“I spent most of my life in a black and white land.”
Johanna OlkILLUSTRATION . April 16th, 2018
Who are you ? What do you do for a living?
Hello, I am Johanna Olk and I work as an artist and designer.
Could you share with us some music to listen at while reading this interview?
Because it was out last month, you can listen to Agar Agar’s new song, Fangs out.
You mostly represent women… Has it always been the case? What inspires you in them?
It’s easier to draw what you know. So when I want to illustrate an emotion, it’s natural for me to portray it in a way that looks like me: a woman. That seems more realistic to me. I had a complex about my body for a long time, and drawing women has been a kind of way out of that. I also find women bodies easier to draw, I like their curves. Men have more angles, it’s harder for me to represent them.
Do you have a particular look on women around you ? Getting inspiration from the way they pose, or dress, or put their hair…
I enjoy watching people in general, the way they move, they dress, they talk. It’s magical how a stranger can attract you. I enjoy crossing pass with someone who can inspire me. I used to draw women looking very different and dressing very differently but I am now more interested in emotions and very minimalist images. My personal emotions are very linked to my paintings and my characters can look a bit like me.
It seems like you have been more into painting lately, any particular reason for that?
I started tattooing my friends for fun and posted it on my instagram. Unknows then started to want a tattoo as well. That was a bit crazy. It was a fun experiment but it took me away from what I really like.
I studied industrial design and love objects but I haven’t done anything like that for the last 2 years. This is the reason why I have just founded Abrupt and decided to stop tattooing.
I also saw you’re drawing on a tablet sometimes. Can you tell us about the techniques and medias you use?
I like to try many things, I tried drawing on ipad but I prefer paper. I used it mostly when I was tattooing. Now I use digital mostly to make drafts or colors tests very quickly. It’s easier to try many options, print, compare etc.
For my paintings I use vinyl matt and opaque colors. I love the way it looks, clean, soft and very deep. Especially the black.
Also, you’re starting to use a few colors… Do you want to go further or do think you will keep your minimalistic black-white-grey palette as signature?
I am trying to use colors. For the moment it doesn’t feel right. I love black-white-grey as it reminds me where I grew up. It’s very natural. I spent most of my life in a black and white land. Sky was white, roof were black, walls were grey. Raw landscapes and genuine people. In Brittany the land is in grey granite and traditional outfits are made with heavy black velvet and very delicate white lace. I was born and grew up in Pont-l’abbé, on the next picture you can see a sculpture that was in front of my primary school and still influence my work. Strong women waiting for their men lost at sea or at the war. By his history, Brittany is a country of very strong and powerful women.
How do you process when you draw characters in special poses ? Do you use models, pictures?
I can be inspired by a picture but just as a starting point, never a copy. I can also look at myself in a mirror. Sometimes I take a picture or a selfie. The only selfies I take are for my work, I always look terrible, working in my pyjama with crazy hair style.
Your artworks are very pure, with a lot of empty space, to let the lines breathe. Are you as calm as your illustrations?
I look calm but I am hyperactive inside. I find it very hard to do nothing. I can’t rest, I never stop thinking but I keep it inside, from outside I am very calm.
In which envirroment do you feel the most comfortable to draw (or paint)?
For the moment I work at home in Guéthary and I love my place but I am opening soon a new workshop / showroom / gallery in Anglet. We have been working on it with 2 friends and great artists. I can’t wait to start working there !
What would be your dream project for 2019?
Paint more, design again !
And for 2028?
Still be painting, still be designing !
Johanna Olk, french visual artist.