Interview with pop surreal artist Richard J Oliver

Richard J Oliver was born and raised in Wales, United Kingdom, studied Fine Art at the University of the West of England and undertook his Masters at UWIC in Wales. In his time between studies, Oliver built his reputation, beginning in Wales and later gaining recognition throughout the UK. His work has been included in numerous European group shows, which then segued into solo shows, including an exhibition at the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in Wales.


 
 
Oliver's early work focused on his homeland, particularly the struggle of its youth trying to find identity in the aftermath of the local mining industry's demise. His work often showcased the skeleton landscapes of mining villages in the Welsh valleys juxtaposed with contemporary youth.
 
His latest works explore more universal subjects, from environmental issues to humanitarian and social problems that are close to his heart.
 
Since becoming a parent, Oliver has explored the anxieties of raising a child in an environment on the brink of disaster. The images touch on the tragedy of children forced to survive in an apocalyptic environment and violently fend for themselves. He transforms the natural instincts of fatherhood and family protection into striking visuals. More recently, portraits have crossed into the dark, brooding world of Grimm's fairytales and surrealistic subjects that help convey the emotion and tragedy of our world's children. Oliver works closely with many charities, most recently donating proceeds to Dreamlovecure.org, City of Hope's Department of Paediatrics, Williams Syndrome association and the Autism Society of Los Angeles.
 
Hello dear Richard, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?
 
My first memory of painting dates back to when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I recall drawing a cowboy listening to 'Adam and the Ants' while being at home from school with a sickness. The painting was never saved but I recall the feeling and the praise my mother gave me. As I recall she was celebrating that I might become and architect, since the idea of making a career as a fine artist in the mind of a working class Welsh mother in the mid 1970s simply didn't exist. The pinnacle moment in my life and career as an artist came in Foundation college in my late teens. I finally applied myself to academic schooling and leaned toward both the fine arts and design. When pressed to decide my University course and future it was assumed that I would follow design as I was one of the top students in that discipline. To the horror of my design tutor I followed my gut and chose fine art as my path. As usual, especially due to the mentality of Welsh working class society at the time, I was chastised for my choice and told I would amount to nothing. I guess it was the moment I heard the faint calling deep within, that was over 25 years ago.


 
 
What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
 
I was initially inspired by a few wonderful tutors before I went to university. I was incredibly fortunate that art was still on the syllabus at my school and my high school tutor was incredible at guiding my footing both artistically and emotionally throughout my teens. I found myself quite lost when I did finally arrive at University and it wasn't until my third year I discovered a voice and language in which to speak my thoughts in my painting. My initial influences were the post impressionist painters Manet and Cezanne. I definitely leaned more towards the Dionysian artists for my inspiration which appealed to my emotions and instincts and the same is true today. It lead me to study the German Expressionist painters like Max Beckman and Otto Dix and also the Austrian Painter Egon Schiele. It was quite a quick and obvious jump to the Neo-expressionists that were part of the New Glasgow boys art movement in the 1980s. My favourite painter of that movement was Peter Howson and my early paintings were basically studies of his techniques but with replaced characters from the working class Welsh village I was raised in. My early paintings were bombastic and stunk of someone who had little to say but a loud way of saying things. More lately, I have simplified my tone and try to speak with careful consideration and refinement. I am mostly influenced by great writers and poets these days and often use poetry as a doorway to open up a channel to my own instincts and inner wisdom. I have spent the past few years studying the works of influential thinkers and writers such as Carl G. Jung, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ernest Holmes and I have concluded that I must trust myself. Pure creativity will come through me if I allow it and open myself to its flow. I discovered that within me, conscious thought and forced ideas often impede my creative process and therefore I have done away with them as much as possible in the development of my methods, whilst trying to maintain a clear, focused and natural mind.
 
"…a perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands and predominating in all their being" - Emerson
 
I began to create paintings without a predetermined conscious selections of the subject matter, and instead put emphasis on my trust in my visual response to the world around me. I also allowed the conversation with the works themselves to dictate the direction, so in essence, guided by an infinite intelligence, they paint themselves, albeit by my hand.
 
This process now leads me to believe that my authentic subconscious is filtering through into my work. I feel the paintings and subjects are being chosen from a transcendental level of consciousness, above mind and I allow my self to honour the absolute truth and honesty of their expression.


 
 
How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?
 
