Interview With Salleigh Olsen

Salleigh Olsen’s art is colourful, stylized and immediately draws your eye. Her paintings of women, whether nude on the ground or fully dressed holding a skateboard, explore the link between sexuality or beauty and female subjectivity. Here, she speaks to Art Pharmacy about her artistic process, her evocative use of the female form, and her relationship to her subjects.

What is the first artwork you can remember creating?
I’ve always been creating from a young age. I’m intrigued by people, and by capturing a person’s mood and message through art. I guess my most memorable first piece that I can remember was of a beautiful girl tied to a cross, hovering over a deep dark blue sea. There was a staircase leading up to a creaky old wooden door with light beaming from the edges. There were sea snakes hissing and a screaming face in the waves of the ocean beneath her. That must say a lot about my childhood!

When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Always! I loved creating more than anything - to draw and make colours gives such an enlightening inner sense of happiness. I guess when I was skipping math class to go to the art studios and work on an ongoing artwork I had a feeling that this is what I really felt passionate about.

What materials do you use when you create your works?
It can vary, but I love creating on boards as it holds the mediums I use well and can be more durable. I work with anything from acrylic, bitumen, shellac, enamel, oil and charcoal.

How have you experimented with your practice throughout your artistic career? Do you feel like your style is set now, or is it constantly evolving?
That’s a tough one because I feel an artist should always be evolving. You develop a certain style that you are recognised for and becomes yours, but it’s crucial to not become complacent. You have to always be challenging your practice and wanting to master your craft.

Where do you create your works?
I’m lucky enough to have a studio at home, which definitely has its merits but can also make you a workaholic.

What is your typical process when creating a piece?
My typical practice is working on a few pieces at once. I really benefit from the flow of this and not being stuck on one piece. Initially I’ll create layers and textures and then detail the subject matter.

How do you decide what to depict in your works? Do you usually start with a concept or idea, or is it more intuitive?
There is always a concept or idea, if not a vague one. Having said that, if things are going in a different direction and it’s really working, I go with the flow of the piece. Being intuitive almost always works, and there’s no point in being rigid with creating.

What influences the textural elements of your works?
I love texture. I feel that it breaks new boundaries and gives the viewer a satisfying visual with elements of little stories. It makes you want to be a part of the piece, touch it and peel it back - although please refrain yourself from doing so!

Many of your pieces depict the female form. What is the significance of this subject for you?
I like to portray the beauty of the female in her natural element, epitomising her confidence, sexuality and coyness. Using mixed media and strong fluid lines enhances the form and displays the female in an uncompromised, mysterious, yet alluring way.

Are your subjects portraits or characters? The description for ‘Believe You Can and You Will’, for example, explains that the image depicts a girl called Yang possessing her free spirit before she becomes a woman.
They are both. I love to find images that exasperate the beauty and innocence of the woman, lending layers to their stories. A series I did recently, titled 'Not Just Another Number ', was based on women who are painted nude but not sexualized. They are almost innocent, yet confident and with an obvious beauty to them. Each of them is branded with a number that tells a story regarding their personality, such as 524: five brothers and sisters, two abortions, and four favourite ice cream flavours. It sends a message that everyone is an individual and has a personal story, no matter how you initially judge them. I also did a show based on eight of my closest friends. None of them knew I was painting them, feverishly working on them in the studio for months. I painted from photos of them, mainly their faces, not staring into the camera but captured in a more natural way that I think signifies their true beauty. It was a fun experiment seeing their reactions on opening night. It’s about finding the right muse to create your message.

What are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on an abstract series, using glass and wood. I’m very excited to release this new body of work. I’m also working towards an exhibition later in the year, and another in New York.

You can see all of Salleigh's works here.

Words: Ellen Oredsson