Q & A with Lovie Olivia
Interview by Sophie Asakura
BAS, currently on view in Art League Houston’s Front Gallery, is the fourth collaborative exhibition by artists Rabéa Ballin, Ann Johnson, Delita Martin, and Lovie Olivia. The show examines and transforms personal experiences, family histories, and cultural identities into a provoking visual play through the art of printmaking. One of the artists in the collective, Lovie Olivia was kind enough to answer a few of our questions regarding her work. She is the creator of the sprawling and intricate plaster pieces that move across the wall and the plaster shards nestled inside glass bottles. Her printing technique is innovative and unique, printing images onto plaster, much like fresco techniques.
Lovie Olivia is a native Houstonian and a visual artist who employs painting, printmaking, and installation to create her works. Although her past includes some formal artistic training, including graduating from Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), she mostly relies onher independent studies of art, cultures, music, literature, and history to influence her work. She has exhibited at, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston,Houston Museum of African American Culture, Jam Gallery Brooklyn NY, Medialia NY, NY, 36 Steps, Pittsburgh PA, Art League Houston, Darke Gallery, Gallery M2, Project Row Houses, and the Lawndale to name a few. In 2009 Olivia presented her solo “Thrice Removed” at SPACETAKER ARC, where she officially introduced her large scale ‘contemporary frescos’ and installations. Olivia’s work hangs in numerous private and public collections and businesses,throughout Houston. In addition to her multifaceted approach to visual art, she enjoys teaching painting in Houston, including at her alma mater; HSPVA. She continues to volunteer and collaborate with organizations like Project Row Houses, Houston Arts Alliance and DiverseWorks to name a few. Olivia is also a recipient of an Individual artist Grant Award, which is funded by the city of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance and The Vivian H. Guy Award for Community Service from USDC.
Q. What does Bas mean to you and how does the collective's work inform your own?
A. BAS is a continuation of the previous exhibitions that the four of us have had together. Each show title made cultural reference to food, southern living and womanhood and made conceptual references to the way we work individually and together. Names like ROUX, STIR, and MOJO. So with Bas we chose something that would express the state of creativity we are in at the time. We all desired a theme-less exhibition, one with few restrictions, to allow honest and true expression and impulse. The title BAS has many references, but a few are the ‘base’ of a stew, or simply the ‘basics’. At the time of production, I was at the base of my emotions while recovering from the lost of my Sister. The pieces in BAS are directed by these emotions.
We inform each others work. Like we say at all of our talks, we have many common interests and similar conversations about so many things, but we all approach our printmaking with different methods and techniques. We meet about four times a year and sometimes never see each others works until right before opening. We like it this way, because when all of the moving parts and components come together, we are usually very pleased with what the conversation looks like once installed. We never attempt to match, we attempt to compliment. So I think that we inform each others work by creating a sort of dance by interweaving these experiences that these four “women of color” have into this visual dialogue.
Q. How did you get into printmaking?
A. I got into printmaking in High School. I attended the High School for Performing and Visual ARTS in the 90’s. At the time Diane Marks was the printmaking instructor and I chose it as an elective. I have loved printmaking ever since. Actually, Diane was able to make it to BAS opening. That was a highlight of the night. She taught me everything from lino and wood relief to screen printing, intaglio, you name it. I haven’t applied it to my work since High School. Until, Four years ago when Ann Johnson approached me about a printmaking show, I didn’t have a press and I didn’t want to deal with the headache of trying to borrow one. So I went back to what I used and knew. My BASics, plaster. I had an accident in the studio that helped me to discover the possibility of printing on plaster. I’ve been experimenting with plaster transfer and monoprints and monotypes since.
Q. How did your vision of "between"evolve?
A. BETWEEN started with the idea of non-restriction or non-confinement. I produce most of my work after extensive research on the subjects and I just wasn’t in the mood for that. I was heart-heavy and incapable of creating in my usual way. The pain and loss took over and ALL I could do was dangle in ‘between’ conceptualizing work and making work. So I became impulsive and spontaneous and had to trust that these free forms, symbols and colors would create the visual conversation for me. I wanted the forms to become free by coming out from the wall I’m pleased with the outcome.
