An Interview with Charmaine Olivia

by JL SchnabelPosted on

SF based self- taught artist Charmaine Olivia, whose darkly poetic portraits have recently been captivating audiences, will be showing in next month’s group show at Spoke Art opening September 1st. Through the spell of a potent visual language, the female centric works allure with the confrontational poses and sensuous facial expressions of its inhabitants, each work imbued with a touch of the supernaturally surreal. As Charmaine prepared for the upcoming show, we had a chance to interview her about dream visions, taxidermy and the X-Files. View more preview images and read an exclusive interview below.

Your figures seem to be touched with a kind of supernaturalness, whether manifesting itself with multiple eyes or joined bodies. Can you talk about this choice?

They’re more akin to my dreams this way. Mostly normal, with something a little off. I’m so unsatisfied with just another “pretty picture” painting. Not so much with other artists’ work, but with my own. What interests me are the things that are subtly strange, things to keep me interested. I’m sure some people would rather me leave these weird elements out, but I don’t do it for anyone else, it’s just for me.

Nautical themes  seem important to your work. What is it about the sea that attracts you ?

I grew up next to the ocean, being from Southern California. Something about old mariner’s tales, shipwrecks, pirates and buried treasure really inspires me. I still pretend to be a mermaid when I go home. Oh and I’m a Pisces.

What is a “typical” work day for you like?

*Try* and wake up at a reasonable hour / hit snooze like 34 times. Once i get to my studio my day is a combination of painting, emails, updating my facebook/twitter/tumblr/blog/instagram/etc etc etc, taking obsessive pictures of my jewelry, more painting, more iphone-ing, and lots of snacking. i’m like really snacky. I’ve also been playing some world of warcraft again ahahha. It’s weirdly inspiring.

Can you talk about what it’s been like to be an artist in SF?

It’s been great living and working here. Even though I’m a bit of a hermit and don’t really do anything but work all the time, just being immersed in this city is amazing. I do a fair amount of shows here, but with the internet it’s almost like I could be anywhere.

Often your figures appear against undefined backgrounds. Where are they?

I see them as residing in a void or dream-like state. Almost as you recall a memory of someone in your mind, you don’t often see what’s around them, just their face/figure while everything around is unimportant and disappears. I also don’t like the idea of putting them in a scene-prison, where they are stuck in one context. This way they are free to move around go where they please. I mean, if I’m going to give them extra eyes and weird shoulders, I may as well let them go wherever they want. I owe them that much.

Your newer work is imbued with esoteric symbols and a magical/occult vibe. Can you talk about these inspirations?

These inspirations are kind of a throw back to me a couple of years ago when I was really into supernatural and arcane things. I still find a lot of beauty in the occult, it’s very nostalgic for me. I grew up with a lot of eastern and astrological influences and sometimes these things sneak their way back in to my work. And I’ve been watching a lot of x-files.

Are the figures in your work based on people you know? Or are they self-portraits?

They’re sort of a hybrid of bits of my friends, models, myself & made up faces. When I do use myself as the model for paintings, they’re not intended to be self-portraits, perhaps alter-egos.

What are some of your current inspirations?

Bones, stars, skulls, antlers, taxidermy, rosaries, Billie Holiday.

Do you work on one piece until it is complete before you start anew or do you work on many at once?

I used to only work on one piece at a time, but I found that after spending a certain amount of time on one piece I lost interest in it and then it would take me forever to finish. Now I juggle like 5 pieces at one time. i much prefer it this way, moving from one to the next as I please.

How does your studio environment affect your work?

Getting a studio was the best thing ever. Being surrounded by things that inspire me. Like a little haven. Oh and now my cat isn’t jumping all over my palette and leaving little white footprints everywhere. He stays at home.

What do you consider to be the true heart of your work?

Probably the dreaming aspect. How my girls are kind of alive to me. I turn them in to characters as part of this ongoing fairytale. I don’t always share their stories but someday I’d like to.

If these femmes could dream, what would their dreams / nightmares be like?

Oh what a good question! A lot of my girls are born in my dreams, so the thought of them themselves dreaming gives me the chills. Dreams within dreams. Perhaps they’d dream of not having extra eyes, I’d imagine their vision is kind of dizzying. I hope they aren’t mad at me for that.

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