My vagabond heart has led me to live in a variety of habitats; each one finds its way into my artwork. I’m painting about love and relationships, obsessions, and parts of life which are often subterranean. An ongoing theme in my work is rewilding the heart, to inspire deeper connections to wild animals and wild lands.
I hadn’t thought of the term Maximalism to describe my art until I was asked to write this essay. I guess the complexity of the subject matter that I become obsessed with gets expressed in a density of painted excitement. I fall into a trance patterning tiny words over imagery as if inscribing the life of each complex creature into memory or an intense emotional experience into healing.
Living for a year in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage at Marshall Point Light, kayaking in the ocean brought me close to harbor seals, great black-backed gulls and endless treasures of the sea. Instantly addicted, I carried my kayak to the water at every opportunity; making notes and sketches, collecting seaweeds to dry, endlessly fascinated by all the species underwater and flying above in the sky.
I started the painting Unexpected Odyssey before moving to Maine from the Sonoran Desert. The central figure rises above the cactus which is overtaken by the ocean as I finished the painting in Maine. The hundreds of words I painted about the desert are washed over by a thousand words describing the tides of Maine. The ocean rising over the desert became a personal metaphor for the loss of loved ones in the desert; then came the healing, cooling waves of the ocean.
The following year having moved to Mount Desert Island, I found an injured porcupine and brought him to the Acadia Wildlife Center. This led to my working there helping to rehabilitate injured wild animals. Advocating for and working with wildlife in every place I have lived from Oregon to Maine and in between has deeply enriched my artwork and intensified my connection to the natural world.
I had an idea of wearing a terrarium instead of clothes. I started painting Terrarium Suits, but before I finished it, my husband was offered a job in New Mexico. A lobsterman friend agreed to drive the moving truck which allowed us to pack our car with cats and plants, making the trip easier. Barely beating the pandemic to our new home I found the still unfinished painting of the people in terrarium suits while unpacking. An idea that began on the coast of Maine suddenly took on much deeper meaning as we all found ourselves living in our own little worlds.
COVID-19 has made many of us feel helpless and uncertain. It reminds me of Helpless October, a painting I did after my father died. The figure is surrounded by a sea of painted potions and cures, but in the end I was unable to save my father, and once again the sense of helplessness and uncertainty returned, only this time globally instead of personally.
In New Mexico we hike the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and often hide a motion sensor camera up in the forest. It has been wildly exciting to get footage of ringtails, foxes, bears, and bobcats. Recently I awoke in the middle of the night and felt my cat Zopilote sleeping beside me. While stroking his soft fur in a sleeping state of mind, he became a portal taking me into the wilderness where I’m suddenly petting a gray fox or a black bear or any of the wild animals who live up in the mountains. The female figure in the painting Your Touch, a Thousand Wild Creatures is filled with the cacti and succulents I’ve been learning about and collecting, the male figure a record of the animals. The layering of images, text, emotions, and experiences turns into a painting, which for me is like a laying on of hands.
Image at top: Irene Hardwicke Olivieri, Terrarium Suits, oil on linen, 36 in. diameter, 2020.