A normal day for me is often clouded and unfolds somewhere between procrastinating and serendipity. Depending on my emotional psychological wellbeing I may have to exhaust my body and mind through exercise and meditation in order to find the poise and balance from where I may create. After a run I come to my homemade studio near my house and with generally no formal schedule and I allow myself to fall gradually into creating. Whether it is something I am currently working on or something new it often takes a while before my mind is soft enough to respond to my instincts. I will often perform a ritualistic set up and prepare all the way until lunch and not be able to jump into anything if I know I have some other obligations within a few hours. I suffer migraines so unless I am fed I usually have only a few hours before I am crippled by a head ache but if I am nourished I can work for 8-10 without a break.  My children take priority and I try to spend time with them at home and will generally stop working around 7pm to help feed, bath and put them to bed. My nights I sometimes return to my studio but often not. My painting is not a means to an end and therefore I am very careful about keeping it an enjoyable and natural purpose.
 
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?
 
I have a degree in Fine Arts and my Masters degree is on a 15 year hiatus while I wait for a window to complete. The only real thing I took from university was that it afforded me the time to focus on developing my art and I was surrounded by like minded people, but in terms of formal education, I did not take advantage of what was offered and benefited little from teaching or lecturing. I learned so much more from my peers than at university and the library was limited. Of course this was at a time before the internet was available and to be honest I now use youtube and the internet to constantly learn and refine my techniques. University did not provide me with a platform to make a career out of art, I had to work that one out for myself and mainly only through making so many errors did I learn.


 
 
What fascinates you the most about pop surrealism? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
 
I only discovered pop surrealism when I moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago and it struck me as a wonderful vehicle to maintain a youthful playfulness while allowing for much social and cultural commentary. I was struck by the beauty infused in many of the surreal works by Mark Ryden and Joe Sorren. I definitely adopted elements of its style for my own paintings but more these days I shy away from labels and scenes and try and allow my paintings to paint themselves without limitations or themes. My hope is always that I am able to share a deep joy and love by way of beauty in my current work. In a time of over abundance I feel it is important and my calling to make paintings that speak to a spiritual fulfilment and inspire a wealth and value that can not simply be bought or acquired with money or possession. Life can and should be a joyous experience made all the more so by sharing and compassion. I hope to one day communicate these elements with greater fusion in my paintings.


 
 
What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
 
Being creative is such a gift. I see it as a small scale and local expression of the greater divine creation. We humans and in fact all life is an expression of the universe and when I paint I participate in the process of such wonderful performance. I try to allow it to flow through me just like water easily and effortlessly finds its natural course. As an artist I have such a uniquely privileged perspective for I not only take joy through the act of creation but joy in observing it's unfolding just as a wise prophet once said "I do not do the work, it is the father who dwells in me who is doing the work". Therefore not taking full responsibly for creating the paintings, I have the added benefit of experiencing the final piece as though I did not make it. I often learn so much more about myself from viewing the final painting. Creating through the medium of music and art for me is not a means to an end. It is the end and the means simultaneously. The arrow of happiness isn't pointing off into some future conceptual time but sits with me in the infinite presence and in the act of creating and expressing. To express is in my nature and I would feel the compulsion to do so regardless of it's consequences. Acceptance and surrender to what is, and also to what I intuitively know myself to be is the very point of being. In the same way, the seed puts forth a blade of grass through the hard soil and the mountains burst into colour in a display of sheer enthusiastic creation and life, I know the energy within every seed is also in me. My art and my painting may only be a drop of water, but each drop of water holds the same constituents as the whole ocean, therefore as I see it, creating is an act infused with divinity.
 
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?
 
I try to paint much like the renaissance painters are thought to have worked. I create sketches of my ideas and the make an under painting on either linen or panel. I am working in egg oil tempera at the moment for my underpainting because of its dual benefit of moving like oil but drying like water based pigments. It also dries very hard, evenly and thoroughly so it is a perfect medium for underpainting. I create the works specifically to address tonal qualities and omit most colours at this stage. The only colours I use are cool colours as under washes for skin tones and complimentary colours as bases for larger areas, always muted and often monotone. After the underpainting is dry, I work into the paintings with many glazing layers, some layers are completely transparent and other layers are more semi opaque to build softness in the flesh. I finish the painting with a more opaque detail layer and work into my shadows with stand oil to deepen their final effect. I use a special quick drying varnish to protect the works and allow them to breathe and dry fully.


 
 
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
 
I have recently experimented with water-colour and look forward to making more movement into this field.
 
Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hidding in your studio?
 
