Interview with Olivia Bax

This month we're over the moon to share with you an interview with London based sculptor Olivia Bax who has got us thinking about the way we see things...

Tell us about Monkey Cups

With Monkey Cups I wanted to make a work where the parts could fit into one another so that, when assembled, it would have more than one interior. I liked the idea of one large structure carrying smaller structures. I was thinking about how we carry different weights of responsibilities.
Making sculpture can feel like a responsibility and there are often practical concerns which come into play. If the parts fit into each other then there’s less of a storage concern!

Monkey Cups, 2018 | Steel, chicken wire, newspaper, glue, paint, plaster | 240 x 212 x 146cm | Three Works, Scarborough | Photo: Chris Shaw

Monkey Cups,  2018 | Steel, chicken wire, newspaper, glue, paint, plaster | 240 x 212 x 146cm | Three Works, Scarborough | Photo: Chris Shaw

Monkey Cups, 2018 | Steel, chicken wire, newspaper, glue, paint, plaster | 240 x 212 x 146cm | Three Works, Scarborough | Photo: Chris Shaw

How do you want people to feel when looking at your sculptures?

I do not set out with a plan to elicit a specific response or feeling. Like most artists, I feel a sense of urgency to produce work. I try not to put stress on the sculpture by working out, in advance, what the response will be. Instead I channel my energy into the making of the work and hope that urgency is translated into the finished piece.
I find colour emotive. I often use bright colours which can be uplifting. Feelings are complicated; a lot of my recent work has vessel forms, cavities, hidden pockets - visual metaphors for different pressures and pleasures.

We love this about your work because it speaks to us about unconsciousness (subjective of course!) Please could you let us know how the cavities developed into your recent work?

I enjoy making large work which can be a problem as studio space in London is hard to find and expensive! As far back as my undergraduate degree at Byam Shaw School of Art 10 years ago right up till after my postgraduate at the Slade School of Fine Art, I made components which were flat, but could be assembled as three-dimensional sculptures (e.g. Bish Bash Bosh, 2016). Last year I managed to get a larger studio and my first instinct was to grow out, to make more bulbous forms (e.g. Rumble and Roar, 2018). I found this hugely liberating because I felt that I could make the sculpture itself more singular.

Left: Rumble 2018 | Steel, chicken wire, newspaper, glue, paint, plaster | 180 x 120 x 90 cmRight: Roar, 2018 | Steel, chicken wire, newspaper, glue, paint, plaster | 170 x 143 x 78 cm

I am interested in spaces / objects which are contrasting, or in between states. Balconies, for example, are between public and private spaces. Pockets too are extensions of our clothes. Last year I also had an exhibition at Lily Brooke Gallery, the gallery is in Lily’s living room, so I started to think a lot about how we organise and structure ourselves in our daily lives. Thinking about inside and outside spaces feels exciting, like there are no ends to the depths!

Do you think about people interacting with your work audience when creating or is it more of a meditative practice?

Sculpture is three-dimensional so I constantly walk around the work, considering all points of view when making. I enjoy the surprise of different ‘sides’, that’s the fun of sculpture!
I consider how a work confronts people when it finally reaches the gallery space. I try to conjure ways to slow people down to look at details, in particular. Sculptures change when they move from the studio into an exhibition venue. The audience’s movements have to be considered and placement can make all the difference to a piece of work.
For me making is a physical exercise so, sadly, not meditative!

Do you use Drawing / Sketches to create your sculptures or do you have an idea and do it without making? 

I doodle in my book all the time. Drawing is so immediate and quick. These doodles are often the starting point to an idea growing in my head. All of my recent work uses steel as an armature. I can alter, bend and twist a thin steel bar on my own, unaided.  I don’t work to a preconceived idea; I use the steel ‘to draw’ in space. If I don’t like a section, it is easy to cut it and build other areas up again. Then the steel drawing becomes an armature. I can start to think about making areas solid, and the sculpture starts to grow.  

What are you most excited about this year?

I just won the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award which I am delighted about. I have been following the award for about a decade and admire many of the previous winners’ work so I am thrilled to have been awarded. The prize is fantastic – it gives me money which will go towards my studio rent and materials; a solo show at Standpoint Gallery in London next year which will also tour to Cross Project in Cumbria and Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in Cornwall. I will also be mentored for a year so I thought I would use the opportunity to speak to professionals in different disciplines. I would like to have a dialogue with, for instance, architects as a way of challenging my way of thinking. The financial help also means I can afford to experiment with different materials and ideas. I can’t wait to get started.

Which of the previous winners’ work do you admire and why?

I really like Anna Reading, the current winner’s work. Her show ‘Pothole’ at Standpoint will be a hard act to follow next year! I particularly like how she used organic material, such as shellfish shells on her sculptures. I’ve been following John Summers work for a long time. He just had a great exhibition at Three Works in Scarborough where I also showed last year. I admire how he uses figuration. I like Iain Hales’ work too, particularly his use of colour and architectural-type work. And finally, John Wallbank is a great artist. His studio is a feast for the eyes and his sculptures are inventive and unique.
Boulder (with handle)  2015 | Plaster, chrome handle | 60 x 86 x 50 cm

Boulder (with handle) 2015 | Plaster, chrome handle | 60 x 86 x 50 cm

We really love this one. Why the handle?

I made that work on my post-graduate degree at Slade School of Fine Art. I was thinking about making a sculpture which one could imagine an action or the weight of the work, just by looking at it. The handle was a gentle tease. I use handles a lot in my work – they are recognisable and playful and ground the work in the ‘real world’. I like it when art doesn’t take itself too seriously, being playful is important.

Do you title them before or after they're done? 

Sometimes titles come to me in the studio but very rarely. It is almost always when the work is finished. Titling is essential to direct the viewer. I find titling difficult because it’s so important to get it right.

Which artists do you admire and why?

Off the top of my head: Franz West (the link should be obvious with the boulder piece you mentioned!); Thomas Houseago (for his plaster ‘back’ and ‘front’ sculptures in particular); Anthony Caro (I worked as a studio assistant to him and his mentoring and support was invaluable); Phyllida Barlow (I love how she challenges space and gets up high); Nairy Baghramian (she really knows how to use materials) and Medardo Rosso (his work is so full of feeling and expression).
All those names are big! I am lucky enough to have a lot of artist friends whose conversation and support is how one grows and develops as an artist.

What is Ambit Magazine and what do you do with them?

Ambit is a poetry, prose and contemporary arts magazine. It was founded by a cousin of mine 60 years ago! He was a paediatrician but also wrote novels. He had lots of friends in the arts, including J G Ballard, Eduardo Paolozzi, David Hockney and Peter Blake. He founded Ambit in 1959 and retired in 2013 when my aunt, Briony Bax, took the reins. She asked my partner, Jean-Philippe Dordolo and me to run the art section. It has been exciting because Ambit was better known for the poetry (despite some amazing artists’ contributions in the past) so it’s been interesting letting the art grow. It’s a privilege to show artists’ work we like and get a chance to meet artists in their studios. I’ve also had the luxury of interviewing artists I really admire such as Jonathan Lasker, Etel Adnan and Catherine Story. It has been fantastic placing their work alongside emerging artists.

Above Left: 

Slot & Groove (drawing version), 2016 | Plaster, hessian, polystyrene spray paint | 120 x 120 x 80 cm

Above Right: Hot Air, 2018 | Steel, concrete, paint | 236 x 145 x 155 cm

More work can be found on Olivia's website. If you'd like to keep up to date with her work as well as her forthcoming exhibitions then Instagram is the best place for you to find them.