Grad Spotlight: Olivia Rushin
Olivia Rushin is a ceramic artist who weaves together poetry, personal identity and childhood memories to build intriguing narrative pieces.
Working with found objects and craft techniques, her work blurs the real and the imagined to create surreal illustrations rendered in 3D.
Recently graduating with a BA Hons in Three Dimensional Design from Manchester School of Art, we caught up with Olivia to find out more about her practice.
As a recent graduate, what can you tell us about your creative practice and professional experience so far?
Since graduating from Manchester School of Art, it has been difficult for me to continue making the work that I love to make. Ceramics is an expensive practice to start up and so the money I save from my current full-time job will hopefully go towards developing my own business in the near future. Until then I’m using my skills in illustration to work on paid tattoo commissions.
That sounds really interesting, but very different from your ceramic work. How did that come about?
I’ve always been a huge fan of tattoos. I think I just started because I love drawing. I designed my own tattoo a couple of years ago and realised I was actually quite good at it, so I started doing it for other people. I’m currently working on an owl commission.
As for the future, are you looking for agency representation or happy to do it yourself?
I’m happy to find the work myself. Luckily my course ran a module in Professional Practice in my final year, which was extremely helpful in teaching us how to promote ourselves in the real world.
What about the rest of your degree course, what aspects did you most enjoy?
Everything! I couldn’t have asked for more supportive and encouraging tutors, they really pushed me to find my own voice within the field of applied arts. Studying Three Dimensional Design gave me the opportunity to cross over into different disciplines and work with materials that were challenging for me but continued to keep me engaged in my practice. The course provides each individual with so many opportunities to gain work experience, volunteer and learn new skills in a huge variety of materials as well as giving you the freedom to create the work you love. One experience that will always stand out to me and really influenced my practice was working alongside ceramic artist Steve Dixon at The British Ceramics Biennial in 2013, assisting with a staged excavation to uncover fragmented shards of Stoke ceramics. The excavating process has since played a huge part in my own working process. The Manchester School of Art Benzie building where I studied is a fantastic building with open plan studio space across four floors, interlocking my course with textiles, fashion, illustration, graphics, photography and many other creative subjects.
Being surrounded everyday by a huge group of talented people was extremely motivating and the openness of the studio space meant that opportunities to collaborate with people working across different media were endless.
How would you describe your working process?
I begin with a story, a combination of reality and fantasy represented through poetry. My degree show work was based on a story taken from my own childhood memories, when my first home was demolished in a landslide. I slightly manipulated the story by adding fictional aspects to engage with the imagination of the audience.
Once I have finalised my narrative, I begin to illustrate the different elements within it, focusing on key subjects that I can develop into three-dimensional objects. The drawing stage is very important in my practice as it helps me to visualise what’s in my imagination and develop my designs into tangible things. In the case of my degree show works: a series of bone china plates and a collection of curious mixed media objects and figurines.
What materials do you most enjoy working with?
Found objects. Using something that has had a previous life, has been cherished by its previous owner or even neglected, is a fascinating thing to me. There are so many memories contained within objects and I feel that working with them provokes an emotion with the audience, as they revisit their own memories to search for their own narratives. These objects are the starting point for the narratives in my work.
Do you take day trips or travel often? If so, how does this fuel your creativity?
At the moment not very often but luckily I am fortunate enough to be visiting my family in Australia in December and travel for a few months afterwards. I am sure that whilst I am visiting new places and immersing myself into different cultures my creative bloods will flow and new ideas will arise. I plan to take a small sketchbook with me to carry around everywhere I go and hopefully find some inspiration for a new project.
Is there a subject matter interests you most?
Memory, and the relationship between people and objects. I’m fascinated with the reactions of an audience when they recognise an object that I have worked with and associate it to their own past experiences. That’s why working with found objects is essential to my practice in order to provoke a memory in each individual that views it.
Are there any creative projects out there that you’ve seen recently that you wish you’d made?
There are so many talented artists, designers and illustrators out there today that I’m always in constant awe of other people’s projects. But I do feel that it is important to have your own voice and be distinguishable from others working in the same or similar field to you.
Are there any artists or designers that you look up to? And what is it you like most about their work?
Grayson Perry has always been one of my favourite artists. I was completely engrossed in his series ‘All in the best possible taste’ shown on Channel 4, so much so that I bought the book showing how he had made each of the tapestries that were the results of the research he had gathered. I visited the tapestries in person at Manchester Art Gallery and completely fell in love with the way that he draws his characters. I was amazed that his use of colour within his sketchbook had been replicated so vividly. His drawing is clearly a very important aspect to his practice and I feel that I need to push my skills in drawing more like Perry does, to translate onto different materials.
How do you work at the moment, and where would you like to see yourself in a few years?
At the minute I am not making work, which is frustrating for me as a creative. I don’t have the space or the money to make the work that I want to be making so, for now, drawing in my bedroom is the only thing I can do. I find it hard to work at home because there is no separation from the relaxing environment that home provides. That’s why I plan to save money to get a shared studio space, where I can start to develop larger scale work in different media. I also hope to study a Master’s degree in either illustration or ceramics in a couple of years’ time, to further develop my practice and career.