Artist Spotlight.

Olivia Longstaff.

Marks and Materials

Olivia Longstaff’s art is the reflection of a person who is devoted to discovering more about their chosen craft. Olivia has long been fascinated with the medium of paint, the way it interacts with brush, canvas and other media. Her previous body of work was focused on building layers of paint up before breaking them down and allowing the tension between the two to balance out. Her most recent exhibition, ‘The Marks To Prove It’ demonstrates a clear move forward in her practice. The works in this show balance on the precipice between painting and sculpture, with thick impasto brush strokes and found objects adorning the canvas. They are the finished evidence of the artists time spent in her remote studio. Despite being set in rural Devon for much of the more intense lockdowns in the UK, her studios space was the windowless boiler room, something which had its effect felt in the work.

Interview with Olivia Longstaff

Olivia is currently living in the US, meaning the possibility for an in person interview was not possible, instead we had a discussion over the phone. 

 LS: What was the impact of working from a windowless room?

OL: It actually allowed me to focus more on the physically of the pieces, I was able to really make each gesture fully evident. I am really keen for the production of the whole piece to be visible.  I was limited by the smaller canvases though, you are physically unable to do such massive sweeping gestures which completely drew me away from my usual method of working.


 LS: What did you particularly enjoy about making this series?

OL:  I did not concern myself with where the works were going to go. I had the freedom to go with the marks and with the gestures; It didn’t feel forced. To be honest, I got to a point, especially after uni, where I just was overthinking everything, thinking about the end product, thinking about why I was doing this. By removing these pressures, it really opens up the work.

LS: What inspired the colours in these works?

OL: I have always worked with quite a muted palette. If I use complex colours, it gets overcomplicated. It becomes more about the aesthetics than the physicality. The black and white works were a lot of fun to make.  I did not have to think about mixing colour and the restrictions that come with that, it was purely about the material and how its manipulated. 

LS: What is so interesting about the material?

OL: It is about balance. It is a line you walk between the materials coming apart. For me it’s nice, I have always found it interesting to look at this weird line between falling apart or building up. Its enjoyable to look at,  you can see the structure and for me, I see these structures as gestures. Usually it’s more restricted, the tension series was more blocked off and in different compartments, but there was a clear tension there between the man made and the organic. 

LS: What materials actually went into these works?

OL: Oil paint, because I like how you can build it up or tear it down with white spirit. I used acrylic in a few of the works too in order to obtain those masses of paint. I wanted that overwhelming feel of material coming out of the canvas. I tried it with oil paint, but it takes so long to dry…

Along with those main sources, it was just things that happened to be around the studio, bits of string, tape, dirt and sand.  When I am painting, I’m in the arena of paint, and able to produce whatever comes to me. It’s interesting seeing how materials react, collide and interact; The dominance of some and the subtleties of others.

LS: How has this period of isolation affected you?

OL: I have hated covid, but not being able to share my work and display it properly weirdly led me to producing work that just for me. It became about so much more than just creating art.

A lot of these works were painted at night, I feel freer at night, it allows for more spontaneous creation; and a more acceptable time for wine… In these work’s I didn’t care about the value of the canvas. I allowed myself to ruin what I had created.

LS: What was your method of production?

OL: Some of these were stretched, others unstretched. I stapled some to boards and used a mop to work the paint around. It was about having the freedom to do what I wanted, there was no one watching over me.

Many of these works have been made in groups, and that is because I work on a few at a time. It allows me to feel like I am working on a larger canvas.

In some of the works there are staples and other found objects, these just made their own way onto the canvas.


LS: What inspired you during this time in isolation?

OL: When it was full lockdown, I was walking through the forests regularly. There are so many layers in the woods, making you want to look further and see what is going on in there. It’s seemingly never ending. These works were not done for any purpose or aesthetic pleasure. It’s just an extension of myself.


LS: How do you know when something is done?

OL: I don’t think you ever do. For me I get to a point where the balance is met, where the movement in the piece is formed. I don’t want it to feel forced or overdone. I don’t want control.

You get to a point where you are still moving with it, a weird balance between falling apart and coming together.

olivia longstaff in studio

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