Interview with Olga Esther for ‘Princesses, Gender Mandates and Other Stories’

Thinkspace Projects is excited to present Olga Esther’s U.S. west coast solo debut ‘Princesses, Gender Mandates, and Other Stories.’

Esther broaches the subjects of gender and feminism using the symbolism of princess tales. Specifically examining gender mandates, Esther investigates how the construction of our identity as women is based on the fulfillment of expected roles and further explores the women who disobey and stray from these societal expectations despite society’s pressure. She turns a critical eye to the myth of Prince Charming and romantic love, exposing patriarchal motivation within classic tales.

In anticipation of ‘Princesses, Gender Mandates, and Other Stories’ our interview with Olga discusses the science fiction world she would inhabit, the structure of her days in the studio, and the techniques she explored with this latest body of work.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I have been painting for as long as I can remember. I was a very shy child and had difficulty relating to other people — I was very responsible, studious, perfectionist and sensitive. I was an only child and lived with my parents in an isolated house in the countryside. So I took refuge in reading, painting and caring for animals. Although I was a happy child, I also felt lonely many times, alone and different.

Feminism came into my life with force, with the liberating force of awareness. And after an experience where I suffered gender violence, my painting began to speak for me.

When I paint I express what moves me, of what I am, and I think there is a lot of that little girl who felt alone and strange within the work. My paintings reflect on all the nobodies in this world, the forgotten, the weird, the vulnerable, the crazy, the ugly, all those who feel that besides having no one, are no one.

I paint princesses who do not want to be princesses. I use the narrative and the symbolism of fairy tales and princesses to make a critique on patriarchal society.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

My paintings talk about feminism. With this exhibition I wanted to talk about gender mandates, how the construction of our identity as women is based on the fulfillment of certain mandates or roles, and how, despite all the pressures, some of us sometimes disobey. Like Tara, who against all recommendations, vowed to adopt only female reincarnations on her path to awakening.

Unconditional surrender, waiting for Prince Charming or the criticism of the myth of romantic love are some of the themes that appear in the paintings. The patriarchy finds in the myth of romantic love the perverse key that exposes the heart of women as an offering of unconditional surrender and sacrifice.

“Never safe” one of my favorite works of this show speaks of the double discrimination suffered by black women due to male chauvinist and racist violence.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

In general, this last exhibition has been a challenge for me, I wanted to investigate the pictorial process of working with grisaille and glazes, which is something I had not done before. And it has been enriching for me, despite the slowness of the process, the doubts and the dramas (I admit, I am a great “drama queen”), there has been magic, and that already compensates everything.

However, I wouldn’t know how to choose the most challenging piece, I guess all of them. When I start a painting I feel as if it were the first and, at the same time, the last. And that always happens to me, with each one of them. It is a feeling of nudity at the beginning and of totality at the end.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

The only ritual I have is to love what I am doing. I don’t know if it sounds corny and maybe it is, but for me painting is an act of love.  I am not able to paint under stress, or in a hurry, or forced. I cannot paint if I am not one with my painting. And for that I need to fall in love and feel that there is truth in what I do.

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days?

My day starts with a little meditation at dawn. And after that moment of connection with myself and silence, my coconut milk with cocoa in my Frida Kahlo mug is sacred.

Then I enter the studio, and from here, the planning is over. Once I start painting, I don’t know when I will finish. I might work for four hours or ten. Sometimes I stop to eat, and sometimes it gets dark in the studio. I only know that I am diurnal, my cycle is solar, and once it is gone, I start to say goodbye until the next day. There is no difference for me between Saturdays, Mondays, or Thursdays. I paint between eight and twelve hours a day. Even though I try to structure my weeks, days and hours, my nature is chaotic and time and time again, my nature overrides any plan.

What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is always the beginning and the end. The beginnings are exciting. A door opens to something new, it is the birth of something unknown. After that first step, the path is a mixture of doubts, certainties, fears, discoveries, sufferings… and when that process comes to a close, peace arrives. The end of a painting is a moment of absolute pleasure, of enjoying the small details, of pampering that being that before was not and now is. Sometimes I compare it to childbirth and I suppose that in a way it is like that.

Do you have a story for your compositions before touching the canvas?  Or does the narrative behind the pieces emerge throughout the creative process?

There is always a story before, always. The process before starting to paint that canvas is almost as long as the moment of painting it.

Once the story is in my head, I start a research work, looking for resources, making sketches…

Although it is also true that once you start a painting, it is as if it takes on a life of its own and will demand changes that you did not foresee. I feel that a dialectic relationship is established between the work and oneself, a dialogue that changes both of us in the process.

If you could live in any book or movie for a day, which would it be, and what would you want to observe/experience?

It would be Dune without a doubt. Dune was the first adult book I read. I was 16 years old and I fell deeply in love with it. I would like to live one day with the Fremen of Dune, ride a worm and fight against those who oppress them.

I admire people who fight to build a fairer and better world for all. In Spain we suffered a civil war in which fascism came to power and stayed in power for forty years in a terrible dictatorship. Many people risked their lives for freedom and democracy. My parents were among those people. My mother was arrested when she was pregnant with me. I remember that when I was a little girl, instead of children’s songs, she sang revolutionary hymns.

I know that we do not live in a just world: poverty, inequality, wars, racism, sexism… Economic interests take precedence over the life and dignity of people, of nature and of all its inhabitants, and yes, there are children who continue to die of hunger. And although each and every one of these injustices fills me with sadness and sense of helplessness; I also know that there are many beautiful and generous people who do not close their eyes. People who do not look the other way. Those who stand by the dispossessed of this Earth helping, building, contributing with big or small gestures.

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be an expert at/ able to do?

mmm…I would love to be an expert in quantum physics. I find it an exciting subject that the more I read about, the less I feel I understand.

If you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive, who would be on the guest list? What would be on the menu? What would be the ice breaker question?

Ohhhh, I love this question!!! There are so many but since I can only choose five I would choose Frida Kahlo, Hildegard of Bingen, Camille Claudel, Alice Walker and Abuela Margarita. It would be an absolutely amazing dinner.

As a menu it would be nice if each of them brought a dish from their culture, or one that they identify with.

To break the ice, the first thing would be to make a toast to them and thank them for all that they have bequeathed to the world.

On view: October 16, 2021 – November 6, 2021

Opening Reception:
Saturday, October 16, 6-10 pm

Due to State-mandated guidelines, masks are required at all times while visiting our gallery. Thank you.