‘Artists can create worlds that speak to universal truths about who we are, and who we want to be.’
Aixa Oliveras was born in Puerto Rico, and moved to California to continue strengthening her art practice. Aixa's paintings draw upon her cultural experiences, and they include symbolism, colour and patterns to bring her narratives to life. Her female figures, in one sense, are self-portraits as they relate to elements of the artist’s identity, and in another sense the themes are shared universally.
Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio?
My current studio is located in a corner of the living room by the window. It’s a cozy space where I have my desk, easel, bookshelf and painting cart. I also have a few of my past paintings hanging on the wall. It’s a small space, but comfortable.
My dream studio would be a large space with hardwood floors, skylights and an area where I could teach classes. I would have a giant easel to make large figurative paintings, a bookshelf, a kitchen, and an area with a couch and coffee table for visitors. So basically, it would be like a small apartment, but with a big space for painting.
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?
I’ve found that music really helps me get into the creative flow. If it’s too quiet then I can’t concentrate, weirdly enough. I’ve tried listening to podcasts and audiobooks while painting, but I found that it distracted me. I need the change of rhythm that music gives me. It stimulates my brain in a way that helps me paint. My choice of music can be pretty eclectic, but I tend to gravitate towards alternative, electronica and hard rock, with some classical sprinkled here and there. Lately, I’ve had “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys on repeat. It’s definitely a “let’s do this!’ kind of song, haha.
Describe a moment you had an epiphany concerning your creative life.
I lived in Puerto Rico for about a decade after I got my BFA, and by the end of that decade I felt “stuck”, both artistically and in my personal life. It got to the point where it felt almost like low-grade depression. I didn’t like the results I was getting in my work. It was like I had all these nebulous ideas floating around in my head, but I couldn’t pin any of them down. It was this sense of unrest and dissatisfaction that made me look for alternatives. I started looking for graduate degrees and found the MFA program at Laguna College of Art and Design. It was really far away from Puerto Rico, which was daunting! But I knew in my gut that it was the right decision to make. And it turns out that it was. Getting my MFA degree crystallized all those ideas that I had and helped me grow into a more confident painter.
What is your favourite/least favourite part of the creative process?
My favorite part of the creative process is when I’m applying the first strokes of color after I’ve finished the underpainting. To me, seeing the form emerge in full color is like magic. Oil painting in general feels that way to me. We’re using what amounts to colored dirt to create these worlds in our paintings. It feels a bit like alchemy.
My least favorite part is figuring out when it’s finished! I’m a meticulous painter, and love details. But I have to restrain myself sometimes and not fall into the rabbit hole of obsessive detail. Knowing when to keep adding and when to stop can be difficult sometimes.
How has your style evolved and what contributed to the changes?
Before my move to California, my work tended to be tonal. I had a pretty good grasp of value but didn’t really understand color. Through the process of getting my MFA, I began to learn more about color and how to use it in a way that was symbolic and psychological. This opened so many avenues of expression in my work. It was like an internal faucet that was shut off suddenly opened up. Now my work has a lot of color, but I’ve kept my love of value structure there as well.
Describe an obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it.
A lot of the obstacles I faced were internal. After moving to California, I had to face many of the mental blocks and patterns that were holding me back. Defense mechanisms that I had developed over the years. Moving to California gave me the space and freedom to finally let go of all that. I still struggle with it sometimes, but I’m now much more aware of it and can be more compassionate to myself.
Nature versus nurture- do you believe you have inherited abilities from creative parents, do you have creative siblings? Can you identify environmental factors or influences which led to your choices or directions?
Neither one of my parents are artistically inclined, haha. My dad is a lawyer, which at first glance seems very opposite from being an artist. I think I get more of that creativity from my mom, although indirectly. She’s studied cosmetology and interior design, two things that involve a certain level of creativity. But that I know of, there are no other artists in my family.
In my case, I think it’s because of environmental factors. Seeing a painting or a drawing that intrigued me. Things that ignited that internal spark of creativity. I became an artist somewhat by chance. When I was young, I thought about becoming a doctor. I was fascinated by the human body. But as time went on, I started to draw and copy from comic books and family photos, simply because I enjoyed it. It was more like I didn’t find art, art found me.
Detail a moment which was the highlight for you, thus far.
Something that will always be a highlight is getting my first feature in American Art Collector. I’ve always loved American Art Collector and have followed them for years. Getting that feature still feels amazing and a bit surreal!
If you could time travel, what advice would you give the younger you, regarding pursuing your artmaking?
I would tell my younger self to take chances. I spent too much time being afraid and holding myself back. I would tell myself to not be so preoccupied with pleasing others, and to listen to your own voice. To not spend a decade in Puerto Rico pursuing art part-time. To go for it and get your MFA. Getting my degree helped my creative growth so much. I wish I had done it sooner.
What do you hope to convey through your work?
That empathy is strength. That we all go through hard times, but we have the strength to get through it, and grow. We have the resilience to reinvent ourselves, start over, and become who we want to be.