I'm so excited to share Olivia Jane's work with you all. In this interview, Olivia shares about her time traveling as a full time artist and how the many different cultures she experiences has inspired the art she is creating today.
I’m really interested in your background as an artist and when you fully came into your own. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
It’s definitely been a never ending process. I started painting when I was 16. I was kind of a troubled kid and had gotten kicked out of high school and was failing out of a second high school and ended up in an alternative school where the general painting class was oil paints. So I actually never learned how to paint with acrylics-- though I have learned since in doing murals--but I just dove in and loved painting so much from the start. So much so that when I went to college, I studied painting at a liberal arts school.During that time, I got to dabble in so many different kinds of art. I was doing film photography and ceramics, drawing but not really earning that much about painting. All of that came about five years ago when I reached out to a friend that I’ve known since I was 18, who’s an amazing painter--his name is Jack Shure--asked him if he could give me some pointers and that kind of began this beautiful friendship/mentorship where I would just go and paint with him. As we would paint, he would point out different materials, asking me, “Have you tried this as a medium before?”, or “Have you considered this kind of a glazing before?” and it blew my mind all of the basic knowledge that he was sharing with me that I somehow did learn in school. Previously I had given up on the idea of being an artist and came back to it and all of a sudden the visions in my imagination seemed like I would be able to paint them for the first time. So pretty much my entire body of work has come to be in the last five years. I started calling myself an artist only about three years ago--and that was a big move too!! So, it’s always unfolding and right now is the first time I’m sustaining myself from art and I know that I am dedicated to it and I know that I’ll never not be an artist now.
Wow! Congratulations for that! That’s huge! So what brought you to traveling and taking on these incredible murals and projects??
A lot of people look at my travels and think it’s so crazy that I’d go backpacking around the world by myself-- and it might be a little bit crazy, perhaps! But I did grow up traveling so traveling is something that I’m really familiar with and being in different cultures is something I’m really familiar with.I grew up in France and we spent one year in Singapore and so already I was learning many different languages as a child and experiencing many different religions and cultures so already at a young age I was very influenced by all of that so it was almost natural to become a traveler in my adulthood and when I was 22 I took a one year trip to southeast Asia and New Zealand. During a period that I gave up on art I actually became a saleswoman and I worked my ass off saving as much money as possible and had my introduction to the grind and rat race that I really didn’t want to be a part of, but I did it for a few years and had a major awakening through that--that it wasn’t what I wanted to spend my time doing. During that time too, I got into a pretty severe car accident, followed by my first Ayahuasca ceremonies, and then ultimately getting fired from my sales career--it all launched me into a whole new adventure. I had a lot of money saved, planned to be gone for a year, but I didn’t plan to make murals; I didn’t really have a plan for how I was going to take art with me on the road. But then I wound up being gone for two and and a half years because I did paint along the way as a work trade. I would find cafes and hostels and pitch them on a mural idea and they would let me stay there and and feed me so it ended up going much farther than I anticipated. The whole journey just took me across the world one way and back the other.
WOWWW! What was pitching your idea like? What would you say?
Usually I would get to a place and instantly be inspired. A lot of my murals are in India--India is a very inspiring place. Once you walk out the door, you’re hit with a million smells, colors and animals. So, I just let the place influence the imagery and often what would come to mind when I would go to a place was, “What does this place need? What does this place want?”. I like celebrating local people because that’s what makes each place so magnificent. So typically it would be someone I met who I’d then take a picture of and I’d ask them if I could paint them on a wall. Or it could have been an animal--a cool camel that I came across in the desert--and I would just draw a picture and see if they’d be down to let me paint it. Luckily, there is already so much trade economy in India so it was really familiar for people to offer a place to sleep and really good food in exchange for my time.
Sooo interesting and really cool. What about supplies? Did you bring supplies with you or did they have them there?
I traveled with a big bag full of brushes and aside from that I would get house paints along the way so I was always able to find so acrylic latex outdoor white paint and I would use small tubes of stain, which I could typically find at hardware stores along the way. A lot of the murals I did were in grayscale with touches of color--that was the easiest way to go about it.
So when you were in India or anywhere on your journeys, were there any kind of spiritual activations happening at those times too for you that were nudging you in different directions? How was your intuition working with your art in that way?
