Evi O is an award-winning multidisciplinary designer and self-taught artist based in Sydney. Through her art practice, Evi expresses creativity without boundaries and limitations, capturing energy and exploring tension by contrasting colour, lines, curves, texture and space. Growing up in Surabaya, Indonesia, Evi notes it's the prolific women in her early life that instilled her with thriving determination and wit, which is so pronounced in her approach to life and creation.
Evi has exhibited in Sydney and Melbourne and is represented by Saint Cloche, most recently revealed, with ‘DAY TRIP’ her first book in partnership with co-author and partner Andrew Grune. Together, they pay a fitting ode to nature, inspired by their travels writing this book.
Here, we chat with Evi about her creative journey, the women that shaped her and why she aspires to always find beauty in simplicity.
Please share a little bit about yourself - including your background, where you were raised, noting some of the defining aspects that have contributed to the woman you are today.
I grew up in Surabaya, Indonesia, the classic working-class nuclear family. I have been lucky that I have many inspirational women in my life. All my grand-grandmas and grandmas from both sides had a lot of hardship growing up – going through socio economics challenges and various wars – they had to face the adult world earlier than most. I am closest to my Oma Betty, and she tells me a lot of stories that made me think of her as my superhero – she is. She is also quite the advocate of equality (gender or sexuality), without being so gung ho about it, she would drop wisdom here and there that perhaps have made me the curious being I am today. I feel like determination and wit are instilled within me from day one, given the history, and subconsciously it runs through both my personal and creative life. Let’s not forget my parents, they have worked so hard to give me such a privileged growing up, funding my overseas education, and I guess that saying of “bettering” the next generation is a thing I’d perhaps like to also apply in a broader sense of community.
"I guess I could say an idea of a collection is often started during a moment where I had interesting frictions in life – whether personal or philosophical – and the exploration of that moment is showcased through each painting"
Your namesake, Sydney based design studio, specialises in an arena of creative offerings, including print and digital publishing, brand identity and creative collaborations. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative evolution and how it has led you to become a figurehead of the creative industry?
Figurehead is a very kind title, but I will claim it, thanks! I wish there’s a grand story to this, but it is actually a classic story of a young person landing a dream job and the rest is work. I was trying to find work post uni and saw an ad looking for an illustrator to draw a set of dinkus. It was at Penguin Books, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, and following that freelance job, I got a junior designer position and slowly crawled my way up to senior designer. I was with the company for a bit over 8 years before starting my own design studio. That was early 2018, and there was me and Susan, and now we have additionals of Nicole, Kait, Wilson, Zoe, Andrew and Pamela. It’s not one figurehead, it’s a collective when it comes to the design practice.
Meanwhile, I always thought design alone was not enough to explore creativity, hence starting to paint. I got discovered by Amber Creswell Bell who curated the first art show at Saint Cloche gallery (this was 5, 6 years ago?) and it’s also a slow but steady momentum of shows, to today. I only had my first Sydney solo show in 2019 as part of Sydney Contemporary with Saint Cloche. There’s a long way to go with my art practice and I’m enjoying every single second. Would love to also say it’s the same as the above that it’s not just me, but shows are also a production of Kitty, Nadine, Claudia, Zac, Rod and Mitch. I’d say collaborations get you a rich variety of experience and I am a big advocate of that.
At what moment in time did you explore your creative abilities as an artist?
I was working as a book designer at Penguin Books, this was perhaps around 2014 where I bought myself some tubs of acrylics and an easel, and just started painting for fun. I didn’t share much with anyone and it was through instagram that my curator friend Amber Creswell Bell saw a mini study, and she asked me to do a mini collection for a group show. Working with the infectious Saint Cloche gallery director, Kitty Clark, is definitely pivotal in my art practice. Before that I was just painting mainly for myself, but Kitty has not only connected me with an audience, but she has also been a loyal sounding board for the progression of my practice. She advises and guides, but not limits, and she doesn’t let you stray.
You noted in a former interview about the importance of creating with a narrative. Can you tell us about the deeper meanings or interpretations that lie beneath your artworks?
A lot of my artworks are results from observations of the day to day, juxtaposed against a bigger idea. For example, with GIANT I was exploring the topic everyone deals with, existence. What it means to be, and the collection was done through a time that tested myself as an adult – is adulthood even a thing? As with a lot of my artworks, I think the viewers can somehow see a reflection of their own, or have their own interpretation, because the source of inspiration is things we collectively go through as human beings.
How have you used art to reflect on your own perspectives?
I guess I could say an idea of a collection is often started during a moment where I had interesting frictions in life – whether personal or philosophical – and the exploration of that moment is showcased through each painting. I painted Birds to signify moments in life for GIANT and you can see in that collection that each bird carries a different vibe, reflecting the inspiring moment. It’s hard to describe, or maybe I’m not very tactful, but the creative process of putting an idea into a composition is very intuitive and it’s very interesting to see how the audience responds to it in real life. A lot of the time it does capture “that” feeling.
For those pursuing a path in creative realms, what advice would you give them on the end-to-end creative process?
I would say there are probably two pieces of advice I can give. One is, master your craft, whatever it is, get good at it. And only then you have the tools to voice your ideas. Second is don’t be afraid to set goals, say it, and scheme for it. I look up to other inspiring creatives – dead or alive – all the time, and study their paths and have my own takeaways during my research. I also say my dreams to my peers all the time. It is more likely to happen if you say it, rather than keeping it to yourself I think.
How would you describe your personal style? Has it always been this way, or has it evolved over the years?
My boyfriend – who is also an artist/creative extraordinaire – said recently that I see things in 2D. That is probably true, I am attracted to graphic, bold, things, and I really thrive for less is more. Hide all the hard work, and present effortlessly. I think I do that with every aspect of my life. My brain, and my desk, are messy, but my paintings and my wardrobe feature clean lines. I think I always find beauty in purity and simplicity – whether idea or execution – and perhaps that’s what makes me live in this “2D” world.
What is your take on personal ritual? Do you have any non-negotiable morning rituals that set you up for a productive day ahead?
I am not a very ritual person, but I do start and end my days with nice things – a quiet space and some kind of entertainment. Whether it’s a read, a walk, a bite, a tune or sex, I think I owe myself (and others) good vibe and good energy.
What do you love most about Marle?
Surprise! Clean lines!
What is your intention at this moment in life?
To do good by and for the world as much as I can, when I can, and personally to listen to my little self inside that sometimes gets lost in the modern-world noise!
Quick Fire Questions:
Texture or colour?
Summer or winter?
Most treasured accessory?
Isabel Marant silver bracelet which hasn’t come off since October 2018.
M to M of M/M Paris
Currently listening to…
Peggy Gou’s Nabi, on Repeat