The artworks by Oli Epp consider abstraction and painting in relation to consumerism, digital imagery, everyday existence and humor. The presence of universally recognisable corporate symbols and particularly of mass-produced goods are usually reflected in the artist’s visual depictions. Thinking critically, Epp seems to develop a distinctive artistic language, which is intelligibly coded and is appreciated by a universal audience that increases the marketability of his work. In this regard, a thorough collection of signs, lines and symbols (mainly commercial logos), objects (hats, tennis balls, sunglasses) and cultural or socio-political icons (Trump, female breasts) consist important elements of Epp’s conceptual framework. Inspired by the pop art, his imagery is defined by the contemporary consumer landscape seems. Common objects and references to our materialistic society are presented through a critical perspective. Epp’s visual language towards our consumer culture encompasses a sharp sense of humor.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
During my conversations with him, the word humor was often mentioned, however not as a quality of being comic, but rather as an intellectual state of mind that drastically resonates with the viewer. Furthermore, what is more interesting is that the depiction of humor on canvas is well calculated, allowing Epp to produce a particular artistic context across his themes. Thus, the sense of humor can be also perceived as a challenge for the artist; especially when it includes qualities that convey a more effective and meaningful expression. Visiting galleries in London, I hardly remember some contemporary artists dealing with such a fresh perspective. Only, John Currin’s recent exhibition at Sadie Coles was an aesthetically pleasing and funny show exploring laughter in high art.
Usually, pop culture artists, whether established or not, set a kitsch approach on their artworks blurring the boundaries between high art or low culture; in Epp’s iconography, there is an evident celebration of the consumeristic lifestyle portrayed by a fresh and playful viewpoint, pale hues and minimal lines. Epp’s paintings don’t employ the original values and techniques of the pop art imagery. On the contrary, his technique is highly involved in an abstract-infused and minimalistic set. Perhaps, Tom Wesselmann’s deliberate association with the contemporary language of consumer culture, along with his dedication to abstract forms, could be an applicable match to Epp’s art.
Epp is a promising emerging artist prepared to experiment with paintings known for their bright colours and geometrical clarity. Abstraction is also employed in his canvases as a distinguishing artistic expression. Thanks to his ability to cope with contemporary matters through a frisky perspective, the final outcome on canvas is linked to a fun-loving intelligence. In addition, by calling attention to the painterly arrangements in his minimal gestures and the diligent awareness of form and colour, Epp’s works render an exuberant variation on the canon of contemporary abstraction. Employing simple gestures on pale-hued canvas, the artist manages to guide the viewer’s eye on subtly surprising depictions, such as the AfterSun and Carpe Diem paintings. Not least, the painter’s sense of space on canvas is also remarkable; The Moment Before my First Pube (2016) or the Pringle duck (2016), for instance, underline the artist’s attention to colour filling the whole canvas with a warm nude hue as well as spreading very little dots or curved lines that give a characteristic shape on the canvas’ frame.
Originating from Canada, Oli Epp (b.1995) currently lives and works in London. Epp is a bachelor Fine Arts student at City and Guilds of London Art School and is currently completing his studies analysing Dale Lewis’ artistry. In this interview with him, Epp opens up himself both as a promising artist as well as an ambitious young man. Particularly, Epp refers to the dynamic of the social media, such as Instagram, and in his own identity as an artist, while offering us the exclusive opportunity to enjoy first the biggest painting he ever made!
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
I laugh when I paint. Mostly because my paintings are informed by my everyday experiences and observations and I’m always on the lookout for overheard conversations or peculiar situations. Actually, a lot of the scenes are quite familiar but I try to bring out the ridiculous in moments we pass by without really appreciating. I begin by recording things I see or remember, in simple line drawing. I then render the drawings on my iPhone or Photoshop to play around with colour, composition etc. So I approach the painting with a design in hand but it’s not a straightforward execution of the design. Painting imposes a lot of unknowns and you end up relying on intuition to get through it – I’m happiest when I’m painting intuitively.
Can you say a bit about what is going on in your recent work?
