For young American artist Charmaine Olivia, art was never about creating a physical object, a painting or a drawing, but rather a way of life and a way she looks at the world. Every part of the artist's life, from her outfit to her thoughts, represents an embodiment of an all-encompassing art project. While growing up in South California, she was introduced to meditation, which helped her develop a unique type of spirituality that she managed to transmit to her drawings, paintings, and prints. Her interest in meditation, self-exploration, and yoga filled her life with tranquility and joy, which is why her colorful creations often convey the notions of cheerfulness and serenity. Using oil paint on recycled wood and canvas, Charmaine Olivia manages to take us into her world, one where women dance surrounded by flowers and spin in whirlpools of paint.
The inspiration comes from all over - her friends, art models, or the artist's own imagination. Charmaine Olivia pieces range from colorful and psychedelic ones to those that are bold, realistic or sinister and dark, as her heroines go trough a variety of situations and emotional turmoils that every human being can easily relate to. By portraying an array of beautiful, ethereal and mysterious characters the artist explores the female form constantly, showing that beauty is never skin-deep. Energetic brushstrokes and recognizable style brought the artist an array of interesting collaborations with numerous brands like Hallmark and Vans but also the attention of pop star Lady Gaga, for whom the artist created a special Born this way poster which later sold for charity. In an exclusive interview for Widewalls, Charmaine Olivia talks about her inspiration, her artistic process and the expansion of her work to street art.
Widewalls: Tell us a little bit about your beginnings. How did your upbringing in Southern California and your yoga teaching experience influence your art?
Charmaine Olivia: My spiritual upbringing is a huge part of my foundation. Growing up with meditation and introspection provided me with tools to help me understand myself and the world around me. I was really shy and quiet growing up, preferring to be alone and off in my own world. My training to become a yoga instructor helped me break out of my shell and learn to find my voice so that I could effectively assist others. I’m deeply committed to my journey of self-discovery and self-growth, and meditation and creating helps me with that. Since I was a little girl I was always drawing and painting when I was a teenager I started getting really hooked on it, I loved the way it helped me understand myself, instead of holding all my emotions inside I was able to let them out and see them displayed in color and form.
Widewalls: Could you briefly describe your creative process? How does a typical work day of Charmaine Olivia look like?
CO: I usually start my day with a meditation, I find if I’m able to begin my day feeling calm and happy, everything is better. I’m always juggling a lot of different types of projects, some days I’m able to create and paint all day, other days I’m on my computer or meeting with clients. I like to approach my work with a sense of curiosity and wonder, each piece is like an experiment where I’m testing out something new, whether it’s a new color or new approach. I really like what Picasso said, "I start with an idea, and then it becomes something else." Ideas are always evolving and growing, and I love that! It can be easy to get frustrated if something doesn't meet your expectations, or if you have a vision for something and it ends up totally different, but I’ve learned to love that part of the process. When I trust that it will all work out, it makes the process of creating (and life) way more enjoyable. If I become too rigid with my vision or expectations, I find that I unintentionally close myself off to unexpected opportunities and discoveries.
Widewalls: Your artworks mostly depict beautiful female figures. Could you tell us who they are and what is their significance? Are the subjects you portray completely fictional or are they based on people you know?
CO: Some of the girls I paint are based on people I know, some are women that inspire me, some are made up. But no matter if I’m doing a piece based on a real person or it’s made up, once I begin painting they take on a life of their own. Even if it’s one of my best friends that I’m painting, they become their own beings and have their own paths and personalities... they’re very much alive to me.
Widewalls: How long does it take to create an individual piece? Do you model for the artworks yourself or work with professional models?
CO: I work with models, friends and sometimes I use myself, or my imagination. The time it takes to create a piece totally depends. Each one is entirely unique. Some of my favorite pieces I did in an hour, but sometimes it can take days, weeks, months or years. It’s not the actual painting time that makes up the piece, I actually paint really quickly, but a large part of the process is thinking and living with the paintings, imagining the possibilities. A painting can go in an infinite number of directions, and I’ll often just stare at them and imagine all the different worlds I can take them. Sometimes you know when a painting is done, you just feel it. And other times you need to just STOP and call it finished. Deadlines are also great motivators in finishing a piece!
Widewalls: Your heroines seem simultaneously strong and sensitive, alluring but also intimidating. Do you think that these juxtapositions are inherent of every woman? Or just the ones you choose to portray?
CO: There aren’t necessarily particular emotions I’m aiming to portray in my work, each painting takes me on a rollercoaster of emotions and the final result is a reflection of everything I was feeling while painting it. Some of the feelings get buried in the layers, and some peek through. Sometimes there’s a lot of conflicting emotions going on, but by the time it’s finished, I’ve hopefully come to some sort of state of acceptance. While my paintings are a reflection of my state of being, I also try to paint what I want for myself, an affirmation of something I want to feel. I really am there with the girls, imagining the colors around me, floating around in some ethereal dreamy paradise. All the emotions I feel are I’m sure inherent in every woman, or every human for that matter. We all have the same spectrum of emotions, and I believe we are all, in some way, seeking joy, meaning, and fulfillment.
Widewalls: A statement on your website says that only true art is the art of mastering yourself. How does an artist stay true to oneself despite so many influences and criticism they are exposed to every day?
CO: I think you always know when you’re being true to yourself, there’s a feeling you get, it feels right. Life is a constant navigation of choices. I try to pay attention to the way I feel, to try to understand what is right for me and what isn’t. But it’s definitely not easy! The mind is like a little kid, without discipline or guidance, it will just run all over the place. But it’s also our most powerful tool, and with training, it can do incredible things. We have so many habit patterns of thought and action that we are not even aware of most of the time. I think introspection is important, to analyze our behaviors and try to understand when we're acting out of true authenticity and when we’re reacting out of habit, fear, or insecurity. I believe that when we take responsibility for our own happiness and fulfillment and stop being critical or judgmental of others and of ourselves, life becomes so much more meaningful and joyful. I’m constantly reminding myself that I have the ability to choose love over fear.
Widewalls: Can you tell us a little bit about your future project? What's in store for the year of 2017?
CO: Some really fun and exciting collaborations! I have a clothing line and jewelry line in the works. I’m also in the process of creating some of my first murals, which I’m really excited about! I love the idea of my art being out in public for anyone to see. Dreams coming true!
Featured images: Left: Charmaine Olivia - Prism / Right: Charmaine Olivia - Maya; Charmaine Olivia - Secret Life Of Marylin Monroe. Images courtesy of the artist