It’s been a joy to watch Oli Epp’s painting practice progress and expand over the last couple of years, and I’m excited to share work from his latest exhibition here! Each piece a humorous and touching glimpse–veiled portraits in a sense–of everyday-type people we may not think too much about as we go through our daily routines, combined with little nods to art history and the tradition of painting. Can’t get enough! More at the links below!
First, can you tell me a little bit about you?
My name is Oli Epp. I’m a painter in London. Half British, half Canadian. My mum is a dentist and a cosmetic surgeon and my dad works with apps and new startups. They’re happily divorced.
I love car boot sales, discounted dinners on the Tastecard, The Comedy Store in Soho, art galleries, Judge Judy, long distance unicycling, fizzy drinks, gift shopping, painting (that’s a given) and my Alexa.
I currently have my first solo show ‘Epiphanies’ on at Semiose Galerie in Paris. See the exhibition here.
Is there a moment or an experience that you remember, when you knew that you were going to pursue art?
I think my interest in ‘making’ began from watching Art Attack as a kid. The presenter, Neil Buchanan, would turn toilet rolls into jet planes and aircrafts, he was one of my idols. I would always attempt to follow the tutorials on how to make arts and crafts. Sometimes I would succeed and sometimes I would fail, but I always had a tonne of art supplies and drive to try again. I would often gift little pieces to my mum, she would always respond with such great admiration and love for these creased and crumpled creations I would give her. It was very rewarding.
However it wasn’t until my 2nd year in art school did I realise painting full time was going to be possible. I was blessed to have some press early on which enabled my work to have a great outreach.
What about painting particularly speaks to you?
I have 100 answers! However I like paintings which reveal themselves slowly, leave me puzzled, or questioning. (I understand that is an ambiguous answer). I just saw Andrian Ghenie’s show in Paris at Ropac, I could spend hours looking at those works. The surface of the paintings bounce back and forth and the subject isn’t always obvious.
What ideas or themes are you exploring in your practice?
At the moment:
-Identity in the digital age
I have a Venn Diagram in my studio, when I hit all 3 that usually results in my strongest works.
Your work is generally humorous, and taps into social interactions and popular culture, like flight attendants or fast food employees – imagery we all see and can relate to on a daily basis, but magnified, so to speak. Can you elaborate on that at all?
I like painting these characters who are part of our everyday experience, but who often go unnoticed, anonymous to the world. Historically, only high society could afford to commissioning grand portraits of themselves and their loved ones. I find humour in subverting that by painting people and situations which are underrepresented. I like giving these characters a place in Art History.
Can you tell me more about your solo exhibition in Paris?
‘Epiphanies’ is the title for the show. I’m using the term in its informal use ‘a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation’ (an illuminating discovery), rather than the religious event. That said, however, it is a play on the manifestation of Christ (god incarnate).
The bodies in my paintings hover between the real and not real (digital) and they are adorned with object and material items ready for consumption and enjoyment, slightly recalling the gifts of the three kings. The comedy is in the use of a grandiose word to describe mundane observations – but in transforming those observations into paintings I am raising their importance beyond the trivial. ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ (2018) , for instance, depicts a late night intoxicated decision at a kebab shop – not very significant but in my painting becomes a mirage of uninhibited desire.
Tell me about your painting Involvement (pictured first, above).
‘Involvement’ was inspired by Balla’s painting Dynamism of Dog on Leash (1912). In my version the sausage dog has escaped the leash, with no owner in sight. He’s adorned with a Louis Vuitton Coat, however we’re unsure whether it is real or fake. I’m interested in these tensions. The dog is chasing its tail, not engaging with the world, and abstract reflection of culture in the selfie age. The composition is cyclical, suggesting a never ending loop. The way I have flattened the dog references the Ouroboros symbol of a serpent eating its own tail. Which symbolises eternity and introspection, however in my painting, because of how the dog is dressed and the type of dog that it is (Dachshund) we associate it with wealth and therefore not a spiritual introspection but a narcissistic self involvement.
What is your process like? Do you do any specific kinds of research for your work?
I make drawings everyday, however there is no definitive routine. I’m always quietly observing and questioning the things I do to fit in to this strange consumer culture in which we live. I’m constantly looking at art. My partner is a sculptor and an art history lecturer, we have a lot of discussions about artworks and their references. I might start with a ridiculous drawing but then through talking about it I will fine tune the most interesting nugget.
What is the most daunting, challenging, or frustrating thing about pursuing art?
The most daunting challenge I have faced is not ‘one thing’ but the demand that I need to be ready to deal with so many things. You have to be a good maker, thinker, photographer, social networker, confident, organised and so much more.
What do you value or need most as an artist?
I value other artists. I have such admiration for people who dedicate their lives to making things. I would be nowhere without them.
Is there any advice that you’ve received along the way that you have taken to heart? Any that you’ve received that you’re glad, in hindsight, you ignored?
I can’t say I’ve ever taken advice personally. I’m very porous and am happy to hear other people’s opinions, whether I take them on board and act on them is my choice. One artist once told me not to share my paintings online as then it’s no longer your intellectual property… I’m a big believer in sharing and adding to the visual economy.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just sent up a Summer Studio Residency here in London for 6 artists to work in my city for one month over the summer. Two artists for the months on June, July and August. I’ve got two great mentors involved with the residency who will be giving tutorials to each of the selected artist.
-Rosalind Davis – artist, curator and author of ‘What They Didn’t Teach You In Art School’
-Danny Lamb – Assistant Director of Rod Barton, London
I’m funding this project through the sales of my screen prints I made for my show at Semiose Galerie.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ll be having my first US solo show next year at Richard Heller Gallery in LA, March 2019. I will be posting more info about that on my website…