Remembering a Friend

Hilary Topper with an Olan original

I was talking with Lisa from my office. We were talking about Instagram and Facebook, when she suddenly said, “it was such a shame about Olan. I still can’t believe he passed.”

“WHAT????” I said to her. “NO, that can’t be. I feel like I just spoke with him.”

(I actually spoke with him in December 2019. He passed away in April 2020. He was one of the first to get COVID. Horribly, 400,000 people have passed from COVID since then.)

Meeting Olan Montgomery for the First Time

Olan was an artist that I met in the early 2000s. He had a show in SoHo and was displaying his artwork there. I immediately fell in love with his work. There was one painting that I was drawn to. It was of a beautiful woman, her face in blue paint with shades of blue around her. It was one of the nicest paintings I had seen in years. (If you know me, I’m a big fan of pop art.)

I met the artist, Olan and told him I loved his work.

My husband talked me out of buying the painting and said, “look here.” He pointed to some articles that was hanging on the wall. “He does commissioned art,” he said.

“How can I hire him to do a commissioned painting of me?” I asked. “That’s weird.”

“No, it’s not,” he said. “Isn’t it better than buying an art work of a complete stranger?”

He had a point.

Hiring Olan

I called Olan a week later and talked with him about commissioning him to paint a pop art piece of me. We totally hit it off. He graduated from college the same time I did. I felt like I knew him from another time.

He gave me a price and told me to come into the studio. I did and he took the most amazing photos of me.

Then, he blew them up and painted them. He had one in orange, pink, blue and yellow. When he was finished, he asked me which one I liked best.

“I love them all,” I said and with that, he put four pictures in different colors together, almost like Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe. It was incredible.

When I took it home

“Now that I have this amazing painting of me, what should I do with it?” I asked my husband. He suggested putting it in my office. That’s where it stayed for years. The picture moved with me from my Westbury office to my Melville office and then back to my Long Beach office. Today, it hangs in my home.

Buying More Paintings

I loved his work so much that I ended up buying a few more paintings – one of homeless man, who I convinced my staff and others who saw it in the office that he was God.

One of my favorites which hung in my office for many years, now hangs in my gym. It’s a picture of Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. Courtney has a cigarette hanging from her hand, perfect for a gym right?

But, the one that I treasure most, is currently in my dining room. It’s a picture of my kids. Zoey must have been about 11 or 12 at the time and Derek was 6 or 7. It’s just a wonderful picture that he took in a park. While he was in the park with my kids, my husband and I hung out with Mr. Al, his dog.

Olan blew up the photograph and painted it and it is an amazing masterpiece.

Olan Hired HJMT

I loved Olan’s work so much and he knew it because we kept in touch through the years. He actually hired HJMT for an exhibit he was holding in SoHo. The exhibit focused on how things may appear one way but isn’t actually that way. He had a ton of paintings of Marilyn Monroe, except they weren’t Marilyn. It was of his close friend, a drag queen.

The whole office got involved. As in most offices, my office was culturally diverse. Everyone dressed up like Marilyn Monroe, even some of the men. Our diversity was perfect for the show because everyone wore Marilyn outfits but looked different. Olan did everyone’s makeup.

I then hired dozens of actors to play paparazzi and they followed the Marilyns around New York City. We even had limos taking us from place to place, stopping at all the famous sites.

Boy, did we make a scene!

While we made a big commotion, we handed out postcards for his event. We gave out thousands and thousands of cards.

The night of his event, he had hundreds of people who lined up to see the exhibit. The line was literally around the block. It was a huge success. Olan was thrilled and we had a ton of fun doing it.

Last time I spoke with Olan

I spoke with Olan in December 2019, when I was publishing my second book, Branding in a Digital World. I asked him if I could use the photo of the painting he made for me. He said, “absolutely!”

Olan and his art work made me smile. He was so full of life and had so much to offer the world. He also was an actor and he photographed famous people for magazines.

I’m so sad that he is gone. His memory will always be a blessing and a part of him will live through the art work he created. He will be missed!