Sterling’s work is striking, satirical and spectacular.
“The paintings have elements of humour/slapstick and I have maintained this because othering is an absurd act and therefore I wish to reflect that in how the paintings look. Secondly, othering to me is every day, small acts (and of course there are larger violent ones hanging overhead).”
“To try and recreate the everyday feel, I make paintings that are often just domestic scenes or mimic the everydayness of othering.Thirdly, there is an infographic language spread on top of the paintings that tries to firstly provide a scene of familiarity, we all have seen diagrams with lettering in - Ikea instructions, cooking instructions, science text books etc. But also, I like using infographic language in order to draw attention to the colours I am using and how it relates to race and othering.”
She is currently working on a solo show at @volteastbourne, as well as making a series of paintings focussed on food, particularly for @berntsonbhattacharjee.
Quick one, what 3 words would you use to describe your artwork
Faceless, sweet and sour
OLIVIA, YOU KNOW I'M SUCH A MASSIVE FAN OF YOUR WORK. FOR PEOPLE LESS FAMILIAR WITH YOUR PRACTICE, CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR ARTIST STORY SO FAR?
Well, I’m really at the beginning still as I just graduated. But I did my BA in Derby - at this time race and othering was coming to the forefront with Brexit and Trump as well as the content I was consuming online - ArtHoe collective, following black and plus sized influencers; learning about Kara Walker, Faith Ringgold, Sonia Byce - I even met Claudette Johnson when she visited the uni which was amazing - so the result of all that was that I made work concerning slapstick, caricature, satire with othering/xenophobia.
INCREDIBLE, AND THEN IT WAS UNI?
Then I got into the RCA, made work more about skin colour, skin transformations, whiteness and blackness and then corona - made degree show paintings in my bedroom which ended up in an online White Cube show, then in Fold with the other painting students then in the Saatchi Grads Now show then a bunch more shows amazingly. Now, I am in a residency at HQI and get to go there everyday to make more paintings.
AND SO, What does an average working day look like to you?
Get up - smash some water sometimes - existential dread - pick clothes up off floordrobe - say goodbye to my sister and leave house - listen to podcasts while walking to tube - arrive at studio sweaty - smash some drawings - smash some paintings - stare at them - leave either through disappointment or satisfaction - have dinner with sister - watch sunset if visible.
AMAZING. AND What is your studio like Olivia?
My studio is in the upstairs part of @_h_q_i in White City. It is a circular, industrial-looking room with a big skylight and column in the middle that was once used for social nights at the BBC. They’ve put a bunch of plants inside, so even though the three other artists/designers’ work are very different, the plants and the lights tie the space all together - it’s very cool, very vibey. My space itself is a long white wall currently with a series small paintings on. One of these is painting a large bottom smeared with chocolate sauce but it looks too much like poop so I have to change it to flour or something less vulgar.
DO YOU LISTEN TO ANYTHING WHILE YOU WORK?
This really depends. In my BA at Derby I would either listen to Nina Simone all day or comedy songs like Victoria Wood sets or the Two Ronnies song playlists on youtube. At the time they must have paired very well with what I was painting - a lot of their comedy is observational with a bizarre, absurd twist. E.g Wood’s exaggerated characterization of British people or my favorite Two Ronnie’s song is the Aldershot Brass Ensemble where it's just a man talking about how hungry he is, but his wife has put him on a diet and the other talking about how much he wants to leave the practice to get drunk. I am just always impressed by how successfully comedians can portray real life in an interesting way, and I try to recreate this in my paintings. But, in my MA I listened to podcasts such as ** and now I listen to whatever is playing in the studio.
Could you please pick a piece of your work, and tell me a bit about it?
So, I really like Innocent Mishaps no.6 - the series is discussing gaslighting. I painted six scenes of “innocent mishaps” - actions that were inflicted onto figures under the guise of accidents. No.6 is an especially plausible accident: a stabbing at a spaghetti dinner. We would assume the figure with the fork must have been reaching for a meatball and instead accidentally stabs the other guest’s hand. The context of the dinner lessens the violence somewhat as it is in a recognisable scene that one would need a fork and one would need their hands on the table. However, of course, you need to stab someone very hard with a fork in order for them to start bleeding - therefore it is absurd to frame this as an accident because the force needed to inflict such a wound could not be accidental.
Often, when talking to people - or reading things online (which I know is naughty and should be taken with a pinch of salt) this is what it feels like to discuss general things and then relate them to race, sex or class just to have these themes batted away as if it has nothing to do with the conversation or no have importance to the general thing you were talking about. When, of course, if you are marginalised it affects your everyday life therefore it is important - and often I have found people know this and disregard this anyway. Or maybe they don’t realise the weight of these factors because of their own privilege. Or they conveniently see the facts as unimportant. These paintings are an attempt to visualise how that feels - usually charring, embarrassing or harmful for one side and means nothing to the other - sometimes an “oops” moment or one that is totally apathetic.
I also enjoy the colours of this one and it was really fun painting spaghetti.
What are you working on now?
- I am making a series of paintings focused on food, British food in particular for @berntsonbhattacharjee. I have always been fascinated by how odd British food is, even the names: Toad in the Hole, Shepherd's Pie, jelly and custard, policemans foot, bangers and mash, Full English - the list goes on.
- I am having a solo show with @volteastbourne that dives more into whimsy, folklore and humour in Britain whilst still engaging with the figure.
OH HOW AMAZING. THEY'RE CLOSE TO ME. AND, What would be your dream project?
I’d love to do a big mural in my hometown that overtly talks about white privilege that would be lovely - maybe with some bums thrown in.
LOVE IT. What are the main themes and motifs running through your work?
The paintings have elements of humour/slapstick and I have maintained this because othering is an absurd act and therefore I wish to reflect that in how the paintings look. Secondly, othering to me is every day, small acts (and of course there are larger violent ones hanging overhead). To try and recreate the everyday feel, I make paintings that are often just domestic scenes or mimic the everydayness of othering.Thirdly, there is an infographic language spread on top of the paintings that tries to firstly provide a scene of familiarity, we all have seen diagrams with lettering in - Ikea instructions, cooking instructions, science text books etc. But also, I like using infographic langage in order to draw attention to the colours I am using and how it relates to race and othering.
If you could have a meal with any artist from any time, what would the meal be and who would it be with?
Either Francis Bacon or Nina Simone. Both would be very overwhelming in a wonderful way.
Favourite current practicing female artists?
@madelinedonahue. Madeline Donahue’s drawings are everything I want; intense, absurd and flat. She’s done some water scenes made of clay that are wonderful.
@lubainapics (hahah duh)
@ebecho - a really fun time.