My painting, Carpe Diem, is a sort of response to a 24hr McDonald’s drive thru that I just moved next to. The main figure is an amorphous worm man that recurs in quite a few pictures. These avatars have oversized heads and are hermetically sealed by an absence of facial features, which is an exaggerated reflection on human interaction in the post digital age – these figures appear idiotically isolated, but adorned with earpieces, branded items of clothing and objects that are important to consumption and communication. I use the visual language of branding and interplay between graphic and painterly surfaces to create optical confusion, echoing the way that our real and digital lives are merged.
How would you define your work in few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
Dale Lewis. I think I’m his loony number one fan. He paints these monumental, crude, debaucherous scenes of disenfranchised groups, having sex in public and getting in fights. I love the honesty and rudeness in his works. There are just so many references in his paintings, from religious icon painting to abstract expressionism. He visited me in my studio a few weeks back and gave me the best crit. He has been instrumental to the progression of my latest body of work. My paintings are becoming more autobiographical. Other artists, I’m thinking about include Austin Lee, Christopher Page, Leonhard Hurzlmeier, Louise Bonnet, the list goes on…
What was the latest video you watched on social media, which had an impact on your mood?
It was a Takeshi Castle esque video that came up in my Homefeed, of a person just doing it so wrong. I laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop laughing. I get a lot of inspiration from videos on social media. It’s a great resource where people collectively record their contemporary rituals and behaviours. My work is all about that.
Creating a new painting is a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?
The paintings always come first. Some days I forget to eat lunch because I’m so involved with the work. However, my art school closes at 8pm so from then I have the freedom to go to a film with a friend or catch the last 30 minutes of a Private View…
How important is Instagram to you as an artist?
Since being more active with it, the most amazing opportunities have surfaced. A few months back I was featured in an article in GQ Magazine, titled ‘Early Blue Chip Artists to Invest In’. They only knew of my work through insta as my website wasn’t up and running then. Since then, even more exciting things have come about. I love how Instagram enables artists to connect with each other regardless of proximity. I wouldn’t be doing this interview without it.
How do you know when a painting is finished?
I feel like the painting is done when I’m happy with the title – there comes a point where I can give the painting a life of its own by titling it and then it’s ready. I’ve killed paintings before, by putting them out into the world too soon.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
I’m studying at City & Guilds of London Art School, a magical place. You would be surprised that my paintings are so clean and graphic. It’s packed with stuff. I was awarded a scholarship last year, and the financial support I received enabled me to quit my part time job and LIVE in the studio. It’s a great place to be because the tutors are wildly inspiring. When I die I’m leaving everything to that place; hopefully by then it will be a bit more than some chewed up pencils and empty spray cans.
What music do you listen to when you paint?
A lot of easy 80s (Spandau Ballet everyday this week) and Frank Sinatra. He’s my guilty pleasure, but then again, I don’t feel that guilty about it.
Which exhibition did you visit last?
Ben Jamie at UNIT9 in Shoreditch, that is one killer show.
What is your favorite time of the day?
9am on a Sunday, that’s the opening time for the Dalston Car Boot sale. You are guaranteed to find me there, I’m a hoarder of objects and a lover of a discount.
What does your mum think about your art?
I don’t think she gets it, she still shows people works I made when I was 16. But either way she comes to all my shows, and leaves me a gazillion voice notes on whatsapp telling me how proud she is.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Morning person. I’m basically narcoleptic after 8pm.
Do you have a favourite painting?
The portrait of the Duke of Urbino by Piero della Francesca. That painting destroys me. It’s a painting that is possibly too honest.
Is the glass half empty or half full?
What are your plans for the near future?
I’m currently preparing for my Degree Show at City & Guilds of London Art School in Kennington. The Private View is taking place on the 27th of June 2017 and the show will be on until the 2nd of July. Definitely, come and see the work. This year, alongside the degree students, the resident artists Jessie Mackinson and Jonny Green will be doing an open studio, I love their paintings. I think it’s going to be an exciting exhibition. Hope to see you there 🙂