Interview with pop surreal artist Kathie Olivas

Kathie Olivas is a multi-media narrative artist who resides in Albuquerque, NM with her husband and fellow artist, Brandt Peters. She began drawing portraits as a child and found an extreme love for creating from her imagination a world that did not exist in her own reality, often driven by her connection with the alter ego and reflective of her own experiences with a rare genetic disorder.

She worked as a portraitist and caricature artist in the early to mid 90's and continued to expand her conceptual development at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. Before graduation, she began her early gallery curatorial work at Hyde Park Fine Arts and Covivant Gallery, putting together numerous exhibitions featuring artists from around the globe that connected to a narrative or character driven vision. Her 20+ year career in the arts has allowed her to exhibit at galleries and museums around the world and also connect to other visionaries and collaborators. She and her husband own and operate Stranger Factory Gallery in Albuquerque, NM and the internationally acclaimed artist collective, Circus Posterus.
"My current body of work, entitled the "Misery Children" series focuses on the constant social desire to assign "cuteness." This often serves as a means to make something innocent and more appealing, therefore, non-threatening. Perhaps this allows us to comfort ourselves. My questions are based on the discomfort of "what if"- what if these sweet creatures had other ideas? What if they knew something we were afraid to open our eyes to? Would they protect themselves; would they be able to adapt to a war torn environment and develop their own defense mechanisms? The characters are meant to evoke a nostalgic reaction that reflects isolation, fear, and an uncertainty; yet, at the same time they serve as empowered alter egos. This series is presented as a satirical look at how fear affects our sense of reality. The characters perform as narrators in lonely worlds that each explores individually, creating his or her own perspective, and thus, own reality. As our hosts, the ensemble provides a sense of comfort, the reminiscent style is soothing, yet the mood is dark. As children, they evoke a sense of temporality; childhood serves as a starting ground, a place where things begin. Inspired by early American portraiture that often depicted children as small adults in an idealized new land, the characters parallel this vision within their own sense of post-apocalyptic conformity, uniquely documenting their own stories in a mysterious brave new world". - Kathie Olivas
Hello dear Kathie, 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?

Well, I´ve been making things for as long as I can remember; when it started beconming "art" is probably debatable, but I've always had a deep passion as a creator. I started making work as a career path in the mid 90s and have never slowed down.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
My work has always been inspired by my childhood curiosities. I have a great love of odd victorian dolls and costuming, cartoons, animated films, etc. I have always connected to things that are odd or outside of what we consider normal. I collect vintage medical items, oddities, and circus ephemera. I have a deep fascination with superstition and the paranormal; anything that questions my reality.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?

Every day is different, but my typical day would be getting up at 7am, priming a few pieces and waiting for them to dry. Sculpt a few layers on several other pieces; wait for those to cure. Late breakfast, followed by more painting. I like to work on several dozen pieces at a time in the studio so I can just go to whatever I feel connected to in that moment. I have a short attention span, so this works well for me. Luckily I'm married to an artist so he doesn´t mind too much when my projects start to take over the house when I run out of room in the studio. I'll work throughout the day, often checking in with the gallery we own and help operate. I'll typically lose track of time and we'll get around to making dinner around 8pm; then we'll hang out and watch TV while I either sand resin casts or apply rhinestones to the background of a painting. Some days we work on toy designs or marketing, but an ideal day would just revolve around sculpting and painting.

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 consider myself mostly self-taught, but I do have an art degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa. It's not a typical art school by any means and most of the professors really just pushed concept and ideas vs. actual technical ability. I used to draw portraits and cartoons growing up, so I was able to get a job as a caricature artist at a local theme park when I started college. Drawing several dozen people every day was probably the best training I could have ever hoped for. My professors were never too happy about this though as most pushed more conservative approaches to drawing, but I always had a great love of exaggeration and satire. I don't think a formal art education is necessary to have a career as an artist; you have to be extremely driven either way. I think it can be very helpful if you can afford it; it is a great way to network with other creatives. I learned far more learning on the job; I ran a gallery, worked in architectural theme design and later in animation. Too me, those experiences were far more valuable.
What fascinates you the most about surrealism / pop surrealism / contemporary art / lowbrow art? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what does surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?

I consider my work to be sub-genre of surrealism. I like to call it Sentimentalism. It's emotional, visceral, and all rooted in the nostalgia for a return to childhood curiosity and exploring the imagination as an alternative to reality. I consider many "toy" artists to be part of this. As a whole I just love that "lowbrow" is about connecting back to popular culture and the collective consciousness. I think it's a rejection of post-modern conceptualism. I think it's great to theorize what art is and what it reflects, but who is this for? I think narrative work is a much better reflection and will be more significant historically because there is a connection that isn't intended just for a select few, but representative of the mindset of our culture as a whole enitity.