Yeah! Some really incredible things happened on the journey as they always do when you put yourself out there. For example, when I was in Veranasi, which is a very holy city in India where a lot of the cremations happen so it’s a very intense place and ss you’re walking down the Ganges River, you’re a witness to and participating in these ceremonies that are happening in the open air. There are some people that go after work just to watch and have that experience of contemplating their own mortality and it was really profound. And on this one day as I’m walking, I meet some guy on the street and we sit and have a chai together, and I tell him that this is a big change in calling myself an artist. That opened a lot of windows and doors because I told him that I’m an artist and I’m a painter and he said, “Oh I know Baba who really needs paintings in his dwelling! Why don’t you come by this afternoon and meet him?” to which I said happily, “Ok!! I’ve got nothing to lose.” So I went and wound up spending nine days with Baba in his temple and painting the walls of his temple with different Yantras that he wanted.It was just an incredible experience because I was painting on these walls and meanwhile behind me as I was working there’s all these people exiting the world in cremation ceremonies intermixed with children and just the whole cycle of life was happening and it was so intense--sometimes the walls were even shaking. As you’re painting, the ash is going into the paint and into your eyes and you’re crying and it’s really this whole sensory experience. I loved painting there so much that I wound up going back the following year and had the opportunity to paint inside of a Hindu temple right at the Ghats where the cremations were happening so it was this immense honor to do that.
That’s amazing!! Do you have an idea of what you want to do next?
Actually I’m up to some exciting things soon!! As much as I am a traveler and love traveling so much, it is a lot of energy that is going out all the time. I came back to the states about 14 months ago and it’s been a major transition even besides the pandemic. I moved back in with my family for a while because I came back with $19 so there’ve been so many transitions. Trying to make it work in New Orleans then coming back to Colorado and now I’m actually moving in with one of my mentors, Amanda Sage. I’ll be doing an artist residency with her at her partner’s property in town here. They have a vision for creating an intentional community and there’s going to be a lot going on there so I’m going to just jump in and settle down for a while and create a lot more work. My next vision since I’ve come back from traveling is lessening my waste and being more conscious of my plastic use and consumption in general. I’ve been growing a garden here and mostly living off the land over the summer which has been great and I really want to create art that will function as my upcycling. I’d like to take the things that would otherwise be thrown away and turn them into art. I’m hoping that my paintings will become a bit more three dimensional in the future and that’s something I’m looking forward to.
Have you found any sustainable solutions to our modern and traditional art supplies or alternatives?
Yes, there are so many different pockets of our lives to consider when trying to minimize waste and so one of the first places I focused on was the kitchen because that’s an area where so much waste is going in and out of but I also realized that eventually I would have to look at my studio. So a lot of the oil paints I’ve been using I have had for years and am just starting to get through a lot of them. There are some pigments that can be purchased in glass bottles, so that’s one area I’d like to experiment with, though I don’t know how much that is going to limit my color use but I’m super down to play with that! Sometimes limiting your palette can be a really good experience! Sometimes with varnishes and different mediums, every once and awhile there’s an option to buy it in a glass or tin container instead of plastic so if it’s more expensive or a smellier option then I’ll tend to go for that. Little choices like that make a big difference and make the studio look a bit nicer. And also any plastics I have from the kitchen can be upcycled to create texture in my under-paintings. It’s definitely a slow process that I’m chipping away at and definitely will be sharing my journey. I’ve been wanting to make a proper channel on YouTube to go over a lot of the things I’ve been learning about de-plasticking my kitchen, bathroom and studio. I haven’t tried the pigment paints yet, but it only takes a few minutes of prep time to get all your colors ready and with oil paints anyway they’re already staying wet for a longer time anyway so I’d be happy to spend the extra few minutes mixing it up.
Just going back to the idea of upcycling things from your kitchen to use as texture...can you tell us more about what you mean by that? What does that look like?
Yeah, so let’s say you went to the farmer’s market and you end up with a really big plastic bag of greens and you already have a bunch of plastic bags in your fridge so you do need to reuse it there. So, what I would do to make texture on the base layer of the painting is splatter a bunch of wet paint onto the canvas to get it totally covered and while it’s still wet, you scrunch the plastic down onto it and start sponging it and twisting it to achieve cool textures. When you remove it, either you have a really cool texture to play with or you might see something in that pattern that winds up provoking your next painting if you don’t have a super crisp vision from the start. That can be a fun way to really get into the flow of painting!
I was thinking like could you grind down the plant waste and put it in the painting but that would make them moldy haha!
Yeah they can get pretty stinky! But I have a good compost pile here. So the food feeds me and then it feeds all these little critters that are bunkering up for a big winter.
It’s cool that you have all that accessible to you right now. So neat.
Olivia: Yes, big change from living out of a backpack! And being able to garden again! There are so many benefits to staying still and so many benefits to traveling so I think if there’s a right time and place, take the opportunity!
Can you talk about what it’s like living off of your artwork? How are you putting it out there in a way that you can have that energetic exchange to support your purpose?