Q. Does specific personal experience inform your work, especially the work in the ALH gallery?
A. Absolutely. The prints are from different articles of clothing, African clothe prints that I purchased in Harlem, sacred geometric forms and palindromes. Simply a deconstruction of my fresco paintings and articles of personal importance from the last 6 months of my life. My personal experiences of being, Black, Female, Gay etc… inform all of the work that I make. I am interested in the ‘in between’. The place between assumption and knowing. In other words what people assume about others, so I typically like to challenge the viewer to rethink their expectations. Again, this work was created at a very emotional time, but the only piece that directly responds to the loss of my sister is “ Letters to AMMa”, where I wrote a bunch of letters to GOD pertaining my questions of life and death, loss, art, life and creation. I printed these letters on sheets of plaster, then broke them and stored them in the bottles.
Q. Your choice of medium is unconventional for printmaking. Why plaster? Can you tell us a little about the process?
A. I have used plaster in my work for nearly 8 years now. I usually work on large wood panels covered in multiple layers of plaster and then manipulated and finalized with fresco paintings. Printing on plaster came out of necessity and not having a press in my studio. In 2009 I made an accidental discovery in my studio when I dropped a piece of plaster onto a piece of glass that had ink on it. When I got to the studio the next day, the image had transferred directly onto the plaster. Plaster Printing was born or what I like to call, digital frescos. Because I am also a sculptor, I began to make three dimensional structures and printing and painting on them too. So what you see on the plaster pieces are images that I have drawn or scanned, worked into Photoshop,then printed and transferred onto plaster of all forms, shapes, sizes and applications.
Q. What are the designs on the plaster pieces? How do they inform your theme of going with the flow?
A. I think I gave this away in one of the previous questions but I can go into more detail. I randomly chose these fabrics that I collect, many of the fabrics are patterns that I use on my models when they pose for paintings. Some are from my travels. African fabrics and vintage fabrics mostly that I use to relay cultural reference and memory. I was in New York for 2 months. It was one of the best times of my life with some of the best memories made. Some of the African fabrics in the larger installation are from a Harlem Shop. I was informed by the shop owner about many of the symbols of life and spirituality that are in many of the patterns. That - not only are the fabrics aesthetic but meaningful. When I returned from NY, two weeks later I was hit with the worst memory of my life, that of my sisters death. In some way, perhaps I was allowing all of these elements to play. Many of my personal references to flight and time travel can be found in my forms. If you look close, you will find them. But to directly answer your question, the simple act of randomly, choosing, printing and even placing the forms on the wall is very “go-with-the-flow” for me. I usually work from a fairly controlled place, especially being a figurative painter and with this project; most everything was random and emotional
Q. Why small pieces instead of one large one?
A. Small pieces, because I always work in large pieces and I love challenging myself with scale. I also enjoy the way they look on the wall and the way the colors and shapes vibrate. I’m interested in accumulative or collective scale at this moment.
Q. What dialogue do the broken bottled pieces have with the wall mounts?
A. No dialogue, just complementary of them.
Q. How do you see your work complementing or contrasting your past work? The other work in the gallery?
A. I see my work complementing and contrasting my previous work. I believe that an artist should continue to grow, taking risk, pushing boundaries and re-inventing. It complements my previous work by adding more freedom, spontaneity and a broader approach to a similar process. I’ve always wanted to deconstruct my work-breaking it up into many pieces. I’m intrigued by multiplicity and accumulation. Seeing things in gathered together in large numbers gives me joy.
Q. What do you have coming up?
A. Coming Up, I have. Tugaloo Art Colony in Mississippi. “Stir”, our collective printmaking show from last year at M2 Gallery, opens This Friday. I am presently exhibiting in a group show curated by Robert Pruitt at University Museum at TSU titled “Coming Through the Gap” in the Mountain on an Elephant. I am doing programming in association with the exhibit on August 27th at 6:30 PM at the University Museum. I am also included the 20th Anniversary Round of Artist at Project Row House, slated to open in October and closing the year with a SELECTS exhibit Art Basel in Miami, FL. December and whatever else I can fit in.