Adriana Oliver in Depth About Her Art, Life, Creative Process & More

by Rubén Palma
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Adriana Oliver (b.1990) is renowned for her flat, pop-inspired portraits that depict anonymous individuals, drawing inspiration from 1950s and ’60s film stills. Through her distinctive artistic approach, she uses muted color blocks and bold black outlines to depict figures that lack personal identity, instead embodying archetypal representations of traditional masculinity and femininity. Oliver’s artistic journey began in photography, a medium she transitioned from to painting, finding the latter more adept at conveying nuanced narratives. Her spare yet evocative style beckons viewers to contemplate the intricate construction of gender.

Within Adriana Oliver’s cinematic, neo-pop portraits lies an exploration of identity within an ever-evolving world. Her meticulous process involves deconstructing images into their fundamental and most impactful forms. Characterized by an elegant graphic sensibility, her portraits devoid of facial features and minimalistic silhouettes delve into the societal expectations of contemporary existence. Having initiated her creative pursuit in photography, Oliver seamlessly shifted to painting, enticed by the autonomy it offered over imagery and its amplified potential for storytelling.

Her chosen medium primarily involves acrylic on canvas or wooden panels, a foundation she extends into the realms of sculpture and relief. Through these varied forms, Adriana Oliver translates her stripped-down compositions, inviting audiences to delve into the complex tapestry of societal norms and individual identity.

Hi Adriana! Thank you for sitting down with me. First question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Barcelona?

I live in a beach town close to Barcelona. I moved there from the city about four years ago to find more peace and quiet. A regular day for me is pretty simple. It always starts with a cup of coffee because if not, I can’t function. Then, I usually take a walk by the beach in the morning before heading to my studio to work. It gets me active and seeing and hearing the sea grounds me before I start painting. Once I begin working, time usually goes by quickly without realizing! I then run some errands, maybe do some grocery shopping, walking my dog and after all of that, I usually spend time with the family. And a few times a week I will go and play tennis with my brother, which I really enjoy and we have so much fun challenging each other.

Gotya. Before we start getting in to the serious questions, I was thinking It would be cool to let the viewers know a little bit more about you. Could you tell me a little bit about what kind of kid you were growing up? Like, what did you enjoy doing and how did you spend your time? Stuff like that.

I was a very curious and imaginative kid, I loved football so much so I was always with the ball on my feet playing around with the other kids in my town. I used to spend my alone time either drawing or reading. As a kid I wanted to be a writer, so I used to invent my own stories and I used to create my own books from scratch, I did it all, the hard covers, the illustrations, the story.. i loved it! I could spend hours with it, the funny thing is I still have them!

Being that you were raised by a family of sculptors, and growing up in the world of art. How has your parents influenced you? And what did they say when you told them that you wanted to be an artist as well?

As a child, experiencing art felt like the most normal thing. However, as I grew up, I came to realize that it might not have been a very typical experience. . I have early memories of my mother setting up her art shows at home, sculpting while my brother and I played and ran around the house. Sometimes, she’d let us play with the clay she was working with to keep us busy.  In addition to that, many of my parents’ friends were artists, and they frequented our house. My godfather, Carlos Leppe, who was also an artist, used to spend time with us, and sometimes he would work at home too. Looking back, it was all captivating and unusual, it’s pretty clear that I grew up surrounded by very creative and talented people.

My parents would take me to art openings, those post-event dinners (which were always fun), museums, and art fairs. I got introduced to this world at a pretty young age. So when I told my parents I wanted to be a painter and really pursue art, they were super supportive and told me to go for it.

With that in mind. When did you start to paint, and when did you start taking being an artist seriously?

I’ve been painting for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, I took painting classes near my house during some summers. And the truth is that I never really stopped. The only shift was when I made the conscious choice to take it seriously, and I turned my passion into an obsession and it still feels like that. My work is my balance, it always guides me back to who I am.

I know that you started out being a photographer. What was it about painting that made it your preferred medium of expressing yourself, instead of photography?

