Tuesday, August 6, 2013

People in LA Inspiring Me Today

WHO: Olivia Barratier
FROM: Paris, France
CURRENTLY RESIDES: Los Feliz, California
WHO INSPIRES HER: Hieronymus Bosch, Goya, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Turner, Kandinsky. Current artists include Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Gabhann Dunne (an old classmate).
WHAT DOES SHE DO THAT INSPIRES ME?: Creates amazing photo-art that makes me feel happy.

Olivia Barratier in Los Feliz. Photo by Gen Max Photography.
I love seeing art in LA. Often I see it when I'm driving (like the mural on the wall of a CVS in Hollywood on Western - have you seen that? Kind of fantastic). But every now and again I take myself to a museum or gallery or L.A.'s downtown art walk to get a more intimate art fix.

On one of those occasions I came across Olivia Barratier's work at The Robert Reynold's Gallery. That evening was her very first public show and it was captivating. Upon gazing at her work I felt happy... exhilarated.... Fascinated.

The combination of words and images and painting, all layered and blended into and on top of one another brought to mind how we could be looking at anything -- something beautiful, something industrial, something familiar, something exotic -- and be thinking of so many things -- feeling so many emotions at the same time. It's the true state of ambivalence - a word that gets a bad rap. It actually is pretty amazing. Essentially it means the coexistence of opposing feelings. The second definition can be the shmoopy one about indecisiveness. It's the first definition that I'm into - it aptly describes how people really are most of the time. If we can accept ambivalence, we are able to relax much more and understand ourselves better. But that's rare. Usually we're told if x is happening then you should have y feeling. Yet have you ever felt moved and happy but also like you might cry? That's what I'm talking about. And that's what I see in Olivia's art.

The many images, strange colors produced, the realistic qualities juxtaposed against the magical elements, can make one feel as if Olivia Barratier has gotten inside your thought process and put a frame around it. What a remarkable thing it is when an artist is truly able to express the mind's process in the visual.

And she loves L.A.

Being so awestruck by Olivia's art, I decided to ask her how she composed her work. Below is an excerpt from that interview Olivia granted me at her home studio in Los Feliz, this past June.

CG: As you know I’m not an artist and I’m not really in the art world - I’m just a normal person. So I don’t understand how your art works - and it fascinated me when I was at the art show. I’m amazed at how you do these combinations of different things. Tell me a little how it works.

Olivia: To start with I was trained as a photographer so a lot of what I do is photography. But I’m also a painter. So what I do is that I used to work for 10 years in the dark room and I always worked with negatives or transparencies so I would overlay negatives and work with layers and what I’ve developed over the years is I continue to work with film – the medium of film – I also work with digital photography - but what I’m doing is I’m blending what I do in paint with the photos. I’m painting over the negatives and painting over the photos. I’ll either use it as a layer or re-digitize it to work it again into layers. So effectively those images that you see, they’re the result of layering of negatives like they’re all the photos that I take: Layers and Paint.

Layers and Paint from Olivia Barratier
CG: And when you take a photo, how long do you wait before you decide what you'll do with it? Do you let it settle in and then start?

Olivia: I wait 6 months to a year before I actually work with a particular image... You see something, you have an emotional reaction. I think that’s what entices us to take a picture or paint. It’s like we see the world around us and we feel an emotion when we see something and we’re trying to capture that emotion. And I think you know capturing it - I think if we leave time in between going back to that emotion and seeing that image again I think personally for me I feel I need some time to see it with a you know [a] fresh mind or a fresh eye and then I react to it again.

CG: I was just wondering how does LA itself inspire you?

Olivia: Well enormously. I mean I made a very big decision to move here. I was working and living at the time in Montreal and I came here working on a film - and I had come for a couple of days and literally the minute I landed I was like This is it. This is where I want to be. I felt it in everything: All the senses. The light, the smell... everything. What I feel about the city is so strong. The elements that I believe are strongest for me in LA are the architecture and nature. It's a harmony and a confrontation. It's a lot of different things. How nature comes from every crack and grows and is so luscious and huge. The architecture-- the way the light hits everything. How everything is so contrasting. I really feel hugely influenced by Los Angeles. But I really realized that since I've been here I've taken so many photos and I've done illustration and I've been working creatively, that I see the time lapse. I see that now I'm really ready to give the forms and images to how I feel about LA. It's a process. I think everything's a process. And personally for me it takes time.  

CG: Do you feel in a weird way because of your evolution and where you are in your life-- that has a lot to do with it?

Olivia: Yeah. Definitely. Because I think when you start a journey or when you embark on a journey I think at the beginning there’s always that time where all the things that you were used to are gone. You know, all the kind of - I don’t know how you call them in English but.. like buoys in the sea. They are your markings -- the things you’re used to, you suddenly lose those for a moment. You’re in a completely new environment with new people in a new country. I mean it’s a big change. And during that change I think there’s a period where you – I don’t know how to say – you go through your own journey at that point. You know, everything is kind of... different. And either you’re on the outside or you’re on the inside. Like processing all that information. So I think definitely for me there was a long period of gestation. I don’t know what the word is. But period of where creatively I was accumulating and maybe not yet giving it its form.

CG: It needed maturation.

Olivia: Yes.  

Below is the film Olivia saw at 15 that convinced her one day she would live in LA. It was her destiny.

