accompany the woman he loves.

“Blue” shows a love struck Adam and Eve, gazing at each other in a flurry of birds and leaves as they walk together on a bed of violet. Purple figs hang from thin branches, as a peacock looks on. They tread their path together, whether peaceful or thorny: a testament to the endless struggle that can build a deeper and stronger romance, or rip it apart. Could their struggles beyond Eden’s comforts have made their love unbreakable?


Although the ancient lovers are depicted in many of the panels and studies, their presence is greatly overshadowed by the artistry of their paradise. “Green” seems to combine the ideas of Monet’s water lily, garden, and haystack paintings. Gold transitions to green which transitions to blue, with pink blossoms catching the eye to bring it back around again in an endless circle of admiration of the natural life that the water and sunlight continually feed. Adam and Eve’s absence is not really felt, their presence not fully needed. Even their kiss, in “Yellow,” seems secondary to the bright vegetation, languid rabbits and soaring birds that surround the couple. “Indigo,” like “Green,” does not show the couple at all. The nude figures seem secondary to the spectacularly vivid nature that spreads into every corner of every painting.

Installation view of Lover Lay Down including, from left to right, “Red,” “Orange” and “Yellow”

In the right corner of the entrance to the gallery sits a table with a display of multiple watercolors and empty palettes with an invitation to put together a custom collection of color (for a fee of course). This simple set up and opportunity for every visitor to paint their own garden is an acknowledgment of the human capacity to create. Just as God is labeled as the “great creator,” the human race is meant to be creative: to invent, make, design, and establish the new and innovative. And earth provides such creatives with ample inspiration.

Lover Lay Down, more than just the story of the world’s first lovers, could be seen as a declaration of God’s love for his greatest creation: humankind. From fiery sunsets and sunrises, to cool streams and lakes, soft grasses and delicate flowers, towering mountains, and shade casting trees, even the garden of Eden itself can be seen as a living, growing love letter: an encouragement for each person to cultivate their own garden, appreciate the land around them, and see the miracle of the day to day.

“Green” shows the garden without the lovers


Nancy Andruk Olson: Lover Lay Down, Writ and Vision, Provo, through Aug. 19

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