I guess photography didn’t give me this sense of freedom I felt with painting, as much as I loved it, I value the solitude during the creation process so much, this is a very important element to me, because I feel like time stands still while I’m working, and my mind is able to go to places I couldn’t feel with photography. This part, I experienced it much more technical than just grabbing the brush and paint on a white canvas, to me it flows more, I feel freedom with a brush.

Let’s talk about your work now. Let’s begin with what everybody’s curious about… The various protagonists without facial features. Who are they? And what do they represent?

 I don’t assign names or distinct identities to my characters. This is why I depict them without full facial features. I feel I needed to detach from the subjects I paint. Their lack of identity, nationality or age, also emphasizes that they’re part of a world, a world where they also experience emotions like we all do, such as love, heartbreak, happiness, fear, solitude…These feelings bring us all together as we move through life, reminding us of our shared human connection.

With that in mind. When did you start developing your recognizable retro, cinematic, neo-pop-portrait style? And what is it about that look that resonate with you?

It happened quite naturally and gradually. I enjoy crafting geometric figures that resemble blocks, which, when viewed in isolation, lack significance. Yet, when combined, they form a cohesive image that carries meaning. This approach draws inspiration from my background in stenciling as well. Over the years, I’ve consistently pursued and refined this style, which eventually evolved into my unique artistic language. Beginning at a young age, I’ve come to realize that every artist requires a certain amount of time to cultivate their distinct style and artistic voice.

Why do you think you prefer portraits over other genres? 

Perhaps this inclination starts from my early training as a photographer. I’ve always found portraits captivating and i had numerous books from photographers I deeply admire, such as Richard Avedon, Peter Lindbergh, Diane Arbus and Annie Leibovitz among others. Portraits function as mirrors, which I find particularly intriguing—a reflection of oneself, one’s history, and dreams. This resonance with us is what I find truly captivating.

Can you walk me through your creative process. From beginning, to end result?

I mainly use my iPad for creating my artwork, and it’s incredibly practical. I sketch with it and always have it with me when I travel. Sometimes, after sketching on the iPad, I’ll either work directly on canvas or transfer the sketch to paper. I really enjoy having a physical drawing of the final piece; there’s a distinct feeling when you see the work in pencil or graphite rather than paint. I’ve got many works on paper that I haven’t ended up painting because I love the sensation of graphite on paper.

Before beginning a new piece, I work on the entire color palette. I dedicate the day before starting the actual work to mix and refine the colors until they’re just right. Then comes the most exciting part: when I start painting, and the piece starts coming to life.

How do you approach to color?

My approach to color is quite subtle. I’ve never been drawn to bold or overly saturated shades. During the creative process, I’ve found those colors less appealing. Instead, I tend to lean towards unsaturated and nude tones. This sensation of my characters evoking past decades has subconsciously influenced my choice of this color palette. It’s as if these muted shades enhance the nostalgic quality, creating a sense of timelessness that adds depth to my artistic expression.

What motivates you?

Music. Music to me is not just an element that helps me fill space. . Music makes me feel things I can’t experience otherwise. I love listening to diverse genres from various styles, countries, and decades. Discovering a new song or album that resonates can easily brighten my day. Also, I really love playing my electric guitar—whenever I start playing, time just seems to fly by!

How would you describe a perfect day?

A perfect day would start getting out of bed knowing I don’t have errands to do at a certain exact time, so I can have a very relaxed breakfast preparing for a morning of work in the studio. Paint, listening to a new album I discover and I love. Then probably have a nice lunch In front of the beach and spending some fun time with my niece and nephew once they are back from school.

Alright Adriana. I always ask these two questions at the end of an interview. The first is. What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

Sorrentino’s ‘La Grande Belleza’, is one of my all-time favorite movies; it’s a masterpiece. I’m also a huge fan of Pedro Almodóvar’s films—love them all. I’m a Tarantino fan too, so I’d say ‘Kill Bill’ is my top favorite from him. In general, I really enjoy watching independent and foreign films.

The second is. What song(s) are you currently listening to the most right now?

I’ve been listening to Maro’s latest album “hortelã” the album Soul, PRESENT from Q which I really like, Cleo Sol, Olivia Dean, Daniel Caesar, Hermanos Gutiérrez, Coco O, Orion Sun, so much music!

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