Olivia was born in Paris and grew up in an amazing family. When her parents met her mother was a dancer from England and her father was an AD. They fell for one another while working on Jacques Demy's "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort." 

CG: I was reading your Timeline. And I was like Okay, this person’s born into the coolest family in the coolest place. Like I’m from this boring suburb in Westchester, New York, and I was like “Why did I get that shaft?” But I guess I was just curious like do you feel similarities from where you came from to where you are now? In terms of your environment, social life, family?

Olivia: Well LA is absolutely the opposite of Paris. I mean it couldn’t be more different. Paris and LA are miles away from one another. Really in every sense. I mean every sense. In every sense. The air, the sky -- everything is totally different there. But I think now that I found in me my home -- then all of my past, and my family and all of that now makes 1. Now it’s all coming together. 

From Olivia's Timeline on her website, I learned a bit about her trajectory. Being in a Jacques Demy film as a young girl, taking her first photographs in NYC as a teenager visiting the states, fleeing to Ireland moments before she was supposed to attend University in France, studying art in Dublin, learning about photo retouching in advertising, doing her first post work for John Boorman.

CG: Yeah, it seems like you really went through a journey. When I was reading that timeline I just thought you have kind of gone through a truly adventurous life. And it seemed like some of it was just age, time, friends -- but I got this feeling you were always pursuing art. There was this thing in you. Do you feel that way?

Olivia: Well, exactly. When you were talking about being born into the family I was born in which is it’s a wonderful experience but I could have stayed in Paris and worked in the film industry with my family. So I think the fact that I didn’t do that and I made a very conscious choice – I went to art school in Dublin and then continued- I really was seeking my path. Even if I wasn’t aware of it I think creatively I’ve just I’ve never for one second stopped creating. It’s like something that I do all the time. But I think I needed to do it - it needed to be unique to my own, I think.
One of Olivia's Diary pieces. Photo by Gen Max Photography.
CG: Your own experience -- your own life.

Olivia: Yeah.

CG: About Dublin -that's when you first started to potentially play around with negatives?

Olivia: Yeah, exactly. When I arrived in Dublin it was after the Baccaulerate France so I was 19 and basically because I was supposed to go to University in France which obviously I didn’t go to.  I worked for a year to get into this art school... I lived in a house with a lot of musicians and there were some friends who would come over - I spent like the whole year basically creating my portfolio. Actually those are the two friends. (points to a photograph) They’re the people who taught me everything. Jeff and Gordie.

CG: When you say they taught you everything, what do you mean?
Olivia: Well basically every couple of evenings they would come around to the house – which like was a house where every night there would be 50 or 100 people and parties it was like on 3 levels. And every couple of nights they’d arrive. And you know no one ever slept in the house. Like everyone would stay up all night. So I would always be drawing. So Jeff for example, he’s like a guru of graphic design and photo retouching. He’s incredible. And Gordon is a photographer.  So they would come every couple of evenings. And Jeff would maybe arrive with maybe three rotring pens or a paper pad or Gordie would arrive with a roll of film. And Jeff would say to me Okay with that drawing do something like a CD cover or a t-shirt and they would both give me these kind of projects. They had gone to that university that I was applying to and they were working in this incredible advertising studio so they kind of were mentors. They helped me to structure my ideas; to have a kind of a project. And Jeff’s father had a printing press and Jeff would always bring me some kind of art material. He then one night took one of my drawings and scanned it into the computer and spent all night doing a book cover. So I physically saw one of my drawings become this incredible graphic image he put into a book cover. It was just really completely inspiring. So then the night I graduated they both said to me, At 8 o’clock tomorrow morning you’re gonna be at the studio. You’re starting your work experience. The studio was a photographer’s studio. 5 photographers worked there. Jeff was the main re-toucher. And I worked in that studio for 6 years and that’s where the negative – all of that came to be.

CG: So cool. That must have been so much fun.

Olivia: It was incredible. I worked so hard and I had the most fun. It was really, really amazing.
CG: And it seems actually on that topic, I was just curious, because you seem to – and I don’t know if this is the right interpretation but – you seem to wear a lot of hats. When I was looking at your site, you genuinely are skilled in so many different elements. There are a lot of different things that you can do and that being said, and knowing that you’ve been trained in so many different things and you know how to use anything from Avid to After Effects to Photo Shop I’m just curious is there some identity that you have like where you sort of know or feel that you fit into a category or is there no category and you don’t even worry about that kind of stuff?

Olivia: No, I don’t think there’s a category. Because I remember when I went to an interview for one of those courses previous to that university and they said to me, But what do you do? Because I was presenting different stuff and I was just like, If you’re a creative person, you’re a creative person, like you don’t have to be one thing. And I think people do have a tendency to want someone to be one thing and think that if they do one thing, they’re very good at it.  But I think if you’re creative all of these whether it’s paint or cameras or Photoshop or programs, they’re all different tools. They all serve the means of creation and expression.

CG: There was something that you wrote on that site, that I feel like you said something like Now that I have all the tools and know how to use them… It was almost like “Now I don’t even have anything in my way. Like I can fully express how I want to express.” Is that accurate?

Olivia: Yeah, it is.
Olivia Barratier photographed in her studio in June by Gen Max, Photographer.

"I have a million billion images to create."


  1. Thank you for introducing the amazing Olivia! Loved the interview!!!

    1. Alice, I'm so glad you liked it!!!! xoxo