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Artists We Love: Katherina Olschbaur

Artists We Love: Katherina Olschbaur


In the Studio, Photo: Zulu Aljabri, Nelly Zagury, 2018

We sat down (virtually!) with the brilliant Katherina Olschbaur. 

Katherina Olschbaur (b.1983, Austria; studied in Vienna at the University for Applied Arts (Painting, Animationfilm) and lived and worked in Vienna, Berlin, Athens, before relocating 2017 to Los Angeles) where she is living now. She currently has her first US Museum Solo show at the Contemporary Arts Center Gallery, UC Irvine, California, curated by Allyson Unzicker. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Gnyp Gallery, Berlin (2019), Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles (2018), OOF Books, Los Angeles (2018), PØST, Los Angeles (2018), Galerie Werkstadt Graz (2016), Museum Spoerri, Austria (2011), MUSA - Museum on Demand, Vienna (2011). Recent group exhibitions include Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles and Bucharest, Christine König Galerie Vienna, PG Art Gallery, Istanbul, Museum Gironcoli, Austria, Salzburger Kunstverein, Kunsthalle Krems, and at Symbiosis - XI Biennale de la Mediterranée, Thessaloniki. Awards and residencies include IBK Painting Prize (2018), Red Gate Residency, Beijing (2017), Theodor Körner Prize (2009).

Road Trip, 200x400cm, Diptych, Oil on Linen, Photo creditJeff McLane Studio, Inc. University Art Galleries, UC Irvine © 2020

There is a beauty within your work that has an immediate tantalizing quality and one would not get enough from viewing it. Where do you often draw inspiration from for your paintings?

I draw inspiration from all kind of sides, it can be my immediate surroundings, things I observe, or experience with people I am close with, or I am spending the nights out with. I draw a lot of inspiration from old art, film noir, drag shows, jean genet, David Bowie, Fashion, Los Angeles light, music, nights dressing up and going out, instagram, but from all these sources, I distill elements that nourish my own imagination, drama, and personal mythology.

I channeled my own fears into sensuality and desire, there is often a darker underlying tone, but i am seeking to transform these darkness into pleasure.

I am interested in concepts of devotion, submission, adoration and worship in a broader sense, but also in human relationships. How ecstasy and desire can be linked to a visual experience, as if following an ecstatic cult of adoration and agony. But my concept of a cult or the religious always comes from the idea of disrupting hierarchies, of undermining existing power structures. I am also really interested in the idea of paradise, when it comes to light and abstraction, So, in some ways I constantly look for rhythms, counter-hierarchies, and undermining patterns in my life or culture in general. In that sense I like to look at European baroque or renaissance paintings, to understand the representation of power and devotion. I think these paintings are per se highly erotic and also, in a way, abstract…

I am definitely influenced by the colors of LA but, unlike a photographer, I cannot just simply take them as I see them. I have to transform them, create them anew from the inside.  I have to digest them into my visual system. Before I came here, I was very much into muted colors. I was very interested in fog, in things that disappear. I used earthly colors, heavy colors. These are still in the paintings I am producing now, but something that has to do with me moving here is to allow bright, clear, camp colors onto the canvas, colors that are almost painful because they are so strong. This is LA. It is full of yellow light here, full of poisonous color gradations. In the paintings I produced since moving here you find some naturalism and then lots of artificiality.

Music does inspire me, less  in terms of lyrics, but in terms of how rhythms, feeling  and density is built up and carries me away.

Into the Open, 200 x 350cm, Oil on Linen, 
Photo creditJeff McLane Studio, Inc. University Art Galleries, UC Irvine © 2020
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as an artist? 

The difficult thing is, that the world seems to have not so much respect for people who are introverted or eccentric weird freaks, really talented in a particular field, but bad in a lot of social fields. You need to have so many social or strategic skills, and skills in self promotion, and also need the luck to find and develop a healthy and good supporting network. These things took a long time for me.
It doesn't seem so, but I had social anxiety from a very early time on, and i had sometimes unhealthy ways of coping with them. When in my twenties I had a wild mix of private relationships and professional, and it was at times hard way of learning how to be respected and stand in for my own artistic visions and decisions.

Dirty Elements, 2019, Oil on Linen, Diptych 78.75 x 157.5 inches 
Photo creditJeff McLane Studio, Inc. University Art Galleries, UC Irvine © 2020
Do you still face these challenges or have you managed to overcome them? If so, how?

With the time I began to get a better instinct about people, and became more confident of the own talents and trying to see my weaknesses with more humour.

Vision, or How I became part of society?, 210x200cm, Oil on Linen
Photo creditJeff McLane Studio, Inc. University Art Galleries, UC Irvine © 2020
How important is mentorship for an artist navigating the art world?

I never had a close mentor, but i had friends, who believed in me and my work, and I know, without their ongoing moral support and friendship I would not be where I am standing now. I would prefer to see the figure of a mentor more open, not necessarily connected to any art institution or school, but more in a personal relationship. An older artist can be a mentor for a younger artist for example.

Exhibition View, Dirty Elements, Contemporary Arts Center Gallery, 
Photo creditJeff McLane Studio, Inc. University Art Galleries, UC Irvine © 2020
What is your advice for a woman entering the art world?

Work with other bright, strong, powerful devoted women. Join forces, love, be generous. Don’t isolate yourself with difficulties if you can. Seek, build friendships. Keep yourself interested in what is outside your own horizon.Focus all your energies to built up a strong work.

Who are your favourite female identifying artists?
There are too many, but  having to name a few: Miriam Cahn, Maria Lassnig, Artemisia Gentileschi,Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Lee Lozano, Cecily Brown, Nathalie Djurberg, Nilbar Güres, Agnes Varda, Tala Madani, Portia Zavahera, Dominique Fung, Naudline Pierre