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PEAK PERFORMERS

In conversation with: Ola Volo
 


This imaginative artist will draw you an escape into your wildest dreams.

By: Taylor Lecky | Photos: Agnes Ciaciek

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Volo is wearing the Short But Sweet Crew Crop

Take the time to explore Vancouver, BC, and chances are you’ll come across the work of local illustrator Ola Volo. Whether you’re commuting via public transit, sharing a blanket at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival or strolling through beachy Kitsilano, Volo’s captivating murals are everywhere – and that’s a good thing.

Volo’s inventive work incorporates history, nature and folklore, creating a multilayered narrative rich with symbolism. Her illustrations bring together strangers and friends alike – most recently as the resident artist at TED2016: Dream conference in Vancouver. Volo, a modern day dream catcher, was tasked to listen to the dreams of TED guests and interpret them into illustrations.


We caught Volo in action working on a commissioned piece for local fintech startup MOGO, and sat down with the illustrator afterwards at the Heatley to discuss cultural exchanges, Vancouver’s athletic community and the power of stories without words.

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Volo is wearing the Chatham Culotte

Kit and Ace: Explain your process from start to finish.

Ola Volo:
 The journey begins with the client. I ask questions about their hobbies, neighbourhood and goals – this helps build a narrative I can draw from. I also try to put a bit of my story into every piece to keep my work authentic and personal. It’s important that the concepts are close to your so heart so that each piece feels like it was worth your time. If my work becomes impersonal, I don’t think it’s worth producing.

How did growing up in Kazakhstan inspire your work?

OV:
 Kazakhstan is a melting pot of stories, cultures and patterns with no shortage of Eastern European, Chinese and Middle Eastern influences. It’s an overload of culture in a very unexpected place – I don’t think I ever understood the influence this would have on my work. I use a lot of patterns inspired by Kazakh yurts and intricate rugs, and this transcends into a lot of my work.

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What attracted you to the ideas of anthropomorphism and escapism?

OV: 
Drawing animals as personalities provides an open space for them to represent any gender, culture or mood. There’s this grey area that I’m trying to tap into – I have my clients take a childish approach and put themselves into the character’s shoes. This way, no matter the subject you’re still able to connect. This breaks down communication barriers between different cultures. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Europe, India or Canada looking at one of my pieces – there’s always an innate, human connection.

What mood or atmosphere makes you most want to create?

OV: 
Traveling has had a huge influence on my work and that's why I try to go so frequently. Whenever I move to a new city, it changes my art. When I moved to New York, my work became much more colourful and vibrant. The city is so fashion oriented and everything is so detailed, I couldn’t escape it – there’s nothing that looks out of place. The world became so bright and it was the first time that I saw my work take a huge leap – all in a matter of six months.

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What attracted you to the ideas of anthropomorphism and escapism?

OV:
 Drawing animals as personalities provides an open space for them to represent any gender, culture or mood. There’s this grey area that I’m trying to tap into – I have my clients take a childish approach and put themselves into the character’s shoes. This way, no matter the subject you’re still able to connect. This breaks down communication barriers between different cultures. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Europe, India or Canada looking at one of my pieces – there’s always an innate, human connection.

What mood or atmosphere makes you most want to create?

OV: 
Traveling has had a huge influence on my work and that's why I try to go so frequently. Whenever I move to a new city, it changes my art. When I moved to New York, my work became much more colourful and vibrant. The city is so fashion oriented and everything is so detailed, I couldn’t escape it – there’s nothing that looks out of place. The world became so bright and it was the first time that I saw my work take a huge leap – all in a matter of six months.

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What is the goal of your work?

OV:
 I dream of creating stories that will challenge boundaries and open up a dialogue that can be shared across age generations and countries. I want to bring back the idea of sharing stories through word-of-mouth by creating a visual narrative that is inclusive and brings people together to start a conversation. Narrative work gets people talking and noticing details you normally wouldn’t – it puts you into a whimsical state of mind.

What part of Vancouver do you incorporate more into your work: its natural scenery or modern urbanity?

OV: Vancouver’s nature is so unavoidable that it has to inspire your work. It makes me feel very grounded. Whenever I’m by the ocean and feeling uninspired it’s a good place to restart and be refreshed. When you work in art, it’s not everyday that you can feel inspired. There are ups and downs, every day is different. I think that’s the trick – you cannot have routines when it comes to art – it only works for coffee.

 

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What physical activities aid your creativity?

OV: 
I like to do yoga or spin in the morning so that I can start my day with a positive state of mind. I think this comes with age, when you realize what’s important to you and what makes you feel good about yourself. If it doesn’t make you feel good, then don’t do it. Find a routine that works for you and then make it happen.

What do you think is the biggest barrier for artists in Vancouver?

OV: 
As an art community, we stay in the art community. It’s important to branch out and understand other communities in your city. There’s the tech industry, the sports community, the music world – they’re all very unique, but everybody likes to stay in their comfort zone. It’s important to put yourself out there because you don’t know where your next collaboration is going to come from. You have no idea what inspiration you’re going to tap into.

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Volo is wearing the Short But Sweet Crew Crop

Explore more of Volo's work at olavolo.com and @olavolo