Charles Olsen left New Zealand as a teenager and now resides in Madrid, Spain. He has worked as a teacher and a translator, and is well regarded as an artist working in the mediums of photography, painting, film and the written word. Much of Olsen’s work illustrates his connection to Aotearoa.
Olsen, Charles (1969-) was born in Nelson and spent his childhood in the small town of Culverden, north of Christchurch, as well as Dunedin and Wellington. In 1981, he moved to England. In 1994 he gained an honours degree in fine art from Middlesex University in London. Olsen worked as an artist and as an agricultural worker from this time until 2002, when he became an artist in residence at Wishmore Cross School in Chobham, Surrey. His career as a painter has seen his work exhibited in Wellington and throughout Europe, including in the Saatchi Gallery, London.
In 2003, Olsen was prompted to relocate to Madrid, ‘drawn in by Spanish artists and flamenco guitar.’ Here he has remained, working as an English teacher, translator and graphic designer while also undertaking ventures in painting, photography, audiovisual production and literature. Highlights include his work as part of the creative duo antenablue, working with his wife, the Colombian writer Lilián Pallares. Since 2013, antenablue has produced many short films, book trailers, and most significantly, poetry films where Olsen has worked as director and often poet. Most recently, antenablue has received recognition for their work on the poetry film Noho Mai, winning the 9th Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Competition in 2020.
Other awards Olsen has received for his poetry include a XIII distinction ‘Poetas de Otros Mundos’ from the International Poetry Fund in 2017. In 2018 he won the National Poetry Library Instagram poetry competition for his poetry video En Silencio, and also received the III Antonio Machado Poetry Fellowship of Soria and Segovia. In 2020 Olsen and Pallares were jointly awarded a Residency in Matadero Madrid Centre for Contemporary Creation, on the theme of ‘Childhood, Play and the Public Space’.
In 2011, Olsen began the online Spanish poetry community project ‘Palabras Prestadas’, and has edited six books in the Palabras Prestadas collection (Ediciones de la MediaNoche, 2013-2018). In 2016 he set up the equivalent in English, Given Words, as part the National Poetry Day celebrations.
Sr Citizen was Olsen’s first book published in both English and Spanish by Ediciones Amargord in 2011. It contains a collection of poems and art. The volume captures the feeling and experience of disconnection being displaced by belonging. Helen Heath describes the way ‘the rhythm of flamenco taps through his poems,’ and how the poems are ‘frequently snapshots’, capturing the itinerancy of the traveller. Antípodas is another bilingual collection published by Huerga y Fierro in 2016. Antípodas, in the words of Olsen himself, is about ‘the different worlds inside each one of us – those points where understanding and questioning meet.’ His poems and translations have been published in the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook, Landfall, blackmail press and NEKE The New Zealand Journal of Translation Studies. Olsen has also written about poetry film including interviews with filmmakers in Portugal and Spain for The Poetics of Poetry Film from Intellect Press, and an essay on poetry film from Colombia for The London Magazine, both published in 2021.
Olsen’s third book, La rebeldía del sol (‘Rebellion of the Sun’), will be published in the Antonio Machado Collection of Olifante Ediciones de Poesía, Zaragoza, in 2022.
Updated August 2021.