Olivia's work is sophisticated and visually stunning. The authority of Olivia's work transmits from an astonishingly matt paint surface, the matt surface exudes a calm that draws the viewer in to take a closer look. The colour and control are sure and confident, these are pieces that get better and better and just keep on giving and will last the test of time.
Olivia Stanton in her studio (portrait by Dan Stevens)
IN CONVERSATION WITH OLIVIA STANTON
‘Keep it minimal’, is the request that the delightful artist Olivia Stanton makes when
I call to talk to her about her upcoming retrospective at the gallery. Her work, she
explains, is simply about colour and form. Conscious that she does not want to tell
us what to see, she prefers to share what she sees and let the work speak for itself.
We can then contemplate it as we wish. When you are in a room of her pieces,
which in this case spans over 20 years of creative output, it is evident that her own
exploration has been a joyful journey, steeped in colour, made by a painter able to
convey her visual language with a masterly talent for making a mark on canvas.
Her work though is also a colour-rich expression of the everyday and what she sees
about her - ‘life’ she says. She is a keen walker, and finds that she is attracted to live
in places where there is a path to follow that leads her out into nature. In France she
lived near a route that took her up into the Pyrenees Mountains and now that she
has returned to the UK, and her home in West Sussex, there is a lane that leads her
to the sea. She is in awe of nature, its wildness and wonders.
Born in Norfolk, she was always interested in art and writing. Yet, it wasn’t until after
she worked at the Courtauld Institute’s Conway Library where she experienced the
creative energy and company of influential figures, and the admirable Sir Anthony
Blunt, that she applied to Byam Shaw School of Art, aged 24. Stanton describes
this time as ‘life-changing’ as well as ‘jolly hard work’. It was to be the start of her
enjoyable adventure as an artist.
We discuss what has occupied her, how she has progressed her style and
approached her creative development, in these intervening years. Her early
landscapes were in pastels and more figurative in style, which she later changed to
work in the medium of oil paint. After she left France, her paintings became more
abstract and structured and she reflects that her recent work is perhaps more about
building and balance. There is no palette that she sticks to and she is constantly
evolving and experimenting with her use of colour. She tells me that she will
work on two paintings at a time to make sure that nothing is the same. She also
notes that her titles won’t always relate directly to a piece but to an event that was
happening in the world at that point – ‘Passing Go’ is a nod to the start of the Iraq
war and ‘Divide and Rule’ connects to the coalition government.
She is not without influence and she remarks on R B Kitaj and Gillian Ayres ‘both
superb’ and further back to Gaugin, as well as commenting on Japanese wood
blocks – ‘I like the way they organise black’. She is well travelled too and the ideas
she gathers will make their way into her work. Stanton has not always been able
to practise full time as an artist and, since 1973, the one constant has been working
at the iconic art shop Green and Stone of Chelsea, with owner Rodney Baldwin.
It is a place where she has learnt a lot about paint, materials and met many great
modern and contemporary painters. She still works there to this day and notes its
importance to her personally.
As we finish our conversation, she has generously shared her thoughts. We come
back to her work primarily being about the art of picture making and colour, yet
she also comments that it is necessary to take the time to ‘look’ and be ‘truthful’. It
is enigmatic but a quality that features in much of her work. It is hard to pin these
things down but as she says, ‘Each one is always a surprise’.
PAST EXHIBITION REVIEWS
"Olivia Stanton studied painting in the early 1970s at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London and has exhibited regularly since then in Britain and France. Her work is landscape-based, but betrays a leaning towards abstraction which tightens the structure of her paintings substantially. This, coupled with a sophisticated understanding of colour used both descriptively and decoratively, accounts for the strength of her work. She draws with lyrical precision and has a real feeling for paint"
"Olivia Stanton has exhibited regularly in England and France since she left the Byam Shaw School of Art in London in the Seventies. Although her paintings are always based on particular places and views - here and there one can distinguish a row of trees, the curve of a road or fence, even a dustbin - they are essentially abstractions, and glimpses of recognisable features of the landscape are rare. These are skilfully controlled paintings. The colour is rubbed on and no brushstrokes are visible, but they are given a wild sense of movement through the abstract shapes themselves. With a particularly subtle deployment of colour, sometimes sombre, sometimes brilliant, the artist creates a variety of different moods."
"I have been a longtime follower and admirer of Olivia's paintings - it is work that possesses its very own idiosyncratic spirit, and yet is also enticingly hard to pin down. On the one hand, the language of shapes and marks Olivia employs - the rich choices of colour, the flat planes and lines - all reveal an engrossing interest in abstraction. On the other, there lies the quite different legacy of landscape painting. Discernable within the geometry lie natural forms - the trunk of a tree, the curve of a hill, and in one case, even a lamp post - echoes of where the artist has set up her easel. For many years, Olivia lived in the Ariège, in the foothills of the Pyrénées, now her home overlooks the Sussex coastline - both places have provided rich visual fodder.
It is this skill she has for weaving together different genres that is so effective - the alchemy of fusing the abstract with the figurative, the intellectual with the heart-felt, as if some form of sacred conversation has taken place - an interchange between two vying philosophers, who in the end have chosen to sing in harmony, and in Olivia's case - sing fortissimo. The use of landscape to explore the art of picture making has a particularly English heritage. I see affinities between Olivia's work and Paul Nash's surrealist landscapes. Ivon Hitchens also comes to mind, for the way in which his subject matter, drawn from nature, glides fluently into abstraction.
Olivia herself sees other parallels. She has a great interest in Japanese woodblocks - mirrored in the highly controlled techniques she applies - as well as in the work of more recent artists, such as R B Kitaj and Gillian Ayres. It is only too easy to speculate about what lies behind any artist's work, but in the end Olivia's paintings are simply delicious things - full-flavoured and moreish. They dwell on the gratifications of picture-making, and do so with such relish, that it is impossible see them as anything other than sheer celebrations of what it is to make art.
Jonathan Clark, Gallery owner
Park Walk, London