Interview with Irene Hardwick Olivieri

Christina Bothwell: December 3, 2013
Stillwater, Pennsylvania

Bothwell Art 1I was born in New York City, where I lived until I was almost five. I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, and I spent seven years after art school living in New York City. Then I moved to rural Pennsylvania where I have lived for the past eighteen years.

Nature is a big part of my life and who I am? I physically crave walking in the woods every day, and I feel squirrely when I don't get a chance to. I feel that the times I have lived by the ocean during my childhood summers are now internalized, and when I create my pieces, I think I get into the mental state that was most comfortable for me as a child, when I was alone by the ocean.

The best part of being an artist for me is getting to do what I love, getting to do what makes me feel like the best of who I am. I love being inspired! I love getting ideas to make something, it is pretty much my favorite feeling and I love seeing something come into existence that was first only an outline or vague idea in my head.

I love the feeling of being so absorbed, that hours pass without my having any awareness of time.

The worst part of being an artist for me is the occasional midnight panic attack where I fear my ability to support myself from my work or, that sinking feeling of my confidence leeching out of me, if I experience an unexpected rejection

What inspires you? Nature definitely inspires me, probably more than anything else.. Something like this- I learned this summer on a walk along the beach near the ocean, that when you pick up a dead, flattened dried out jellyfish and fling it back into the water, it comes back to life, (or seems to) like a speeded up film of a flower blossoming; or, seeing something truly magical, like an ice covered tree covered with red cardinals. I also love hearing strange and true stories of lost love regained, unexplainable spiritual experiences; and of-course, it is very inspiring to see great art- of any kind! whether visual art, or live music, or really terrific ethnic food.

Bothwell Art 3Can you describe your initial impulse to create something? I have never thought to describe the initial impulse to make a new piece, but sometimes it is most akin to feeling surprisingly attracted to somebody, like a warm, delicious awareness that is born into the absence of such a feeling. Sometimes the idea for a new piece happens for me after a string of unrelated events. I might be musing over an amazing encounter I had with a stranger, and then I hear a song on the car radio with an interesting and seemingly related lyric, and then simultaneously see a shooting star, and an idea or the image of a piece fills my head.

Best of all are the ideas that appear in my dreams- because then the piece is already fully formed and wonderful, and all I have to do is remember it when I wake up. Those dreams are gifts!

How closely do you follow the original idea when working on a piece? I usually try to closely follow an original idea in my process of making a piece, but sometimes the technical aspects of the piece dictate how it goes, sometimes an accident happens and the whole piece has to change, sometimes the piece ends up looking better without the component that inspired the idea originally.

My pieces take up to a year to make, sometimes. I typically have half a dozen pieces going at once, all in various stages of completion.

How does the internet affect your work? The internet is a great place to see new work? I have learned about many different artists? work from all around the world, that I never was aware of previously. The internet is also a good and easy resource for finding photographic images to refer to; if I am doing a piece that involves birds, for instant, I can find all kinds of vintage photos, post cards, books, etc, with imagery that I can turn to for ideas.

Christina ArtOne of my biggest challenges is balancing my family- my husband and my three children (all under the age of 12), with my work. I have come to accept that I need to do something creative every day, and if I absolutely can't work in the studio because one of my children is home sick, or it is a snow day or summer vacation day without a babysitter, I know I have to at least go for an hour walk in the woods by myself, or else I will be snappy and irritable. I love my children so much, and they definitely inform my work- I think there is more heart in my work since I had them, but I often wish I had more time to do my work, and more time to be by myself; I often feel I don't give my children enough of myself, and I always feel that I don't give my art enough of myself, but it is what it is. I feel blessed that I can make my art on a daily basis and support myself and my family from the work, and I know I am blessed to have my children. But it is definitely a balancing act for me.

