In conversation with Olivia Browne a collage artist and editor of self-published magazine DEFACED.
Olivia lives on the Essex coast and studied Art History at Sussex University and later trained in art teaching at the Institute of Education, University College London.
Can you talk about your journey into or interest the arts?
I grew up in a creative family where art and music were really encouraged. I would help my Dad to develop his black and white film in his make-shift darkroom and from the age of 15, I was going to life drawing classes and visiting art galleries.
In the 90s in Cape Town I worked as a product designer for NGOs and AIDS organisations, training women to make products from recycled materials such as papier-mâché bowls covered in sardine labels. During that period I also worked as an administrator at Greatmore Studios (a sister studio to Gasworks in London and the Bag Factory in Johannesburg). Back in England, I started to exhibit my own work properly about 10 years ago. I have now exhibited nationally and internationally with art groups and collage collectives and I have some work going into public art collections.
Do you use a sketchbook? I’m interested in what a sketchbook means to you and your work?, or how people develop their ideas.
I have kept sketchbook/scrapbooks since ’93 and return to these as a resource for my collage work. Travelling to different cities I have collected exhibition flyers and torn papers from billboards. The content isn’t important, I use the pages to place textures and colours together. I am currently working on a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project (@thesketchbookproject).
I also keep a notebook for my thoughts, for reading material, quotes and landscape terms.
Your works often use décollage and collage. What is your interest in this specific medium?
Even though I have worked in different media over the years, I always return to paper. I can’t explain why.
I enjoy ripping and tearing something apart, breaking it down and then putting it together again. Perhaps it’s an act of control? Order out of chaos!
You self-published DEFACED, what was the driver for that?
I was a teenager in the 80s and I loved The Face magazine. It changed the way we view culture and it did all of that in a pre-internet age which thinking back, is amazing. DEFACED zine grew out of my defaced series – collaged portraits that I started a couple of years ago from my old editions of The Face. As a break from the labour intensive, large-scale fragmented landscapes that I was making at the time, I started to play around with faces, often limiting myself to just two pieces of source material. Having worked on editions curated from open calls (launched to coincide with World Collage Day) I now plan to return to making some future editions from my own ongoing defaced series.
Can you talk about your process of working. How do you work, how often, is there a particular pattern?
I have a studio at home and work in it during the evenings or weekends. I always work standing up and on several pieces at a time, using a ‘wet’ collage process with a brush. This takes the pressure off an individual piece working but also results in some links between the collages, stylistic or otherwise. There are definitely recurring motifs in my work.
My collage process is mostly unplanned and intuitive but I do give a lot of consideration to composition and structure. Having recently bought a reconditioned Polaroid SX-70 I have been working with a structure that imitates the aesthetics of a Polaroid photograph, thinking about out of focus edges and white borders. I used to think that my ideas and inspiration would come to me whilst walking in local woodland but more often than not, it’s when I’m driving to work through an industrial estate.
Do you find the process of creating work relaxing or therapeutic? I’ve become increasingly interested in the relationship of the sketchbook and the work to the artist.
I used to find collage relaxing but now I find it difficult because I’m trying to do more complex things with it. I definitely find the qualities of glue and paper to be comforting and I enjoy getting rid of air bubbles so whilst the process itself can be seen to be therapeutic in parts, reaching a conclusion where I’m satisfied is the challenge.
Perhaps sketchbook work is more relaxing because it’s more playful. It’s a place where mistakes are meant to be made – at least that’s what I tell my students!