My studio came about much in the same way as my paintings take form. When I moved into my house in the mountains about 5 years ago I saw a small dead space in my garden under some trees which I fantasised about building a studio in. I made a sketch of the studio and pinned it to a chalk board in my home and left it there to naturally grow in my mind unit the time was right. One day last year I looked at the picture and decided to mark out the plot to see how feasible it was. Before I know it I was digging holes and setting foundations. A good friend offered me some wood and doors which became the basis for my project. I built up with no prior knowledge of how to build, and made up the sections as I went along. I built the entire studio from reclaimed materials, all the wood, windows roofing and flooring, including all the furniture was either donated by people following my progress online or purchased at a reclaimed facility. The studio seems to have a memory of all the places it once was and I have had many guests which agree that it has a beautiful creative energy of its own. My hope is that I can help and give back to the art community by accommodating artists from other locations that have shows in LA and need a space to prep. I also plan to have creative seminars and meditation groups here in the very near future.
 
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
 
The biggest lesson I have learned it to be true and honest. To put social expectations aside and to follow you inner voice. This way you maintain integrity and your journey and feeling of wholeness is not governed by the outside world. I have been on the other side of this and found out the hard way that in an ever changing world, fame and security are fallible and it is so easy to get lost in thinking and imposing how you think things should be in contrast to how they actually are. For me, being flexible and harmonious with situation, environment and self are fundamental to making beautiful paintings and negotiating the external art territory when needed.
 
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
 
The best advice I have received is "strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value" - Einstein. In order to fully realise my potential I have to be still and quiet. It has taken a long time to learn how to 'be', in place of 'what I should do', or 'what I should need' in order to find happiness. The worst advice I have received is the "work hard and chase a dream". It feels completely contrary to the nature of things. Firstly, focusing to much on a conceptual future goal at the detriment of the present is like going on a journey but never looking up from the map. Every event becomes a means to an end and before you know it, you've missed out on actual life in the pursuit of life. Seems like insanity to me. Also, if you feel like success is hard work, it will become hard work to achieve success. Our experience of life plays out like a mirror of our thoughts. If however you give yourself to each and every moment with joy and love and fully immerse yourself in that activity, the concept of 'Hard Work' disperses. We only have to look as nature for examples of harmony, the river doesn't work hard to move, or climb over the rock, it simply flows around it and when moving water meets an obstacle with a little time the level rises and eventually finds a new route. Another great analogy is no matter how much hard work you put into repairing a broken bone, only patience and a knowing that it takes as long as it will to heal. If we were not so desperate to fix everything this instance then many things would not be perceived as 'Hard work' but valuable experiences.
 
What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
 
I don't much participate in the 'Art world'. It's an idea that comes with too many pitfalls, social hierarchy and expectations. Going back to the previous question, I say there is nothing hard about being an artist unless I choose to think of it as hard. Am I lonely? Far from it although I choose my own company for the most part. Being allowed and privileged to freely develop a perspective of my environment and experiences has taught me to see and share life in all its expressive forms. I can not be lonely as I know I am an expression of the same energy that is in and of everything else. Is the branch on the tree lonely? Of course not, it is only by perception that it is isolated but of course it is interconnected and intertwined with the whole of life. I know that the same consciousness that presents itself as me and my personality permeates and penetrates all of visible experience, and it is only in my limited conscious mind that I create false distinctions and separations that could result in the idea of loneliness, but this is just a false idea not truth.
 
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?
 
I try not to think too heavily about the future these days as I don't want to miss the main event which is now.
 
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?
 
'Trust yourself' sit quietly and listen to the inner higher voice which will authentically guide you. You'll know it is authentic when it is born of love and goodness. Others will try to give you a life manual which will tell you what you need or lack and then the same people will try and sell to you what they've told you, you need. Know that you are born whole, within you is the blueprint of everything you could possible need to find happiness and with an inner knowledge of how to fulfil your potential. Learn to be still and listen.
 
Your favorite art or life quote is ...
 
'Make art that is physically beautiful and emotionally compelling'
 
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?
 
I was once a sports enthusiast, Muay Thai, Mountainbiking, Surfing, Snowboarding etc. But I herniated discs in my neck and I took to running as a temporary energy outlet while I healed. I have now become quite taken by the art of running and it's meditative benefits. I also dabble in music and parenting.
 
Do you have an online portfolio, blog or social medias where we can view your work?

Website InstagramFacebookTwitter

Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?
 
I have a blog at my website where I can often be found rambling around in thoughts and ideas much like this interview. I also provide a disclaimer which was graciously borrowed from a great writer, Walt Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes", or more concisely, Akhenaton said: "True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance'.

Thank you dear Richard, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and already looking forward to see your new art works :)

By contributor Linda. Mar 2015. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.