This month’s glorious cover is the work of artist Olivia Bullock. It was a lovely surprise – when I went along to visit, and Olivia unveiled her plan – that she too had arrived at thoughts of The Nutcracker (seeing as we’ve also interviewed dancer Gary Avis, this issue, who’s performing in the ballet – see pg 43).
So, “Why The Nutcracker?”
“I’ve got an old Nutcracker”, Olivia says. “Every year out he comes. I’ve always been fascinated by him – and have been to the ballet quite a few times with my mum. I love the way this thing can be transformed into a human and fall in love. There’s something sinister as well as magical about him.”
Olivia agrees she’s drawn to that sinister edge that’s vital to fairytale. “I’ve always loved stories, myths, tales. Strange things. These are recurrent themes in my work. I like the idiosyncratic, and the traditional – masks, costumes, animal personas and so on. There’s a reason for everything, every detail: though we may no longer know those reasons. Still, they communicate.”
Olivia divides her time, working from her Star Brewery studio. Mostly, she spends it on commercial commissions – with clients like Random House and Burberry. “I recently did a huge collage for Bombay Sapphire”, she says. “The gin producer was relaunching its brand at an event in Shoreditch. It was fun producing a 4 by 4 metre piece.” But she also produces her own work.
She originally studied at Kingston University, before working for some years at St Martin’s. “After I had children, I couldn’t face the commute.” Since then, she’s freelanced from Lewes, and says she loves coming into the studio: “it’s very quiet here. Peaceful.”
She had a solo exhibition locally a couple of years ago called Superscience. “I’m aiming for another one next year, hopefully”, she says. “Have a few ideas but can’t quite say what its theme will be yet. I do choose one theme, and explore it. Music, for instance. Did you know, there’s one polyphonic scale that was banned as being deemed too demonic? The way certain notes can affect you. Why? How? That’s the kind of story that draws me in.”
She paints every element in her work – the faces, hands etc – then, usually, collages them together. “I paint all the detailed parts as well as the looser washes; every element is my own work. It’s the juxtaposition of textures I find effective”, she says.
“I always use gouache paint because it dries quickly leaving a powdery texture to its surface. It’s often those things – the way paint spills, and bleeds, for instance – that can add a real layer to the work. The stuff that’s less conscious. And yes, there’s often a dark edge. But it’s the combination – some of which happens by chance – that most interests me. How I balance the idea I start out with, with what occurs during the actual process.” Charlotte Gann
See more of Olivia’s work on Instagram at @olivia.bullock