How do you get through artist's blocks? I have been making art now for thirty years, so now at least I am able to recognize that when I am stuck in an artist block, it means I am moving through some sort of creative transition, and I know that if I can weather it, my work will grow and evolve. The best thing I can do when it is really bad, is to try for a change of scenery- go on a short trip to a city and steep myself in a whole different environment, distract myself from the self imposed pressure of having to work in the studio when I am not feeling inspired. Seeing art helps sometimes, but usually it is just about allowing the stuckness to just be, without fighting it. It always passes eventually.

How do you get through times when your work is not getting the reaction you hope or maybe not selling as well as you'd like? I usually panic, then go for long walks in the woods? I take my bad feelings with me, like I am walking a dog; I tell myself what my friend, the painter Will Barnet, used to tell me. He said that he showed his work for 80 years (he died recently at almost 102 years of age), and during that time there were several periods where the work stopped selling, whether it was due to the economy, or trends in the art world, whatever. He said that he just would hunker down, and wait, and eventually the cycle would shift, and the work would start selling again.
I remind myself of his experience when I feel really insecure about not selling enough of my work.

What are your vices? I am basically very lazy, and somewhat passive. I am not very ambitious. I have friends who eagerly travel the world to take workshops to learn new techniques. I hardly ever do this sort of thing, although when I have, it has completely invigorated me creatively. I am trying to overcome my native laziness by adapting the attitude of saying Yes! instead of automatically saying No to opportunities. Another vice I have is I get easily overwhelmed in big social art events. If I am surrounded by loud, charismatic personalities, I lost my balance and forget who I am; this sometimes has an effect on my self esteem and self awareness, I feel overwhelmed and ungrounded, spacey and queasy; I try to counter balance this by making sure to ground myself by going outside and leaning against a tree, or escaping to go for a walk by myself.

Christina Art 4What pets do you have? I have three large shelter dogs, three indoor cats, three outdoor feral cats, and two pet geese. I am very attached to four black ravens who eat at my bird feeders, as well as two red headed woodpeckers, and the great blue heron who eats the catfish out of my pond. These birds aren't pets, but I love them a lot, and put watermelon, papaya seeds, and raisins and nuts out for them every day.

What is the last wild animal you saw? I see wild animals all the time where I live, but the most significant encounter was this past summer when I took a walk by myself up the beach at 5 am, and there were four american bald eagles on a dead tree about fifty feet in front of me. When they lifted up in flight from the tree branches, it felt like I was seeing angels..

Recently I had a commission that was extremely exciting and inspiring for me. A woman approached me during a show and introduced herself, acknowledging her awareness that I am fascinated by twins, and that I also have twins. She explained that she is an identical twin, and she introduced her husband to me- explaining that he is an identical twin also. She went on to say that her husband's identical twin is married to HER identical twin.
Then she told me that her identical twin had died, six months prior. She asked if I would consider making a piece about her and her twin. The story she went on to tell me WAS AMAZING. She said that a few months after her sister died, she and her husband purchased a vacation home. Their furniture and belongings were all moved into the house, but the electricity was not hooked up yet. Christina Art 5Her husband was not there, but had stayed in the city to work, while she had elected to go to the vacation home to unpack and arrange their things.
She lay in bed in this house one night, in the dark; she was filled with sadness, to the point of wondering if she wanted to continue living. She missed her sister so much. She said that she still texted her sister six times a day, although she had died six months before.
While lying there in the upstairs bedroom in the dark, she heard footsteps downstairs. For a moment she felt panicked- she imagined that someone had broken into the house, and might kill her. But then she reasoned that she didn't really care if she lived or died anyway, so it didn't matter.
She listened as the footsteps came up the stairs;
Her door knob turned;
Then she heard footsteps approach the bed.
Then, she smelled her sister;
Her sister got into the bed behind her and curled around her, spooning her, as she had so often done to comfort her,when she was still alive.
She opened her eyes in the dark room, and it was blinding white, like klieg lights were on.
The presence of her sister gradually faded, until all was left was the pressure of her sister's hand on her shoulder.

After she told me this experience, I realized I had to make a piece of her sister's visit. I was so inspired by this story of love, that I thought about it every day for months. Her story compelled me to make this piece-


Christina Bothwell