Sculpture: an interview with Ondřej Oliva

14 December 2021

SIDERIT, bronze sculpture, 2021

Ondřej Oliva (1982) is a Czech sculptor working with aluminium and bronze. To create his contemporary sculptures, he draws the inspiration from the things around him, his personal experiences and his travels: the artist reinterprets natural elements or commonplace objects using particularly the contrast between natural or organic forms and symmetrical or industrial elements. Ondřej Oliva accepted to give us an interview and answered our questions. We are glad to welcome him at Artistics.

Can you tell us about your background and your studies? How did you become an artist?

I graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in 2010 and since then, for more than ten years, I have lived exclusively on sculpture. I'm very lucky because it's a job I love. I have lived in an artistic environment since birth, because my father is a sculptor, so I was surrounded by art as a child. However, going to the art high school and then to the Academy was my own decision, and it was the right one. 

Which is the inspiration (or multiple inspirations) for your sculptures? 

Inspiration for me and my works is all around me, the important thig is just to keep your eyes open and not be blind to the stimuli around us. For example, while I was studying at college, I travelled to the United States for several years and cooked seafood in a luxury restaurant on the beach. This direct experience with all the materials, textures, scents, and the environment of the kitchen led to the creation of several objects inspired by gastronomy and the aesthetics of serving food. I like to travel, and I always bring an element from my travels that will catch my attention. For example, the sculptures URBANUTS and NUTS were inspired by my travels in Sri Lanka. SIDERIT has been inspired by a stone that fell at my feet during an expedition on an active volcano in Iceland.

NUTS, bronze sculpture, 2018

In recent years the theme of the tree, which I perceive as a symbol, a link between heaven and earth, often appears in my work. Like every faith, its roots are hidden deep and firm in the earth, but the crown touches the heavens. It is a basic archetype in many world mythologies, religious and philosophical traditions. It combines all four elements and the cycle of life. When working with this symbol, I use different approaches – in the sculpture TREE IN THE BOX for example, I insert a disturbance, a radical intervention into the perfectly beautiful natural shape of the tree. 

I like to work with the interweaving of natural textures and organic materials or shapes in direct contrast with inorganic, symmetrical and industrial elements. I like opposites – when the seemingly perfect beauty of a natural motif is suddenly radically disturbed by a foreign element. I want the viewer to ask himself: why this happened? What is hidden under the surface? 

Is there some kind of message or narrative that you want to tell the public through your art?

In my works I try to create visually interesting objects that are readable by their shape and content even for the average viewer. This is also the reason why most of the subjects I choose and work with are based on commonplace things that surround us, so that everyone can easily put them into their own experiences. 

URBANTREE, aluminium sculpture, 2017

Have you ever worked with other materials or would like to? Why did you choose metals as your sculpture material? 

During my studies at school and for some time I experimented with different approaches and types of materials such as epoxy and polyester resins, different types of concrete, or plaster. I also made sculptures from glass and materials that I found in the waste. In recent years, however, I make my works with metals exclusively, because of their stability and immutability. I think that if I put so much effort, work, time and energy into a sculpture when it is created, the result should be final and permanent. I think each metal radiates a specific energy and speaks its own language. From the design phase of the work, I already know what material I will use for the final sculpture.

Can you explain the different phases of your creation process? How do you organise your work? 

If a new sculpture is to be created, I always have the first idea in my head for a long time. Then I get to the design phase, where I draw sketches of different versions on paper or on the computer and I try to find the most suitable one. I usually work on three or four different things at once. I consider and evaluate a lot whether the given sculpture should be realized and whether it will stand up in a confrontation with a wide artistic environment. 

Can you explain your technique? Which are the difficulties linked to it, if there are some?

In the studio I work directly on the model, modelling, shaping, or casting individual elements, fragments of future works. I use the lost wax casting technique, known since hundreds of years BC. At a certain point of this long process, at the foundry, the sculpture is just air, an empty space that will later be filled with metal. This is the riskiest moment in the whole process: if the mould breaks, you have nothing but air, and weeks of work are thrown away in a single moment. After the casting, it's time for chisel work and the final surface treatment. The creation of a new object, from the first idea to the finished thing, always takes at least a few months, but for larger works it can be a year or more. For me the creative process is ongoing: some pieces are still in the design phase, others are in the studio while I work on them and finally others are ready for casting at the foundry. 

Do you have a dream project? 

My sculptural dream is to make a monumental installation in the public space of a European metropolis. I think that the greatest reward for any sculptor is placing his work in a public space where his work is in direct contact with random passers-by, and not just with the art lovers.