So I emailed Olivia Fraser a bit ago and was very pleased to receive a response from her, given the fact she is in India at the moment! Here is the interview:
1) What media do you work in? The colours in your work are so bold, how do you achieve that?
I have studied traditional Indian miniature painting and I use the techniques and more importantly the pigments that are traditionally used: this means not just buying a tube and squeezing out a branded colour- like Windsor &Newton. I am into slow art where it is all hand-made. I use stone pigments (mixed with Arabic gum) which are ground from rocks sold in the markets in Jaipur. I use semi-precious stones like malachite and lapis lazuli. Jaipur is the centre of the gem industry in India and has a lot of gem off-cuts that are used by the local artists. I also use chalk pigments from the Aravalli Hills around Jaipur and plant pigments like indigo sourced from South India. I like to use my colours without mixing them with other colours so you get the pure colour.
I find that all these colours have a fabulous natural intensity which is emphasized by the process of burnishing (part of the miniature painting technique). You burnish and this fuses and flattens the pigment which then glows like polished stone on your page. This is why miniature paintings are best seen when held in the hand: as this facilitates the play of light glinting off the stone colours.
2) Some of your work, especially the pieces with the cows, the camels, and the goats, remind me a bit of optical illusions. Was that intentional? Do they inspire your work?
I’m fascinated by the traditional rhythmic patterning used in the backgrounds of Indian miniatures to describe landscape. In starting off with this landscape as my subject matter I have become very interested in the contemplative side to creating these repetitive patterns- which is also innate, I think, in the process of actually creating a miniature painting. I think Op Art and optical illusion are a step away from the actual tradition but I think they are also closely allied to it. Indian miniature painting is frequently highly stylized and frequently shows sensation, emotion or “rasas” rather than actual naturalistic representations (eg: there is a type of miniature called a “Ragamala” that depicts musical moods) . I have sought to take this stylized illusion a step further focussing on the iterative and pairing it down to the minimal.
3) I’ve read on your website you have illustrated children’s books, your husband’s books, and had various gallery shows, and teach your own classes! Do you think it is important to explore all aspects of the illustration industry, or just stick to one area so you can become well-known in that field?
I have dabbled in illustration but am basically head over heels in love with miniature painting so really try to just stick to that.
Being “well known” isn’t a goal, being “excellent” is!
4) Your most recent work is a lot more pattern orientated (a bit like surface design) than your previous work, such as the studies of people and buildings. Is that something you have always wanted to experiment with, or were you recently inspired by something that made you want to explore pattern?
I think I’ve answered this for the most part in question 1, however I could add that having spent a good 10 years painting from life (all those people, architectural elevations etc) I am now enjoying plunging into a tradition which is about internal rather external looking. The Rajasthani tradition(Jaipuri and Udaipuri) which I learnt focuses on a knowledge of shape, depiction, line, colour etc without the necessity to actually look at the thing being depicted in real life. I found this very refreshing as there was an excellence to it; it had rigour: there was only one way to paint a banana leaf and you had to get it right without looking at a banana tree.