Artist Olivia Beaumont has released released her first book of original writing and art and artwork, Tales from the Beautiful Mountain (available for order on Etsy). In celebration of her book release, we’re reposting our article on Olivia’s artwork, which originally appeared in the Holiday 2014 online issue of Paprika Southern.
Olivia will hold a book-signing and launch party at Gallery 209 in Savannah on Friday, May 13, 6:30-9. Light refreshments served, children welcome.
Sophisticated and Barbaric: The Art of Olivia Beaumont
“Sophisticated” and “barbaric” are the two words Olivia Beaumont uses to describe her paintings. Rabbits, foxes, chipmunks, and other woodland creatures populate the canvases of the Georgia-based painter, all rendered in the style of the Dutch Masters. Her aesthetic is at once lofty and whimsical, taking on the academic tradition of oil painting, while portraying her subjects—beasts, both wild and domestic—in a way that both pays homage to and pokes gentle fun at her antecedents.
Born and raised in southern California, Olivia made her way to the east coast after graduating from California State at Long Beach with a B.F.A. in painting and drawing, and settled in rural Georgia. She is now represented by Gallery 209 in Savannah and runs a successful Etsy shop selling both original oil and watercolor paintings and prints.
Olivia’s love of painting dates to her childhood. She relates a childhood story in which her mother took a watercolor class, and rather than going off to play, she would look over her mother’s shoulder at her paintings, suggesting which colors to use. Her mother gave her her own set of watercolors, and from there Olivia pursued painting throughout her education.
“I look back on little drawings I drew when I was five that my mom saved, and I drew animals in clothes,” Olivia reminisces. Though she did not realize it until years later, Olivia’s art has circled back to that first subject matter. Her Baroque Beasts series is filled with cats, dogs, bears, and many other animals, all portrayed utilizing the techniques of Rembrandt and his contemporaries.
Olivia arrived at her aesthetic through years of studying Rembrandt’s paintings in museums and learning the art of oil painting by doing human portraiture. In addition to Rembrandt’s famous chiaroscuro, she points to a limited palette as a distinctive trait of the Dutch Masters. The colors used are very warm, with a true blue being rarely seen. The academic tradition of oil painting, associated with the masters of the Western canon, is a slow one, involving building up thin layers of oil, glazing, and scumbling, a process carried out over weeks, months, or even years.
The luminous quality imparted to the paintings by the skillful use of oil paint is intrinsic to the work, as is the high/low juxtaposition of an academic tradition of painting and beastly subject matter—the sophisticated and the barbaric. “I like putting the two together and putting a very gristly animal with a snaggletooth in a general’s costume.”
Influenced by the books she read as a child—The Wind in the Willows, the Red Wall series, the tales of Beatrix Potter—Olivia identifies the common factor—anthropomorphized animals—as a key to her paintings. Viewers versed in art history recognize the sophistication of the visual language she employs, and it is certainly possible to correlate a relation to “high” art and the paintings seen in museums, even lacking a formal art education. Combining this technique with what is usually associated with children’s subject matter, pulls the viewer in, evoking nostalgic memories of childhood, even if the viewer does not consciously realize it. The series was initially inspired by Rembrandt’s painting The Conspiration of the Bataves. Olivia saw the conspirators depicted in the painting as beastly and barbaric and wanted to do her own version, with animals as the characters (see below). From there, something clicked, and the Baroque Beasts series was born.
“I love this series a lot. I know all their names…I feel like I kind of walk around with them.”
Written by Bevin Valentine Jalbert / Photographed by Siobhan Egan
Artwork courtesy of the artist / Copyright Olivia Beaumont
This article originally appeared in the Holiday 2014 online issue of Paprika Southern