A Conversation with Olivia Hamilton
By Olivia LaRosa
Olivia Hamilton is a senior in the College of Fine Arts at Boston University majoring in painting and sculpture. I sat down with her to talk about influences, interests, and alternate universes.
Let’s start with influences, who is impacting you right now in your own work?
As far as sculptors go, I’m really loving Richard Tuttle, Andrea Zittel, and Eva Hesse. Another artist I’m into at the moment is Rei Kawakubo who’s a designer for the Comme des Garçons fashion house, which I love, but I’m also really interested in her outside work.
Which artists have been with you the longest?
In high school I was really into painter Egon Schiele and sculptor Claes Oldenberg. Also Titian, I loved Titian. I was big into the Renaissance back then.
What about thematic influences- what ideas do you return to again and again?
Other than general material exploration, my work definitely tends to deal with the craft vs fine art line. I love craft, and it’s a part of my practice, but it doesn’t own me. I’m always wondering, you know, do I go by the seamstress guide and hide all my seams, or do I use my artist brain and fuck all the rules? I’m not so interested in the difference between the two. I mean I guess things with fabric, sewing, patterning, moldmaking, woodworking, those are all “crafts” but they’re just kind of another means to make something in the same way that painting or ceramics are.
Everything I make is funny and it’s important to me for my work to have a sense of humor. I’m not being sarcastic really, because too much time and effort goes into it to be sarcastic, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean I can’t take anything seriously, like I get up in the morning and I can’t get dressed normally! [She says this wearing an old sweatshirt onto which she’s sewn a hamburger patch]. Last semester, I did a project on body shaming and the things I made were kind of funny but also sick and sad and kind of uncomfortable.
So when you were young - really young, maybe five or six - what were you doing? What was your thing?
PLAYING all the time! Outside of school I did nothing but play. Maybe it seems obvious, but I feel like I’ve met a lot of people in college who didn’t ever really play as kids, like either they were not encouraged to play or didn’t have time because they were doing schoolwork or had other obligations.
How did you play, what would you do?
Mainly making and arranging, and I guess that’s how I was introduced to art in the first place.
How was your love of art nurtured?
Well I used to take a bunch of figure drawing classes at MassArt for high school students, and you know I used to take other art classes around Newton and in school. I was also just encouraged by my parents when I wanted to make things at home, they really had no issue with that.
I did do dance- mainly ballet- for a long time, and I loved it, but it’s kind of a complex situation because it’s all about perfection. I felt there was too much of that, and part of what I love about art is it’s so not that! In making work, you’re never really aiming for perfection.
What has changed for you so far since you’ve been in CFA?
Well I used to be a total representational hoe, like I was a figure painter to the max, and that’s just what I’d decided I wanted to do. There was this huge flip junior year though, where I realized that there are a million figure painters out there and I don’t necessarily want to be one of them. That sort of came with this other realization that art can be tactile, and I wanted to be ok with making things that aren’t, like, a painting or a sculpture or a garment, but exist somewhere in between those things.
How do you square yourself as a painter and as a sculptor? Is the difference stark, or is it pretty fluid?
Well I’ve definitely always leaned more towards sculpture, but I also wanted to be part of the painting community because it’s so much larger. I still wrestle with all those painting questions like what is a painting, and what are the boundaries of a painting? Are those paintings? [She gestures to some rectangles of fabric on the floor that she’s sewn together] It makes me excited about where you can take the medium. I love all those awkward inbetweens.
[She stopped the interview at this point to show me her hands “I’ve been growing out my fingernails, aren’t they so funny? They used to be black and red.”]
What do you see as your general trajectory after you graduate? What do you hope to be doing?
Well as soon as my lease is up I’m moving to New York, probably Brooklyn because that’s where most of the people I know live. I’ll just try to make it there as best I can at first and learn to make work outside of an academic setting.
What has your work been focusing on as of late?
For my last installation my professor, Lucy Kim, said if none of this color or embellishment were here what would the structure of your work be? That really shook my world because I realized my pieces had no real structure. Now, everything in that installation is all about structure and trying to eliminate excess, but still maintaining materiality. Already you can see there’s an obvious big shift in color palette from my summer work which was very bright and vibrant. I’ve just been trying to have the pieces say something without yelling at you. I’m working on a new project now where I’ve made eight jackets that all get bigger and bigger, and they all end up fitting inside each other. The challenge for me was to use fabrics that are really frumpy, drab, and difficult to work with-- materials that artists might normally stay away from.
You know how you get really into things that you decide you have to know everything about and you come home and watch every single YouTube video on them? Like how I was when I was really into serial killer documentaries? I’ve been like that with the practice of zero waste. I’ve been thinking about how much waste I make all the time, you know, I’m making things and buying materials that are only going to be thrown away. What I’ve been doing is I save every little scrap of cloth and piece of thread thinking I’ll use it someday. I really have no justification for all this stuff, like why am I gonna need this pile of thread?
We did this reading in my contemporary issues class that talked about femmage art which is art that includes fabric and paint. The main idea I took away from it was that throughout history, women have used saving and collecting as a form of nourishment like maybe these things will come back and save you. I felt really validated because I was like ‘I totally do that’. With this project I started with the jackets. The idea is similar, like what if I use every scrap that I’ve saved and then make a new body of work from it? There will be a video with the jackets, and then I’ll alter them and the second stage will be photos. The scraps may be part of the alterations. I want to put it all together as a body of work in an effort to extend the material's life as far as it can go. With the femmage art, for me, it’s less about being a woman and more about a person trying to nourish themselves and survive.
One of my friends told me that the material in my last installation looked like scraps-like excess that someone else discarded and I was using. I thought that was a really interesting idea because I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Working with the edges of things that have been discarded.
I don’t mean to be your shrink, but-
Oh no please do.
Do you think that’s a personality thing at all? Like the whole working with the edges element?
Oh It’s a huge personality thing too! Maybe it has to do with being kind of alone a lot in that I feel like I definitely fend for myself. No one’s gonna do things for me, so I have to save things and do things for myself.
Final question: if you weren’t making art right now, what would you be doing instead?
In my ultimate universe I’m a drummer. I have a few alternate universes where I’m a plumber, or one where I raise and shear sheep. It’s like the whole process right there. I would make sweaters and everything. Though now that I think about it, I could do jumpsuits, because that’s the entire outfit in one.
Artwork by Olivia Hamilton
Photos courtesy of Olivia LaRosa