You know, this is something that when I would interview everyone I know that’s a full time artist and just grab them and ask them, “H O W ?!?! What’s the recipe? How do I make this work??” It kind of felt like for five years that I was just painting all the time and no one would really even see the paintings at first. A lot of my friends didn’t even know I was a painter at first because I wanted to just keep them to myself until I thought they were good enough to share. Of course, I wanted to make a full time living but didn’t want to sacrifice my authenticity. It became clear though after interviewing so many people that there were so many different ways to do it. I didn’t want to spend my whole life on social media trying to make it happen. I don’t like spending a ton of time on the internet or technology in general so I wanted to make it work in a way that works for me so I wouldn’t burn out. With social media, sometimes it’s good for me and sometimes it’s not. I find myself comparing my work with other artists’ and it’s not healthy. It’s important to recognize when you want to pull away. So I needed to figure out how to sell things without advertising for it. What ended up happening was I took a huge hit in terms of selling prints through my website which has been very silent. Here and there I’ve been getting sales but by no means hustling whatsoever. I’ve been selling just original paintings. That’s been happening through friends reaching out wanting a piece or commission and I love that! That’s a recipe that works because I love making art; I don’t love selling things to people. The people that are now buying art are the people that I met while traveling so all the time I spent being a renegade partier have now come to work in my favor because those people want to support me now.
With the artist residency coming up, it’s another work exchange so once again I don’t have to spend all my money on bills and survival, I can work about 20 hours a week for them and about 20 hours a week for myself. My niche really has been finding ways to trade for my time and my skills. It’s really about finding ways to keep that going without sacrificing too much of your authenticity.
Well said! What are your views on how artists can really stand up for and speak through their work about being leaders in this new paradigm, this New World?
There’s a quote that I really like; “It is the role of the artist to make the revolution irresistible.” We’re living in just an incredible time where so many of the changes that we want to see for the earth are happening. We have to make them happen. I don’t think it’s enough just to make beautiful art. I think we really have to embody what our art is about to really make it reverberate farther. It’s more of a lifestyle; it’s about who you are and how you stand and who you stand up for in the world. Making the art is a healing process for myself, and the outcome of the healing process is for someone else. I love that exchange. I’m attached to that process and not the outcome. By the time that the painting is finished, I’ve had my transformation and the finished painting will help someone else in the transitions they need. The rest of the time, I have to talk the talk and walk the walk of my art out in the world and in my community; to really get involved in the things that lead to big changes like town hall meetings, organizing distanced events or lectures. I think as an artist and an introvert, it’s really easy to go inward, but we’re nothing without our communities so it’s really important to get yourself involved so you can help to bring about the change we want to see. Q&A
1. In reference to the scruncing of the plastics to get the texture on your canvas as an underlayer, I was wondering have you worked with coconut fibers at all?
I have not, but that would be a great texture to work with along with anything natural. I’ve actually been keeping all the paint-covered, scrunched plastic in a box and perhaps creating like a paper mache sculpture with them along with the used rubber gloves that I’ve saved from past works too.
2. In reference to exploring working with pigments, could you please also go back to the murals that you did in India in black and white with touches of color?
Yes! That’s actually where the thought started about pigments because when I was in Morocco, I was able to buy saffron and different natural pigments and I was able to use those in my murals in India. When I mixed them with the outdoor paint then they became outdoor resistant so I used them for the whole second year of my paintings.
3. As someone that has traveled a lot as well and has also decided to live in one place for the next year at least, it’s a different experience and different mindset. As a fellow traveler, how did you protect your energy with all that stimulation and did you have any rituals to stay grounded to your spirit?
The first time that I was in India, I met a bunch of spiritual guides and astronomers and of these characters, I met three in particular that gave me the same advice. They told me to wear black, wear eyeliner and don’t be so transparent. I guess I came off too naive or too sincere and implementing these things was a way to build this wall between me and the rest of the world so I didn’t have to compromise my sincerity. Doing these things I feel made me almost harder to look at and look through. Also before I left the house, I would also focus myself and imagine the large globe of protection around me and hold that space as I would make my way through crowds of people. I also shaved my head! That helped a lot in terms of eliminating interactions with shallow people. You’ve got to believe in and build up your force field of protection. I also actually opted out of staying in hostels because there’s just so much energy going out so most of the time I would instead try to find a family with an extra room to host me. This was also a great way to surround myself and integrate with people from that culture rather than just other travelers.
It’s so important to be really conscious of the energy you’re putting out and the energy you’re taking in and also really honor and respect the culture you’re learning.
You can find Olivia's work at: https://www.oliviajaneart.com/