By: Gitzel Carvajal
UCI’s University Art Gallery presented an exhibit and a lecture by Austrian artist Katherina Olschbaur on Jan. 23. Olschbaur initiated the lecture by showcasing art that she crafted three years ago in Austria before coming to the United States.
All of her pieces begin as sketches, then transition into paintings that include “the configuration of bodies, objects, animals and formal elements” found in all of her work. The artist referred to her paintings — which were created in Austria — as ones that “become nothing and shallow” the longer she looks at them, as they do not represent who she truly is as an artist.
Growing up with a very conservative upbringing in Austria, Olschbaur explained that America gave her the freedom to express herself to her full ability. One particular piece titled “Road Trip,” depicts her transition from Austria to the United States perfectly. With rich colors, nudity and her location at the time, the piece loudly expresses a new life. She continues to embed the same elements of animals — more specifically horses — and objects in her most recent work as well.
She mentioned that all of her art begins with an inspiration, stemming from “fetishes” that people may have such as her fixation on horses and shoes that she embeds into most of her paintings. She believes the shoe is a symbol of empowerment and sexuality that goes against patriarchal views. The shoes she paints are often shaped to resemble high heels. Olschbaur explained that she has a strong connection with horses as she was often around them in her youth.
Olschbaur now works in Los Angeles and recalled seeing an advertisement in a magazine in which a young woman was seductively lying on top of a car. She recognized the powerful effect that the female body has on Americans, but she resists painting easily interpretable bodies.
“When I see that a figure is starting to look like a man or to look like a woman, I add more hair or less hair or whatever it is to make it unknown,” she said.
Olschbaur loves to make “common things feel strange,” as her paintings urge individuals to question what the story behind the painting may be.
When describing her piece “Dirty Elements,” Olschbaur said that the figures can be interpreted as either male or female. Although it was created during her time in Los Angeles, this piece does not depict the same vivid colors as the rest of her work. “Dirty Elements” portrays more dark and muted coloring, perhaps representing a more difficult moment in her life; Olschbaur often paints about her own experiences. On the right side of the painting, Olschbaur includes a horse’s tail. One of the figures also wears a pointed shoe that represents power, as individuals who wear heels may feel more confident and powerful when doing so.
Olschbaur’s art presents seduction, power, fetishes, confusion and intentionally imbedded symbols that motivate viewers to interpret the piece in their own way; there is more than one story to pull from each of Olschbaur’s paintings.
America gave her the freedom to find herself as an artist, inspiring her newest art pieces displayed in her exhibit, “Dirty Elements.” Even though her paintings at the moment involve themes such as sexuality, seduction and empowerment, Olschbaur’s thematic elements in her work continue to evolve. Knowing the inspiring work poured into “Dirty Elements,” the art community now waits to see what the focus of her next collection will be. In the meantime, UCI students can see her work on display at the Contemporary Arts Center Gallery until March 14.