On March 1, Richard J Oliver will open a new body of work, "This Too Shall Pass," at Known Gallery in Los Angeles. The Welsh-born, LA-based painter sat down with us prior to the show to discuss the new body of work, some good shows he has seen over the past few years, why he left Wales, and Ernest Holmes. (Portraits by Jon Lake).
Talk about the body of work for "This Too Shall Pass"? When did you start making it, and what are some of the stories of the preparation?
The body of work for "This Too Shall Pass" is a completely new collection of paintings that were started shortly after my first US show at the Known Gallery Feb 2013. The collection of 18 - 22 paintings made specifically for this show have a fairly loose theme but stylistically they feel more coherent than my previous solo exhibition . I initially intended to make all the works light in tone with simple white or grey backgrounds and cold airy environments but the paintings took on their own direction after several pieces. I began to create paintings without a predetermined conscious selection 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, they painted 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 deeper level of consciousness, behind or above mind and I allow my self to honour the absolute truth and honesty of their expression. The works I have created over the past few years, seem to be expressing a principle response from a subconscious level to the general plight of children. It appears obvious to me that my works are born of unconscious turmoil I have felt, and a conscious reaction to the hurt and pain people inflict upon the innocent. My works are a manifestation of a universal plight upon an apocalyptic stage created by a diseased collective consciousness.
Often I wonder for hours where the ideas came from, or what the work means in relation to me and my experience of life. I've discovered the common thread in my paintings is not simply that I paint childlike figures, but it's the context in which those characters are placed. The works are all about survival. The characters are indeed sometimes portrayed in a bad situation or condition. My intentions are not to celebrate, glamorise or beautify the horror of their condition but to depict their struggle, always with a light at the end of the tunnel. The titles of some of my first paintings still ring true in my work with the predominant elements being Hope, Survival and Continuity. The figures and characters are often escaping some sort of abuse, overcoming tragedy and loneliness in their survival. The title reflects all this through an acceptance in the ever-changing nature of authentic reality and by being present and harmonious with the nature and law of all things.
You were born in Wales but now live in Los Angeles. When did you make the move? Why?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 initially to pursue a career in music. I love my home country Wales in the UK and have a deep respect for the character values it instilled in me. Growing up in the 80's and being exposed to US culture by the way of movies, music and skateboarding I was always drawn to the sunshine so shortly after spending a few months recording in LA in 2004 I was hooked and stayed. It took a little time for me to feel the true pulse of the new city. My early work was a response to the difficulty of self identification in a post industrial Wales. It reflected the problem of self value and worth in a new non self sufficient country where every corner and horizon echoed the past yet every TV and computer pointed forward. The youth of my generation were born into the void left over in a post industrial country and patriotic pride was hard to come by. To summarise, my work was born out of a rebellion against complacency and apathy that was inbred being brought up in a very grey poor town.
My current work isn't as locally subjective as it once was. I believed at one time that I could only paint about what I knew and was intimate with, which was Wales and its people. I am so grateful to have had the great privilege to travel the world and I feel now that I am a little more qualified to speak of broader universal issues and paint things I have experienced, often through the eyes of a visitor but still maintaining legitimacy in my expression. The works I have completed while living in California have been quite different to my Welsh paintings in a number of ways, for example, how the characters relate to their surroundings. In my Welsh paintings the figures and the backgrounds are treated the same and almost meld into one another, as is the case in reality where the generations still live in the same village for centuries. In my recent works in Los Angeles the opposite is true. The figures are detached from their environment both aesthetically and physically because of the nature of the city where the majority of the population originate from other places. Initially, the Los Angeles I experienced was a cultural smorgasbord set in eclectic urban architecture, but I have become sensitive to the soul that resides in the foundation of the place.
Who were some of your influences growing up?
My early influences while developing my work in school were the 19th century realist painters Manet and Corot. My focus then moved to the expressionist painters Otto dix, Max Beckmann, Egon Schiele and then onto the work of Stanley Spencer. During my degree I discovered the 1980's Scottish expressionist painters and immediately became mesmerised by the paintings of Peter Howson, Steven Campbell and Ken Currie. Of late I am inspired by Joe Sorren, Chris Berens and Jeremy Geddes.
What was the last good book you read?
The last good book I read (and I am currently re-reading) was "The science of mind; a complete course of lessons in the science of mind and spirit." by Ernest Holmes (1926)
Last good album you heard?
The last good album I heard was 'If You Leave' the debut album by Daughter released on 18 March 2013.
Favourite art show of the last few years?
This is the most difficult question to answer because I have genuinely attended some incredibly amazing and inspiring shows featuring the work of some extremely talented artists in LA. One that really stands out in my memory is a Viktor Safonkin show I attended in 2008 at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery.
What is one thing you want people to take away from "This Too Shall Pass"?
The title of the show is a quote from 'A New Earth' by Eckhart Tolle. The quote was part of an ancient Sufi story. The feeling behind the statement represents the transition I am currently going through in my life. I hope the paintings in my show express the value of living harmoniously in the present, the only access point to life, love and joy. I hope it acts as a sign post or crutch to those on their journey to awakening, and inspires an authentic realisation of peace, poise, health, happiness and love. I also hope it coveys the message from the sufi story on which a ring was inscribed with This Too Shall Pass: "Whatever happens, before you call it good or bad, touch this ring and read the inscription. That way, you will always be at peace."
The show opens March 1st 2014 between 8 - 11pm and runs until March 15th 2014 at Known Gallery.