We had the good fortune of connecting with Emilia Olsen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emilia, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Understanding my live/work balance has been a process. When I worked at an office regularly, I made it to my studio at least a few times every week. I tried to aim for quality through quantity, as in working long hours at once. The hard thing about that is it caused a lot of high highs in the studio and low lows, because not every day you go can be a good studio day, and taking the failures can be hard when you only get limited time to be there. I was also attending studio openings often and balancing the social part of being an artist. Like for many people, the pandemic changed a lot for me. I wasn’t making it to my studio regularly, and my world shrunk to the size of my apartment and my neighborhood. I drew almost constantly, filling sketchbooks but not painting, which is normally the focus of my practice.
In August 2020 I moved my studio in to my apartment, and transitioned over to a live/work practice. This transition was life changing. Being able to work whenever I felt like without having to think about the commute, where meals would come from, or safety. It has allowed me to work whenever I am able, for as long as I am able. And all that drawing allowed me to really work on my visual language, allowing me to hit the ground running with painting again. My work has grown immensely as a result.
That being said, I’ve been really aware of the lines between my life/work balance have become blurred, and learning to mindfully take breaks – especially when things are so tough mentally, physically and financially – has been really important. When the pressure is high as to whether you are doing enough – I think that’s usually when a break is necessary so that the work doesn’t suffer. I’ve also learned to take things more as they come and without worrying quite as much. And the reality is, through the different progresses of my studio practice, that the breaks – all that looking, thinking, writing, reading and painting are very intermingled for me.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art always has revolved around my experiences coping with depression and anxiety. My studio practice focuses on painting and drawing intuitively, centering around the body in nature, mental and physical blocks, skeletons dancing with death, and the existential. Recently my subject matter has become more intimate and autobiographical. In 2020 the lens zoomed in on my day to day.
My work is very aligned with poets and writers including Frank O’Hara, Maggie Nelson, Ross Gay among many others. I think of my paintings as poems, often featuring grief, as vignettes of moments I want to remember despite the pain those memories might contain. In the artwork these moments are ethereal and accompanied by rose colored glasses. In reality sadness isn’t always beautiful but you have to focus on joy in order to do more than survive. My work has felt like a coping mechanism this past year and the imagery is the result of attempts to hold on to small joys. For me my art is so engrained into the way I process and cope with day to day life. I’ve needed to make it in order to make it through the day, and I hope that through experiencing my art it will help with the viewer’s day to day, too.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite thing to do is take the ferry to the city and then walk around and check out galleries, using Art Cards and See Saw to guide, or visit the Met or the Cloisters, the botanical gardens in the spring, and then go get something to eat. Uncle Boon’s is one of my favorite places if I can get a table.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
jamie hood – poet, friend and collaborator – super excited for our project in conjunction with my upcoming solo show at Pegasus Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, and Emily McElreath – Art Advisor and curator of said show – also want to give a shout out to my roommate Jake Ripp-Deiter (artist, musician, magician)–who helps to keep life exciting every day. I’ve also been recently inspired by artists and writers like Keisha Prioleau-Martin, Loren Erdrich, Jessica Frances Grégoire Lancaster, Giulia Bencivenga, and Elisabeth Nicula among so many others.
Courtesy Emily McElreath (artist photo) and Rachel Kuzma (art images)