The artist Evi O. surrounded by twelve of her large colorful abstract paintings.

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I was born in Surabaya, Indonesia. When I was 17, I was very fortunate that my middle-class parents had planned for me to study overseas. I chose to study design (despite my mom’s initial resistance, she’s super proud now), and I was packaged and sent to Sydney, Australia. Since then I’ve stayed in Sydney, and adulted there. Had my first and only job as a book designer at Penguin Books, and stayed there for 8 years before starting my own design studio. Painting happened on the side in the beginning–whilst I was still working with the company, but it has since become a big part of my work life – which is a big part of my life anyway. I still reside in Sydney, but at the moment I’ve been based in Melbourne while traveling around Victoria and writing my third bushwalk book.

What necessities do you require when making your art (radio, specific paintbrushes)?

In the beginning, just pencil and my sketchbook – I tend to sketch a lot, before doing a quick colour study (sometimes on paper, most of the time on computer), then production involves sturdy easels, smooth panels, loud music, my tubs of paints and trusty brushes of all sizes (they tend to get smaller as I refine/finish a piece), lots of rags, and a lot of time. All my pieces are freehand/not masked, so there’s a lot of careful slow moves and layer building, all very time-consuming and satisfying.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

I get in at 7am to paint “downstairs” where my painting studio is until about 9/10am, then I surface “upstairs” where my design team of 7 is usually chattering about lunch options, new hot typefaces or clients bringing in design challenges. When I’m on painting deadlines, sometimes I just work downstairs and people would come in from upstairs with queries or coffee offers. On weekends, when I need to paint, I’m usually by myself for days.

Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

Perhaps not having enough time to reflect. Especially this year, it feels like I jump from finishing one project to another, and it’s a bit nonstop, but maybe I can reflect later when things slow down – whenever that is.

Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?

The conception of each project is mostly left to chance – whether it’s an art exhibition, or a design project, I feel like a lot happens when the time is right, with the right people, for the right thing. In terms of my artistic process, I feel like sometimes not working up a full idea of a collection, and starting with a half plan rather than planning the whole is a good exercise for me to do to get new ideas – visually or conceptually – when I’m in production mode, too.

How important is spontaneity in your art?

Spontaneity for me comes most when I’m sketching up compositions as thumbnails and playing around with colours. All my series tend to stem from very strong topics and ideas. I need a purpose or a parameter before doing the spontaneous, intuitive part of the process. It’s very often I write my statement first, before doing the fun, visual bits. Production is quite planned, with composition and the majority of colour studies decided before starting on the final panels. Having said that, I’m currently experimenting with more sculptural panels, so that’s added a level of unknown, which is exciting.

To add to this, spontaneity is there when I’m trying to get something new visually, or when I’m trying out new techniques. Usually, it results in nothing good but an understanding of new materials. I do sometimes wonder if my art practice is influenced by my design training.

I would often channel a memory or a scenario, and then visualise those through shapes, which sometimes turn into animals. The colour then completes the mood I’m trying to portray.

Evi O.

How do you choose your materials?

I try my best to choose materials that are kind to the environment, using timber that is sustainable and reusing packaging materials and all that.

How do you choose your titles?

That comes at the end, often once it’s painted, framed, and photographed, that’s when I sign them, knowing that they are “finished”.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

In the past few years, I feel like I’ve understood myself more as an artist, and seen what I could achieve through my art–beyond a personal means. I know that I’m constantly interested in exploring narratives revolving around humans, and the relationships they have with their bigger surroundings. It’s simply existentialist, and personal, but I feel like I’m sharing the quest with everyone. I have been finessing my confidence in creating interesting compositions, mastering colours, and contextualizing my queries, so next, I think my artistic journey may involve further experimentation with materials, opening up new parts of the visual playground. Honestly, I am not the best planner, so I’m leaving out a big part of the evolution to the world, too. Hit me up.

When did you begin your current practice? How did you start painting?

I started painting landscapes as abstracts back in 2014/15, just on weekends. One Instagram post led to an invite to a group show - that was 2015. Saint Cloche gallery found me pretty early on when they were established in 2015/6, and together we naturally grew together. 2019 was perhaps the time I took the practice to a new level. I did a solo show at Sydney Contemporary with Saint Cloche, filling a whole room with 39 paintings, that made me feel like I was a big girl painter. There was a worry that the art practice would turn into a commercial exercise following that, but luckily it’s stayed true to being something that is still purely personal and not forced. These days, I do a few shows (solos/duos/groups) and projects a year. It is quite the juggle with running the design studio, and book writing, but I guess… YOLO.

Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery

How do your surroundings direct your approach to your work? Do you find that environment relates to your work?

They influence me a lot. Through my design studio, I’m constantly facing interesting humans, be them artists, chefs, photographers, designers, or entrepreneurs – all of them thinkers, so it’s very natural for new thoughts and ideas to be triggered, discussed, and questioned at all times. I often see myself as a vehicle to dissect questions when I’m an artist, and a vehicle to churn solutions as a designer.

What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?

Without consciously doing it, I think a lot of my audience finds joy in my works. Whether it’s the combination of colours or compositions, I’ll happily be a conduit for good through my art practice. All the cheesy stuff, hope, love, and joy, I’ll happily own, channel and radiate.

What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?

I guess identity, which is perhaps a given topic for any artist. Nature – animals, plants, seasons, and landscapes are iconic vehicles for me to portray being and portray life.

Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery

How do the different elements of form and color come together in your works?

Intuitively. I would often channel a memory or a scenario, and then visualise those through shapes, which sometimes turn into animals. The colour then completes the mood I’m trying to portray. For example, Once There Were Two, in this collection, portrays two bears. They are bulbous, squishy, and interacting - portraying the comfort of being with a significant other. The colours are both warm and slightly somber. Together with the title, I was narrating a past memory, rather than a present memory.

Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?

Usually in conversations with people.

Has your career as a creative director and owner of a design studio influenced your painting practice?

Yes, and no, maybe. But actually, I definitely think so. There is not one without the other, I think. The design practice truly zaps a lot of my energy for others. I liken being a designer to being a midwife, in that we help our clients to reach their visions with our artistic skills. Through understanding others, I feel like I’m enriching myself and the process becomes fodder for materials that often lead to a topic or idea I want to explore on my own as an artist. A lot of my clients liken my design strategy sessions to a therapy session – in a good way – and I think that skill of being reactive has balanced well with the proactivity that an artist often has. I appreciate one because of the other. It’s also not very rare that project collaborations with brands involve both my art and design skills. That’s when things feel very satisfying personally as I get to flex my various skills in all their entirety.

Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist?

Always! I think I’ve always been enamored and envious of creatives with a multi-disciplinary practice throughout their life. The list is very long, today I want to mention Rei Kawakubo for obvious reasons, Tadao Ando who managed to marry nature and architecture, Henrik Vibskov who marries fashion, performance, art etc etc, Felipe Pantone who marries technology and street art, Tadanoori Yokoo – a later hero I found similarities in career path. Ask me again tomorrow.

Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery
Journal: Evi O.: Gallery

Are you formally trained?

As an artist, no. I studied visual communication–so that gives me some foundation in creative thinking. I do have a lot of mentors, but a lot of them are from the design industry, and they are mostly mentoring me about life, rather than career. I do have a few close artist friends, not necessarily in the same city or country that I talk to about art stuff. I also live with one, so there is never a shortage of peers to share anxiety with ha ha ha.

Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?

Yes, it was by a local graphic designer/artist named David Band. He was gone way too early. Something about the simplicity of his work was speaking a lot to me, that then led me into a foray into understanding abstract art, Ellsworth Kelly, Etel Adnan and the likes.

Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?

Always, whether they are an author, a fellow artist or designer. Collaborating on art might be a challenge, simply because I feel like the process has been very solitary to me so far, or some artists have their own process. Having said that, I’ve collaborated a couple of times with my clever designer/ceramicist friend Milly Dent. I think a lot of it got to do with trusting each other on the unknowns, and a match of energy, or simply that Milly is a great collaborator to many. I love planning a duo show, where two artists get to converse and conceive a question or a statement, that way you get to share the journey with someone, but also have your own solitary process.

What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?

There is not one - is my dog an object? If so, he is my favourite thing in the world. But if he doesn’t count, I’d say wardrobe is perhaps my favorite “object”. I buy clothing like I buy art.

Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m terrible in the kitchen, despite working on a lot of cookbook projects all my life.

Ask yourself a question!

Who am I? #lol #yolo

Photos by Hybrid Corp LLC. Published July 14, 2022.