ANV Member Interview: Olivia Hicks

Olivia Hicks is a London-based artist, educator and curator whose practice
focuses on “the relationships between drawing, painting and sculpture”. Influenced by architectural theory, her work explores “the permeabilities between the body, complex emotional states and architectural and transient spaces”.

Alongside fellow artist-curators Laura Clarke and Beatrice Haines, Olivia is one of the organisers of Rented by the Hour, a collaborative curatorial research programme. Based around the notion of an an architectural “gesamkunstwerk”, Rented by the Hour stages exhibitions, events and projects that take place in “unusual buildings with complex histories that can be rented by the hour, away from white wall gallery spaces”. 

In response to the changes to society and working lives brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the three collaborators recently launched Lockdown Sketchbook, a project on the @rentedbythehour Instagram account that presents artists’ “diary entries, musings and artwork created during lockdown from their own homes”.

We spoke to Olivia to find out more about her work and projects, and her own experience of lockdown.

‘The View from the Shower’ (2020) by Olivia Hicks. Pen and ink on paper.

TNG: Rented by the Hour relates closely to the way we inhabit, use and experience different buildings. How has lockdown and the impact of being restricted to a smaller number of buildings and spaces impacted your practice and affected the way you approach and think about your work? 

OH: I think, personally, working from home and limited travel has in some ways been very beneficial to my art practice during this time, although it did not feel like that initially. I have dived deeper into a rabbit hole exploring portals into other worlds and dream-like states. When you cannot physically travel far you have to use your imagination instead and pool on what resources you have available to you. I have discovered some beautiful ancient woodland near where I live, which I never even knew existed before lockdown and that connection with nature and the woods has become essential for me. 

The more you visit the same places, the greater a connection you make with certain trees, times of day and walking routes. The repetition of these walks seems to add depth to my drawing of the woods and is a diary of this time. My previous work was also often rooted in walking, psychogeography, daydreaming etc. but it also often involved travelling to different landscapes and buildings/architecture. I think the upside to this time is a deeper connection and a focus to what’s on your doorstep, even the most boring of things can become intricate, fragile and mesmerising. 

TNG: One way you have responded to the pandemic is through the development of Lockdown Sketchbook. How would you describe the relationship between that project and Rented by the Hour, and the contrasts or similarities between the work that has featured in them? 

OH: Lockdown Sketchbook is an ongoing project for Rented by the Hour, as we slip in and out of lockdowns. It is a document of diary entries, writings and musings by artists chosen by myself and my fellow curators Bea Haines and Laura Clarke. These artworks are inevitably made in artists’ homes during lockdown. The artworks reflect the artists developing intimate relationship to objects in their home, themselves, their memories and emotions, and their local surroundings during this difficult time. There are quite a few self-portraits in there, drawings of mundane objects, overheard conversations and expressed emotions in quite a free, scrapbook style. 

The world has felt surreal, dreamlike and at times chaotic, fearful, boring and emotional. I think the artists’ work reflects all those feelings we have been dealing with in lockdown. I think this project reflects Covid times, whereas previous Rented by the Hour projects explored more general histories and narratives in buildings, as opposed to personal narratives from our own homes. 

Detail from ‘Anxiety dreamcatcher’ (2020) by Olivia Hicks.

TNG: Looking further back, when did you first get a sense of the type of work you wanted to create as an artist? 

OH: I think my artwork has always been rooted within certain themes. I love narrative painting, the gothic and surreal, dreamlike worlds, magic realism, exploration of the human body, old English pagan traditions, the natural world, interesting buildings and spaces with histories and stories attached. I like to weave those ideas together and see where they take me. One artwork has always led on from another, it’s a constant journey that never stops. My art practice starts with an idea and then I just find whatever means it takes to communicate that vision, it could be a painting, drawing, collage, print, photograph, sculpture etc. I like to often work on installations as it pulls those fragments together in a space and begins to tell a story. 

TNG: How important is collaboration to you and what’s your experience of the interplay between working on collaborative projects and working on your own personal, individual practice?

OH: I really enjoy most collaborative and curatorial projects I work on, despite the challenges. Working with my fellow curators on Rented by the Hour is especially enjoyable: not only are they artists I admire, but we have also exhibited together a lot in the past and really understand each others’ sensibilities and ways of communicating. Three heads feels more expansive than just one and it’s great to bounce ideas off and talk about different artists’ work that interests us. It also gives us great pleasure to promote work that we really believe in. 

I enjoy working on my solo projects and building exhibitions as well. I am currently working on an idea expanded from my many walks in the woods during lockdown, but it is still in the early stages of the planning process. Being an artist can be a solitary process at times, so the collaborations, collectives and curation can be a good way to get out of your own headspace and think more broadly, which has proved crucial to me during these Covid lockdown times.

Lockdown Sketchbook – Selected Artwork

We asked Olivia to select three artworks that have featured as part of Lockdown Sketchbook and to tell us about her connection to each piece.

‘Wave’ (2021) – a lockdown pencil drawing by artist Bea Haines.

Talking about Bea Haines, Olivia explains, “I first met Bea while studying at the Royal College of Art. We were luckily placed next to each other in the studio spaces and a lot of noise and laughter followed. I think we drove the people around us crazy! We share a huge passion for drawing so we gravitated towards each other and started exhibiting together very early on. Bea’s work often takes a forensic look at the world, but this personal narrative was a bit different. Her very sensitive and moving portrait of her grandad showed the huge isolation and separation from their loved ones. A universal and timely family portrait, albeit through a glass window pane.”

‘Inconsequential drawings’ (2020) by Marcelle Hanselaar

“I first came across Marcelle’s work” Olivia says, “while I was managing and curating a gallery in Kings Cross many years ago. The gallery was hosting The Ruth Borchard Portrait Prize and I remembered Marcelle’s portrait from that time. I thought her work was gutsy, raw and honest and I wanted to include it in Lockdown Sketchbook for those reasons. The show has been very much about addressing those intense emotions of lockdown, and her work fitted in with those ideas very naturally.”

A 2021 drawing by Olivia Hicks from the Surreal self portraits series – various sleep/nonsleep positions. Pencil and digital drawing on paper.

Discussing the context behind this piece, Olivia says: “During lockdown getting a good night’s sleep has become more important to me than ever due to my ongoing battle to achieve it. The collective anxiety we have all felt due to Covid, a 22 year old mattress and menopause night symptoms have all caused me to feel so restless. However, the upside to being confined for so long has been the purchase of a new mattress, settling hormones and incredibly vivid dreams, which make no sense at all, but obviously are a way of processing this surreal situation. The question is when will we wake up and not feel like we are living in a dream?”

Interview by Richard Unwin.

You can follow Olivia and her work via her ANV profile.

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