My own work is driven by the fear mongering propaganda machines that try to scare us as consumers and citizens. I create avatars to allow us to explore all of the what ifs that have allowed our fears to consume us. I try to personify the monsters; I want to enable the viewer to let go and build their own defense mechanisms and unlikely allies. My work is definitely rooted in a sense of mourning for an eventual apocalytic destruction - the idea that we are watching this inevitable ending and yet feel helpless to actually prevent it. The narrative in the world I create begins after the tragedy; in an optimistic sense the focus is more about reflection and starting over.

What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?

I think it's about exploration and finding new meaning in everything. It's about letting go and finding your own questions and your own answers; to me its very much focused on self discovery.
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?

Unfortunately my work life is based entirely on how I am feeling at any given moment as I have a chronic illness that really slows me down more than I care to admit. When I am feeling good it's not uncommon for me to work 10-15 hours a day creating. Sometimes it's just short spurts, but most often I will go through several weeks of very intense production, followed by a week or two of being able to do almost nothing. I try to have several different ways of working, so if my hands are aching, I can focus on prints and merch vs. sculpting. If I'm dealing with migraines I'll avoid being around paint and focus on sculpting. If I have no energy to make things I'll try to get myself out of the house and go to the local antique stores in search of inspiration or unique objects I can incorporate into my work.
I really enjoy mixed media; I love to paint in both acrylic and oils, but my greatest love is creating 3-d figures and their environments. As far as sculpting, I prefer working with cast resin and magic sculpt.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

I have always loved stop motion animation- - I actually just jumped into this and I am collaborating with an incredible team on our first short right now.
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?

I have a large studio in my home; I have had several different arrangements through the years and this one actually works best for me. Its about 500 sq feet with a lot of natural light and high celingings. One side is my painting studio, the other side for 3-d work, although I'll admit when I'm working on a big show, every open space in the house gets taken over. Nothing too odd ever really happens at this space, but I do have a bad habit of dropping pieces. I've come to the decision that anything that gets broken has to be dramatically changed for something better - I like to think of it as the universe's way of pushing me to keep going and just make it better and accept my clumsiness as a gift. I do have a lot of very strange things in my studio: secret society "helmets," medical specimens, ghost hunting equiptment, way too many skulls, and a 2' deceased squid that lights up...
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?

Finding the right gallery is always hard. Finding anyone who shares your vision and passion and is willing to work hard for you in general is pretty difficult to find.

Working for years as an "outsider" only to find yourself suddenly caught up in a trend is definitely a double edged sword. You finally start getting attention from galleries, but then you are compared to other artists as if you have to somehow defend your territory. It's very easy to get distracted. I'm still learning to just keep the blinders on and keep moving forward; people can say hurtful things and make you question everything, but at the the end of the day you realize you have to just keep pushing forward and be optimistic in your own truths.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?

The worst advice (that I tried my best to avoid) was to raise my prices faster than I was ever comfortable with. I've seen so many artists and galleries do this when the market clearly wasn't ready or could not sustain this and it's just so hard to go backwards at that point.
The best advice was a friend telling me I needed to start focusing on myself. I always want to help everyone else, but now I have (or at least trying to have) clear boundaries and I realize it's too easy to get sucked into other people's dramas and be distracted. I'm trying to make a better effort in pushing myself to always be growing. I'm trying to focus more on just being a good example of how to make something work vs. just speculating on how someone else can make something work. I still have a great love and respect for other artists and creators, I've just come to realize that I cannot fix everything all of the time.
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 dislike that art has become this inaccessible commodity to most people. I am constantly torn between being able to earn a living and keeping my work affordable.

I dislike the fact that a very small number of people are the ones deciding what is and is not relevant. I dislike it when the person who says it the loudest or who has the best marketing team gets the credit, when often those are not the originators. I try not to think of the glaring hypocrasies of the art world too much as it can be pretty overwhelming and often cripples creativity.

I actually enjoy having a good amount of time to myself; I find it very meditative and reflective. I do occasionally  need to be around other people though and having the gallery really feels like the perfect balance for me.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?

I love what I am doing now, but I really want to focus on film. It is how I have always envisioned my work as a final complete product and I hope that is something I can accomplish in this lifetime. I feel like the past 20+ years have been visual development for the stories I want to tell.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?

Be yourself and while it's good to listen to everyone you respect, make your own decisions because you are the one who has to live with those decisions. This is definitely a long journey and you have to be really driven and open to opportunity to be able to earn a living. Getting there is just as hard as maintaining  a career; it never gets easy, just different.
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?

My art life is pretty all consuming, but I do enjoy collecting and supporting  the work of others. I guess you could say the gallery is my hobby.
Do you have an online portfolio, blog or social medias where we can view your work?

My personal website is in desperate need of updating, but you can see my current work in person or online at Stranger Factory and AFA Galleries. I am on Instagram under "Circus Posterus/ Kathie Olivas" and on Facebook.
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'll have a new show opening here in Albuquerque at Stranger Factory along with fellow artists Lana Crooks and Michele Lynch on July 3. I'll be participating and helping curate another big show in Tokyo next April as part of our "Monsters and Misfits" series with several longtime artist friends.
Thank you dear Kathie, 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 , 2015. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.