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Irene Hardwicke Olivieri

Olivieri in her Studio.
Photograph by Mingo Muskatine

Irene Hardwicke Olivieri

Artist Spotlight



Irene Hardwicke Olivieri weaves story, portraits, and lush, fantastic landscapes into her artwork. Pack rats, cougars, and other creatures are as at home in her paintings as family members and allegorical figures. With her brush, she invites viewers into a visual life of universal emotions and experiences connected on a deep, often primitive level.

Since her South Texas childhood on the banks of the Rio Grande River, Olivieri has found the natural world endlessly inspiring. Studies and travels in Brazil—including a cargo boat adventure on the Amazon River—and further art study in Mexico and New York have brought her to her present life, living off the grid in Oregon’s high desert. In her own way and in her own words, Olivieri is “opening a window to the mysterious workshop of nature.” Her intricate, densely layered paintings, many on reclaimed wood or salvaged objects, make evident her fascination with biology, the environment, animal rights, and spiritual ecology. Woven throughout are plants and animals, handpainted natural history writings, species lists, and folk wisdom.

Better is the Ready
Better is the Ready, 2009-2010
Although teeming with life, Olivieri’s paintings and sculptural “paleo mosaics” made of animal bones, porcupine quills, shells, and deconstructed owl pellets do not shy away from death or darkness. A number of her autobiographical canvases address the nature of love and bereavement, present or past relationships, and parts of life that are often subterranean: family secrets, obsessions, and personal transformations.

Olivieri holds her own feet to the fire in unconventional self-portraits with narratives by turns grounded and visionary. In Better is the Ready, a 74 x 31-inch oil painting on a wooden door, a self-sufficient artist-warrior is armed with art supplies rather than weapons, carrying everything she needs to create and survive. Pomegranate has reproduced this larger-than-life work in a jigsaw puzzle and notecard folio.

2014 has been marked by two milestones in the artist’s career—a stunning exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Oregon, and Pomegranate’s publication of the monograph Irene Hardwicke Olivieri: Closer to Wildness. Olivieri’s book and her oeuvre have been admired by diverse audiences and featured in dozens of publications on ecology, environmental journalism, psychology, literature, and fine art. In his introductory essay to the book, Carl Little discusses the artist’s processes and motivations; Olivieri herself provides insights and revelations in brief stories that accompany the artwork, drawing the reader ever closer to wildness.
Mercy on the Rio Grande
Mercy on the Rio Grande, 2013
Paleo Girl
Encantada, 2011



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