April South-Olson is an abstract artist using the layered techniques found in Encaustic Painting as an exploration of growth, character and the passage of time. April is envious that she can allow chaos and mistakes in her painting process but is unappreciative of them in her personal life. She currently resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where she spends her time exercising her peaceful laziness—sitting in a porch swing while her children play in the yard and the clouds drift by are her inspiration, and the only driving force she needs to spend hours a day in the studio.
I am fascinated by the act of creation. Sometimes that creation is a child drawing a line on paper; sometimes it is the changing skyline that surrounds us every day. My work subtly exposes the human connection to the natural world by capturing a single moment in time--a connection that is easy to misplace. Every moment we experience is a collection of our histories reflected back at us--all of our choices and everything that helped inform those choices.
The encaustic medium allows me to layer the work and develop a history within the piece. Each layer helps create the next by guiding the bristles of the brush around elevations and into the deficits. Color from previous layers bleed into the next giving direction to the final surface.
1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now?
Since having children reading has been a luxury, but when the pandemic hit, I needed to listen to something while I painted. I started listening to a lot of trashy fiction and I punctuate some nonfiction in there too. Some of the books that have helped me along the way are The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, Succulent Wild Woman by Sark, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, and 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson.
2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic?
I have been working on making sure my galleries have enough of my artwork, which has kept me extremely busy this summer on top of commissions and getting ready for this show. This pandemic has been quite easy for me. I was very lucky. At first, I was highly nervous because I didn’t think people would go out and view art at galleries or even spend money on luxury items like art. I was completely wrong. I’ve been more successful than ever. The pandemic put restraints on me and closed in my options; it made life simpler for me. There weren’t as many things as possible to do, but paint. Within the tighter constraints it gave me more opportunities to play with ideas I wouldn’t normally have made time for, and my creativity flowed effortlessly. Also, living in the woods helped immensely. Being surrounded by trees has a calming effect for keeping daily anxieties in check with constant inspiration.
3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?
When I first started working with encaustic, I attempted to monetize it in a commercial art production type of manner. Trying to sell to tourists and manufacture art was not fulfilling, but it did get me practiced with the encaustic medium. A catalyst is always good for propelling you closer to your goals.
4. What is your most unusual habit?
Honestly, I’m quite boring. Probably waking up early before the sun. Most people don’t do that. I started getting up at 4:30 am five years ago after getting my first solo show and needing artwork for it. My children were young and demanding so getting up early gave me uninterrupted time when I could paint for a good two hours every day. Watching the sun light up the sky every morning was good too. A lot of inspiration comes from that activity. It’s a special time with just me.
5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?
I’m in love with expressive, wild and saturated color. Henri Matisse’s art has that color I cherish, plus it’s romantic and beautiful with line work that is simple and playful. Matisse’s artwork is what I want to be in life.
6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? Share an image of your studio.
I have a metal pottery needle I use most often, but since I’ve started using texture intentionally, my painting knives have become indispensable tools. I love moving the wax around with them. It’s like frosting a cake; delicious and sweet.
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?
I have a couple of different approaches. When I allow myself the time away from my studio, I do a monotonous activity. Or repetitive. Like pulling weeds in my garden, sweeping, or alphabetizing bookshelves. A laboring task helps too. Like hauling brush, raking new trails on our property, or chopping firewood. The boring helps to clear my head and wash the anxiety away that’s been building up. I can come back to the studio refreshed and I’m always surprised by the burst of creativity. And then other times when I feel like I need to push through a difficult studio time, I will start new paintings as a warmup before I work on a more serious painting. I need a thickness in my paintings, so I have room to incise and scrape away wax to reveal underlayers. I build these beginning layers in a playful and intuitive way. I’m not over thinking anything and often just using what’s easily visible. Having too many choices creates anxieties that lead to excuses to quit before you start. It’s important for me to keep the process playful and refrain from too many options. In the play is where you find new ideas, how to expand what you’re already working on, surprises happen that deliver excitement, and you create things that you’ve never done before.
8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?
Artists offer beauty and hope. Art brings hope to the distraught and chaos. Aesthetic is an important aspect to our emotional wellbeing. There are many feelings of accomplishment and positivity when we tidy and organize a messy room. Art taps into those same places. It gives us pleasure, stories, and pathways to memories.
9. Do you collect anything?
I have a collection of rusty metal and I’m always on the lookout for metal I can use to heat up that might melt into interesting shapes and patterns in my paintings.
10. What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?
Don’t overextend yourself, so you might have to give something up to make your art. It’s important to keep creating things. Experiment in new mediums. Or even, do an art project with your family as a collective. Always make time for what you love no matter what you have to sacrifice for the time.
11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?
Showing up every day to my studio has become the ultimate habit for me. This discipline has given me an incredible freedom. The knowledge I have of encaustic painting and how I can manipulate the paint to my desires, and the growth in my work has given me confidence to push forward and explore new ideas. This habit has made me a prolific artist and I’ve watched my work develop over that time. I can see distinct progress in my work where it plateaus and where it explodes to a new level.
12. Share an inspiring image.
April's work is available on ARTSY as a part of the new online exclusive exhibition: Layered Daydreams
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James May Gallery Dousman, WI 262-753-3130
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