"There have been paintings I've made that I've spent the majority of the time with sobbing, blowing my nose and wiping my eyes."
- Oli Epp
Oli Epp’s bold, playful paintings capture the comedy of shared rituals and behaviours using satirical, simplified humanoid characters. Utilising the visual language of branding, his smooth, distinctive figures are adorned with universally recognisable clothes and accessories that amplify the connection between the canvas and ourselves. We spoke with Oli about his path to becoming an artist...
What was your path to becoming an artist?
My great uncle, Bill Epp, was a Canadian sculptor. One of his sculptures lives at the London Zoo. It’s a life-sized bronze sculpture of Harry Colebourne and the original Winnie ‘the Pooh’ Bear. Knowing that my great uncle was an artist always made this possible. As a child I had aspirations of becoming a cartoonist. I used to love all the golden age Disney Classics. However, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was my favourite. I think it was the first time I saw animated characters and actual people co-exist. I think some of that merging of different worlds and languages is definitely in my new work.
Would you give us a walkthrough on the ideas behind your painting 'Multi-Multitasking?
Multi multitasking', is a much larger version of the painting I made three months prior called ‘Multitasking’. It’s a self portrait of me wearing a black Nike cap with a chewed pencil behind my ear, blowing bubblegum and listening to music. The surface is glittered with little observations, whether it be a hairy mole or a tangled headphones. I like the title as there really isn’t much ‘action’ going on in the painting. It’s a painting of me not engaging with the world. I really liked the formal compositional elements in the work and I knew I had a feature wall for my degree show with really high ceilings. So I blew it up to a narcissistic scale.
There is a witty humour within much of your work. While you also said in a previous interview that "I laugh when I paint." Have you always approached your artwork playfully? And are there ever exceptions when it comes to laughing and painting?
I've always been interested in humour in art. However, it’s not my goal to make people laugh, but to see. I wrote my University Thesis on morality and satire in British pictorial painting from the Georgian Period to the Teenies. Yet, there have been paintings I've made that I've spent the majority of the time with sobbing, blowing my nose and wiping my eyes. I make paintings that make me feel something. I'm really responsive to visuals. My friends hate going to the movies with me, as sometimes my reactions make them jump out their seat.
Immaculate simplified humanoid characters also play a central role in your recent artwork. What inspired the development of these figures? And why humanoid instead of humans?
I would say the character is an extension of myself and my observations. I'm a pretty tragic human being who is in constant battle with myself. I think my character reflects that. My paintings have a cyclical humour about them, they all have their own internal tragedies, trapped in the frame.
I haven't named my figure yet, but it features in all my drawings. I began using an almost childlike simplicity for its frankness, which began to blur the line between figuration and abstraction. They're caricatures almost, but without the exaggerated expression. I think if I was to paint 'real' people in ‘realism’, the viewer wouldn't have that moment of discovery of what is happening in the painting which I think is really important to my work. A eureka moment, of sorts. I like that my character is pathetic and simply formed. It looks like an extension of an ameba cell.
If you could bring any five people from history around a dinner table with you, dead or alive, who would they be?
Ellsworth Kelly Frank Sinatra Judge Judy Jerry Saltz Sheri Klein
How do you see your work evolving and developing in the future?
I’m going to keep pushing the paintings. I feel that I’m in this weird position where I have collectors wanting something ‘similar’ to paintings I have already made. However, I want to keep discovering new and exciting compositions. I’ve really enjoyed playing with colour and luminosity in my works, so that will definitely continue to feature. I also plan to straddle to social classes more in my observations. I’m currently planning a painting about people at the Races in Ascott.
Finally, any advice or words of wisdom for the people reading this?
It’s advice given to me by Jenny Saville. I met her at her private view a couple years back and I nervously attempted to strike up a conversation and embarrassingly told her that ‘I used to make paintings to look like hers’. She replied, ‘make paintings that look like yours’. That moment never left me. I hope it helps one of you to trust yourself. At the end of the day, it's you and your painting for the rest of your life.
You can enjoy more of Oli's work on his website: https://www.oliepp.com/