Singapore born Scottish artist, Olivia Bax, creates stunning interactive sculptures and beautiful 3D inspired prints. She is truly an international muse, with exhibitions and residencies spanning the globe including in Dhaka, Hong Kong, New York, Moscow and Sweden. She is the winner of many awards including the Saatchi Public Choice prize and the Kenneth Armitage Young Sculptor Prize and shows no sign of stopping! Here is a small peek into her world…
An international, award-winning artist, can you tell us a little bit about what you are up to at the moment?
I am making new sculptures for an exhibition at FOLD Gallery, London in April. I am showing with Danish artist Ellen Hyllemose who also makes large sculptures so it should make an interesting exhibition. I am also making new wall-based pieces for a group exhibition at Modern Painters, New Decorators in Loughborough in March. The exhibition is called ‘The Ground is Good’ and looks at different ways that artists use the material clay.
You have a really unique and recognisable style. What is your inspiration and artistic process?
I take inspiration from the world around me. Then I translate recorded moments or feelings into objects in the studio. A starting point can come from anywhere, sometimes it is the place in which the work will be shown.
My process changes, depending on the work. Hands are the most readily available tool we have and I am attracted to materials that I can mould and leave an impression. Recently, for a lot of my large scale-work, I have been mixing my own paper pulp as it is a malleable material but dries hard (and remains lightweight!) I have to be able to lift and work with the components myself.
What inspires you to seize the day each morning?
I’ve always been grateful that I have known exactly what I wanted to do from a young age so I never need encouragement to get up to go to the studio. It is where I want to be.
Can you describe your average day?
My days are never fixed in that I juggle paid work commitments and my own studio time. I try and be in my own studio 4 days a week. I like to get admin out the way in the mornings (normally in bed!) and get to the studio as quickly as I can. I work flat out when I am there and usually lose track of time. I am much happier working with my hands than being on the computer! I moved studio recently to a space much closer to where I live which is very fortunate in London, where space is getting harder to find and more and more expensive. Now I can run home after a day in the studio. I find it very useful to have the time to process what I’ve done. I don’t believe artists ever ‘switch off’ from their work, it is on the mind all the time!
(ZEST, 2016 Plaster, hessian, polystyrene, wood, steel, paper, paint, PVA, silicone and armature wire Dimensions variable)
Do you feel like your style has changed or evolved? And what direction will this take you in 2018?
Absolutely, my work has changed and developed a lot, thank goodness! I don’t want to stay at the same place, I want to challenge myself and my habits, and push my work to new and unexpected places.
When I was studying art at undergraduate level at Byam Shaw School of Art in London, I made a lot of linear metal work. I am pleased I did because I learned practical skills and got a job when I finished in 2010 for Anthony Caro whose work I followed and admired. I worked as a studio assistant in his studio until he passed away in 2013. I learned so much about art and my own work in that time. He was interested in composition and admitted that he never learned to weld. I became more and more interested in the practicalities of making and started experimenting with different materials. He was very encouraging and supportive and I credit a lot of my development to my experience working with him. I returned to do my Masters in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 2014. I was lucky to have some great tutors there too. I had the time to unpick my work, piece it back together and find my language.
As for the direction in 2018, we’ll have to see! A lot of my sculptures are born out of practical concerns: space, storage and budget being at the forefront. The work I am making at the moment is very impractical. And it is taking up most of the space in the studio. But being impractical is fun!
I love your use of bold colour and texture- how do you choose what colours to use and what informs your choice of medium?
Colour is a powerful tool which grabs attention. I use it to highlight what is important in the work…like a highlighter in a block of text. I want people to stop what they are doing, and look!
The materials I use are normally tactile, so the texture has come from my hands during the making process. I find that revealing the way that something has been made can be a good entry point for the viewer. Trying to understand why someone has laboured on a foreign object is a good opening question.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years-time?
I don’t! I would rather take opportunities as they present themselves than go too far into the future. I know that I will still be making art, hopefully in a bigger studio!
(Olivia Bax_Studio on residency at HKBU, Hong Kong, 2017)
What would be your dream project?
That’s a tricky one. When I visit museums or galleries with interesting architecture I always imagine making sculpture for the spaces. I had some work at Artissima in Turin last year and visited the Castello di Rivoli. I would love to make sculpture for a grand Castello with trompe-l'oeil floors and ornately painted ceilings.
I would also like the opportunity to make an outdoor sculpture. Public art is full of problems and compromises. It would be a challenge. I would love to have the budget to approach a public artwork in the same vein as work made in the studio.
What advice would you give to a budding artist?
If making artwork is a necessity rather than a romantic idea, make sure you find paid work that can sustain your practice while you develop your artistic career independently from commercial constraints. And if you like carefree weekends, it isn’t the career for you!
What are you reading at the moment and what is your favourite book of all time?
I’ve got in a terrible habit of starting books and not finishing them. But at the moment I am half way through Alister Sooke’s ‘A Second Life’ about Henri Matisse making work after cancer and a major operation.
Favourite book of all time is an impossible question! ‘Third Policeman’ by Flann O'Brien was a completely bonkers but inspiring book.
Where do you go to escape it all?
To visit my parents in Scotland.
You have worked all over the world- a residency in Hong Kong, a recent show in Stockholm- what do you never travel without?
My sketch book.
Mountain, lake, beach, boat or city break?
City break: any excuse to see museums, galleries and eat in nice places!
Finally, swimsuit or bikini ;)?
Definitely a swimsuit: it leaves more to the imagination and more practical for swimming!