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Biography

"The paintings have elements of humour/slapstick and I have maintained this because othering is an absurd act and therefore I wish to reflect that in how the paintings look ... othering to me is every day, small acts (and of course there are larger violent ones hanging overhead). To try and recreate the everyday feel, I make paintings that are often just domestic scenes or mimic the everydayness of othering."

–Olivia Sterling, She Curates magazine, 2021

Olivia Sterling was born in 1996 in Peterborough, England. She received her MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in 2020.

 

With an aesthetic that nods to the Victorian-era satire magazine Punch and the prints of William Hogarth, Sterling’s work is a contemporary take on the genre scene. Characterised by vibrant colours, bold, curvaceous brushstrokes and a double-portion of humour, these seemingly cheerful compositions serve an allegorical purpose, with the typical, everyday scenes depicted in Sterling’s work holding up a mirror to our lives and our prejudices.

 

Sterling uses what may initially appear as unremarkable scenes of contemporary life to subtly critique racialised ways of seeing. Whether portraying people preparing food, sunburnt holidaymakers by the pool or squirty cream being fired across a table at a party, the scenes she depicts act as symbols for the everyday, proving a platform for us to reflect on how we are confronted by racialised discourse on a day-to-day basis and how even seemingly mundane events are encoded with structures of othering and difference.

 

The tight cropping that typically features in Sterling’s work strips away elements that would give character to the figures and focuses our attention on certain body parts, leaving us only skin tones with which to draw any conclusion about who might be depicted in the work. This focusing is further reinforced by the lettering Sterling often includes in her work, annotating the various colours of the scene, from skin tones to the colours of the inanimate objects. By drawing the viewer’s attention to the colours in her pictures, Sterling forces us to consider how, as a society, we tend to view race in simplified, narrow terms and the biases that are born out of this way of seeing.

 

EDUCATION

2015–2018 BA Fine Art, University of Derby

2018–2020 MA Painting, Royal College of Art, London

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2021

Solo Show, Guts Gallery, UK (forthcoming)

White Bread, Cob Gallery, London

Episodes, CCA Goldsmiths, London (forthcoming)

Selfhood, Berntson Bhattacharjee Gallery, London (forthcoming)

Safe as Milk, Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh, UK
Clutching at Straws, Volt, Eastbourne, UK

It Clings like a Leech, Guts Gallery, London

A Cure for Nose Bleeds, Marriots Way, Reepham Norfolk, UK

2018

Who is civilised?, Gallery No.1, Repton, UK

 

GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2020

Curated for Christmas, All Mouth x Bowes-Parris Gallery, London

RCA Black History Online, David Lisbon, online

Love your symptom, but not too much, Blank Projects, Cape Town

A Rudimentary Education, Art Lacuna, London

London Grads Now, Saatchi Gallery, London

Right Back at You, The Function Suite, London

Begin Again, Guts Gallery, online

BLACK & WHITE, The Orange Garden, online

50/50, FOLD Gallery, London

London’s New Contemporaries, A Space for Art, Hari Hotel, London

Materiality and Connection, curated by Joe Hill, RCA, online

Optimistic, Singular and New, curated by Jony Ive, RCA, online

Urgency, Wit and Rigour, curated by John Bloomfield, RCA, online

I Graduated From My Bedroom, curated by Victor Wang, RCA, online

Slivers and Remnants, curated by Esther Leslie, RCA, online

RCA2020, RCA, online

Tomorrow: London, White Cube, online

Without a Painter, Fitzrovia Gallery, London

Snapshot, RCA Hockney Gallery, London

2019

Meet Me in the Kitchen, UCA Farnham, Surrey, UK

Got it for Cheap, House of Vans, London

Painting from the Other Side, Dyson Gallery, London

2018

WIP, Sackler, RCA Battersea, London

Britannia Mill, Derby, UK

2017

Smoke and Mirrors, Riverlights, Derby, UK

2016

Ilam, Staffordshire, UK

2014

Earth without Art, Spalding, UK

 

RESIDENCIES

2020

HQI Summer residency, London

2016

Extended Contexts, National Trust IIam, UK

 

ARTIST TALKS

2020

HoP Around with Alexandria Smith, RCA, London

Without a Painter in Conversation with Bolane Tajudeen, London

2019

Artist Talk, UCA Farnham, UK

 

AWARDS

2018

Pro Vice-Chancellor / Dean's Award 2018 Degree Show Exhibition