Artist Spotlight: Olivia Konys
>> Who exactly is Olivia Konys?
When I was 13, I saw the movie 13 Going on 30 and I saw Jennifer Garner act out my dream job. She was tasked with a competitive overhaul of redesigning a fashion magazine and gathering the art direction from personal influences in her life to present a compelling narrative about her cut-and-paste mood boards in a world of digital shock-value advertising trends. I've stayed dedicated to this pre-teen origin story and after I graduated from college and moved from Rochester NY, I've been working in advertising and recently (finally!) made the move to Brooklyn, NY where I help run a printing department at an ad agency in the city. I fill my free time with yoga classes, concerts, art galleries, window shopping, and ice cream.
What color do you identify with and why?
On screen, you'll get hex code #2b0f33. Off-screen, this is known as dark purple. All of my makeup, lipstick, apartment decor – and often times – my hair color is this same dark purple color. I always thought it was a very sophisticated darker color.
What helps you get into the creative mindset? Drugs, music, looking at pictures of dogs? All of the above?
I have a specific ritual where I transform my bedroom into my de-facto art studio: I've surrounded my room with string lights, and light the rest of the space with candles. I listen to my record player because I think there's something charming about making analog art, surrounded by analog things. I have a platform table on my bed for my notebook, scissors, markers, paints, an x-acto mat and more, and I sit on my bed and drink some fancy tea or not-so-fancy red wine in my tiny bedroom. This is where I get to both appreciate, then destroy my magazines to make something cool.
If your sketchbook smelled because of what you created in it, what would it smell like?
I once had a sketchbook with me at a ritzy perfume store and sprayed a bunch of the pages. In a more abstract sense, I would say fog machines and sage.
What is one thing you wish someone told you about “art school”?
I didn't go to art school! Technically, I got a science degree in printing and print production. I also wanted to learn graphic design, but I was very intimidated and portfolio-less, so I used loopholes to experiment in design electives. Studying printing at a college known for computer technology raised a lot of questions and made me the target of people who wanted to be digital-first app/web/branding, centric designers. I wish someone would have told me that it's okay to break the rules, okay to learn two skills that at first glance may contradict each other. And that you don't need to get a fine art degree to call yourself an artist. It took me a long time to accept that title without a BFA, but instead of hitting the checkpoints that I was taught "qualified you" to be an artist or designer, I made my own.
Do you have any exercises you do to help keep the creative juices flowing?
I originally began making collages and drawing more when I got tired of working in Photoshop for hours and hours every. single. week. I was so burnt out from bezier curves and getting fed design trends and brand guidelines. I went to a collaging activity at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and I had maybe 20 magazines I hadn't read yet just sitting on my coffee table. Drawing and collaging is my escape from the corporate design world and keeps me creatively focused. I also carry a smaller notebook in my purse and write down ideas or doodle when I'm on the subway or out at lunch. I try to write down an idea, or phrase, or song lyrics, or doodle something from my surroundings at least once a day.
What inspires you to keep and regularly update a sketchbook?
A side effect of making a chronological sketchbook, especially the way I collage, means that the content I find from magazines, brochures, receipts, etc. constantly comes from the present moments in my life. Looking back, I get a sense of what content was in flux at that time – I cut up ads, news stories, celebrities, my own ticket stubs and more. I take the printed things that people often throw away or skim through, recognize or reference for only a brief moment, and instead, I strip away their context to make them timeless. I'm updating my sketchbook as I receive magazines every month (I subscribe to maybe 4 or 5 of them) and I want to tell new stories from the ones that they originally appeared in.
Any advice from a professor/mentor that has stuck with you? If so what is it and who said it?
My circle of friends has a group mantra – "Do it for the story!" – because even if whatever you're doing goes terribly wrong or wonderfully right, you'll always have a great story to tell from it.
A lot of people are surprised at a fact that clashes with my slightly alternative image: I am a huge fan of John Mayer, I think he is an excellent lyricist. But there's one interview with him from Rolling Stone in 2017 where he remarks on his writing process, saying: "Let's not worry about where this might draw from, and be true to whatever it is." That phrase creeps up on me in times of stress and uncertainty, and I've learned that honesty is the enemy of regret.
I went to a new moon yoga and sound healing course, where the instructor advised something that stuck with me throughout the two-hour session – "What is heavy today, may not be heavy tomorrow." This is another life philosophy I've kept in mind ever since.
What contemporary artists do you look up to and why?
My favorite artist is Keith Haring because his two-dimensional line drawings are full of accented features and full of life in small spaces. I think of his artwork as "analog graphic design" because his paintings universally and astoundingly share the same line weight. Keith Haring's work is also very timely and very human, which I'm definitely about. I'm also a fan of Roy Lichtenstein because his paintings mimic screen printing, fashion, and pop culture, which I love and quite literally subscribe to now through fashion magazines. As a design movement, I adore Memphis Milano design that influenced furniture in the 80s. I imagine Memphis design has always felt adaptable to print and magazine layouts from the linear and off-kilter style with odd placements of oblong shapes and color.
Why do you create?
Timelessness and memory. When I was younger, maybe in 2006 or so, I decided that I was only going to write in pens and ink, I liked grappling with the idea of permanence. I ended up becoming a print artist, after all. I figured, nothing in life can be truly erased, using a pencil and eraser is a very melodramatic way of saying this is all a fraud, leaving room to second guess and make changes to it all. I help art directors and creative directors all day at my job, it's refreshing to be a creative director of my own sometimes. Occasionally, I look at something I've made the next day and it can be really therapeutic to see an abstract piece that sorts out what's been on my mind lately, in ways I hadn't realized at the time, as if creating were easier than speaking aloud. Does that make me an artist?
Ever experiment with unusual tools/mediums? (i.e. Painting in blood with dildos?)
I've created some small abstract designs using lipsticks, blush, samples from my makeup bag because I love the textures they create. Makeup on one's face is smooth and blended, I like the grittiness I can get out of textures from other mediums. I've melted wax, crayons, hot glue to experiment with this effect as well. I've used lemon juice and heat for secret messages. I've made a book out of envelopes and teabags. I've made a collage where I burned through the work before, and since I'm dealing with magazines and mixed media, you never know how the flame will react with the ink and paper, it's a race against time and getting burned for the sake of art. I felt that fit the inspiration behind the piece nicely.
Do you listen to music while you create, if so does that inspire your creation to go in a certain direction?
Music has a HUGE influence on the work I create. Music has the ability to perpetuate whatever I'm feeling inspired by that day or eradicate that and come into thinking of a new way to design. I consider a lot of my collage artwork as something that lends itself a lot to chance – it's all driven by what magazines I subscribe to, when I last checked my mailbox, what catches my eye when I'm creating – but having music play sets the tone of what I'm going to make out of that. I have a specific playlist that has no genre, just songs I find that I can really vibe to, songs I can listen to on repeat for hours, or songs that have a story in my life. It's a very eclectic mix, but you could say the same about my artwork, and myself, too. <<
I post my favorite collages to Instagram: @totaloliviamove
I have a society6 account that I post some of my collages and doodles to create some sweet tapestries: https://society6.com/okonys/s?q=new
My website: www.oliviakonys.com