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Meet Olivia Petrides

In the Faroe Islands


Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Petrides.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I am an abstract painter who draws inspiration from natural phenomena – caves, volcanoes, lava flows, icebergs, glaciers, and, most recently, the aurora borealis. Physically and metaphorically powerful, they convey the staggering beauty and terror that nature has inspired in us from the beginning.

Love of the outdoors was a family thing. My father was a wildlife ecologist. We lived for years in Africa and traveled extensively in Europe, Scandinavia, Canada and the American West for his research. We lived in national parks for months at a time. My mother was an avid organic gardener and organized garden clubs based on these principles throughout Michigan.

Please tell us about your art.
When I travel, I begin by painting realistic watercolor studies in sketchbooks. I have illustrated several natural history field guides, and that level of observation and cataloging is the underpinning of my abstract work. I find that accurately recording what is around me is essential to understanding a particular environment. As I develop my larger work, these sketchbooks help me to both remember visual structures and to recall the sensory experience of being there: the weather, the dampness of the rock underneath me, the sound of birds overhead or waves pounding against the cliffs.

Returning to my studio in Chicago, I unfurl rolls of watercolor paper on the floor, flood the paper with water and fling black ink onto it. The resulting explosive, organic shapes determine the composition of the work to follow and are a counterweight to the precision of the on-site watercolor studies. I then create surging movements and fluid gestures of black and white marks in response to the underlying spontaneous forms. I work on a monumental scale to evoke the flux and epic sweep of awe-inspiring phenomena. The result is a fissured, restless landscape in which there is no fixed viewpoint and no steadying horizon line.

I would like my work to create a dialogue with viewers in which they recognize both our current uncertain engagement with the natural world and the transcendent, restorative value of the sublime.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
I think a big challenge for artists is how to sustain one’s artistic life over the long haul. It takes time to develop one’s voice and that process can’t be hurried. Exhibitions, residencies and grants are part of the arc of a good career, but art is primarily the development of consciousness, not the production of objects. The object is a catalyst for the evolution of one’s ideas in material form.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
This year, I have solo and two-person exhibits in Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri. Specific information about the exhibits is listed in the “News” section of my website. I also have three public sculptures in the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

Contact Info:

 Installation, Elmhurst College, 2016
 “Polar Nights I”, Ink & gouache on paper, 78” x 364”
 “Polar Nights I, Panel 2 (Detail)”
 “Polar Nights II”, Ink & gouache on paper, 78” x 210”

“Aurora XXI”, Ink & gouache on paper, 52” x 144”
“Vortex I”, Ink & gouache on paper, 52” x 78”

“Aurora XXVII”, Ink & gouache on paper, 44” x 52”

Studio, in front of “Aurora XXI”

Image Credit:
Photos: Nathan Keay

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.


  1. Mark J. Palmeri

    June 30, 2018 at 1:37 pm


  2. Kathy Weaver

    July 2, 2018 at 1:33 am

    Olivia, your travels and stays in nature really inform your work! Wonderful!

  3. Suzanne Cohan-Lange

    July 5, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Olivia, your work is absolutely hypnotic!
    Congratulations on an astonishing body of work!

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