Patricia Olynyk named director of Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Renowned printmaker combines art and biomedical imaging

Patricia Olynyk has been named director of the Graduate School of Art, part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

Olynyk is an internationally known artist whose prints and installations frequently employ microscopy and biomedical imaging technologies to explore the intersections between art and the life sciences. She is currently a professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, as well as a research associate professor in Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute.

Patricia Olynyk

Patricia Olynyk

“Patricia is an accomplished artist and a perfect fit to lead the Master of Fine Arts program,” said Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School and E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration in the Arts. “She will work proactively with the faculty to expand both the scale and interdisciplinary opportunities within the program, while also raising its quality and national and international visibility.”

Olynyk will report directly to Jeff Pike, dean of the College and Graduate School of Art. Her appointment — effective July 1, 2007 — follows an extensive national search led by Ron Leax, the Halsey C. Ives Professor of Art. It also follows the recent consolidation of all graduate art studios into the university’s Lewis Center building, 725 Kingsland Ave. (Lewis Center previously housed undergraduate programs in sculpture, photography, ceramics and visual communication — programs that have since moved into new and renovated facilities on the university’s main Danforth Campus.)

“This is a very exciting time for the graduate school,” notes Pike, the Jane Reuter Hitzeman and Herbert F. Hitzeman, Jr., Professor. “Thanks in part to the expansion in facilities, graduate enrollment has more than doubled over the last two years,” rising from 22 students in 2005 to 47 students for the coming academic year. “Patricia has both the vision and the administrative experience to keep growing and strengthening the program.”

In addition to her duties as director of the graduate school, Olynyk will serve as the first Florence and Frank Bush Professor in Art. The professorship is named in honor of two late alumni, both longtime supporters of the university: Florence Bush (LA ’31) and her husband Frank Bush (BU ’30), former vice president of Marsh & McLennan Inc. in St. Louis.


Olynyk earned a Diploma of Visual Art from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary in 1983 and a Master of Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts in Oakland in 1988. She studied Japanese language and cultural history at Osaka National University of Foreign Studies and spent three years as a research scholar at Kyoto Seika University.

Prior to joining the University of Michigan in 1999, Olynyk taught at the New College of California and the Academy of Art College, both in San Francisco, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. In 2002 she became director of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Program and Roman J. Witt Visiting Faculty Program. In 2005 she became the first non-scientist appointed to the Life Sciences Institute

As an artist, Olynyk investigates the often-tenuous relationships between human culture, science and the environment. Her work frequently calls upon viewers to expand their awareness of the worlds they inhabit — whether those worlds are their own bodies or the spaces that surround them.

For example, Sensing Terrains (2006), an installation created for the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., juxtaposes scanning electron micrographs of sensory organs with photographs of Japanese gardens designed to “tickle the senses.” Specimens range from human corneas (representing sight) and wild mouse taste buds and olfactory epithelia (representing taste and smell) to guinea pig cochlea (representing sound) and drosophila feet (representing touch).

Orb (2005), a digital print by Patricia Olynyk. Courtesy of the artist.

Meanwhile, the large digital print Orb (2005) combines Olynyk’s own retinal scan with garden images and scanning electron micrographs of drosophila wings. Duality of Opposites III (2003), a 12-color hand-printed lithograph, is a collage of garden imagery and schematic designs (representing electromagnetic fields and proportion in nature) overprinted with a 17th century spiral poem.

Olynyk’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the world, at such venues as the Brooklyn Museum; the New York Hall of Science; the Museo del Corso in Rome; Galleria Grafica and the Saitama Modern Art Museum in Japan; and the American University in Cairo. Her work is included in numerous private collections as well as those of Hewlett Packard, the American Council on Education and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.

Olynyk has received numerous project, research, exhibition and travel grants, including the 2002 North American Print Biennial’s Digital Print Award; the 2005-06 Wood Fellowship from the Francis C. Wood Institute for the History of Medicine at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia; and the 2005 Sound and Vision Artist Residency and Financial Award from the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta.

She has organized several exhibitions and public art performances, including Printed Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (2006) and Mexotica: A Living Museum of Fetishized Others at the University of Michigan (2003). She also served as production manager for The Roof is on Fire, a large-scale public art performance directed by Suzanne Lacy and held in the Federal Building Parking Garage in Oakland.