It is not often one comes across an artist whose work is undeniably contemporary, progressive and original, yet still firmly underpinned and informed by 20th century art movements of revolutionary old masters such as Picasso, Modigliani and Gauguin.
Olivia’s paintings, and indeed the artist herself, are reminiscent of a golden age where artists were daring, bold and inventive, in search of new perspectives, greater freedom, and a simplicity that is the purity and essence of life.
Gauguin escaped the rigidity of life in France, rejecting its social conventions for the liberty, peace, and inspiration he hoped to find in Tahiti, where he created his greatest works.
For both Picasso and more significantly Modigliani, freedom, beauty and purity was to be found in their encounter with abstract art, inspired by the elegant sculptures and masks of the Fang people of Central Africa.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the clear parallels between Olivia’s style of work and the old master, Modigliani, a fact she acknowledges as she discovered and fell in love with the artist’s work as a student years ago.
The iconic disproportion and elongated forms of her Kenyan muses, the vacancy of their expressionless eyes, and their easy, but stoic poses, pay homage to, and reference, his masterpieces. However, what makes Olivia’s portraits uniquely distinct and significant in style and in substance, is the subject of her muses and her balancing of the scale.
Where both Modigliani and Picasso clearly referred to African aesthetic, style and motifs, often without credit or acknowledgment, to further their artistic movements, and western art at large; Olivia avoids their faux pas by virtue of being candid about her inspirations being an American artist, working and living amongst Kenyans.
Furthermore, each muse she captures beautifully on canvas has given their prior consent to pose for her, which is easily detected in the tranquil and easy nature of the subject, suggesting a level of trust, comfort and respect between both the painter and the subject. ‘Grace with Pink Cup’ and ‘Girl Sitting in White’ are perfect examples of this soft dynamic and interplay, when one observes their open and free body language and actions, in addition to the honorific halo that the artist has bestowed on them, an ancient symbol of reverence.
Empathy and a quest to truly see and appreciate people as they are is integral to Olivia’s practice and motivations. Her loose, almost transparent brush strokes, and soft, muted color palette, serve as an intentional visual device to see both beyond and through the obvious physical traits of her sitters in an attempt to capture their true essence and spirit, and connect on a deeper and more ethereal level. ‘Young Girl in Pink’ exemplifies this best, as the viewer is immediately drawn to the precocious and curious nature of a young girl teetering between the restraints of maturity and the exuberance of youth.
The question often asked, and hotly debated in art circles, is whether an artist not of African descent, can be considered a contemporary African artist. The jury is still out on this case, however, most would agree that contemporary African art is about centering African art at the heart of global art, and not on the periphery, as has been the case historically. By this logic, any artist, African or otherwise, that centers African people, culture and narratives at the center of their practice, with sincerity, appreciation, and empathy, should be welcomed and embraced as such. Olivia is such an artist.
Olivia’s elegant pieces will be on show at the Emerge solo exhibition between January 29th to March 20th 2022
Out of Africa Gallery
Carrer Nou 1 - 08870 Sitges, Barcelona - Spain
Raphael Dapaah Art Contributor Polo Lifestyles 2022