Evi O is a self-taught artist and book designer with a curious eye and mind. Evi is constantly exploring and observing her surroundings, moving to Sydney at age 17 from her home in Surabaya, Indonesia. She is a painter, and Evi’s practice fulfils a desire to express her creativity and stories without boundaries and limitations.
The creatures and scenes Evi O paints are symbolic of people, places, and scenes that have left their mark on her – and this affords an intimacy with her subjects that infuses the images with emotional resonance. Growing up in a family of creatives and entrepreneurs, she is strong-minded, motivated, and constantly seeking new and creative ways to work, live in, and paint the world. Colour is a cornerstone of her practice, but her personal style is based on black.
Tell me a little about your upbringing - where were you born and raised? What is your family like, etc?
My family is a mix of working middle-class people, entrepreneurs, academics, and a few creatives, so my family gatherings are always interesting. My grandmother from Dad’s side – Oma Betty – grew up in part during the colonial era. She didn’t go to school, yet she spent all her life absorbed in a variety of entrepreneurial pursuits. My uncle Dede was already fighting for the LGBTQI community internationally during the 70s. These are just a little sampler of the environment I grew up in. I think all of them combined make a lot of sense when I try to explain how I see this small, big world.
How would you best describe what you do professionally?
A ‘creative’ is the term I use loosely to describe what I do, but I understand it’s very broad. I’m a creative director and an artist, and an author. I started with graphic design, and worked in a publishing house for a decade before starting my own design studio of 6, working on brand and publishing projects. I am a practising artist represented by Saint Cloche, and I just wrote a book called Day Trip Sydney, the first of many.
What drew you to the practice of painting? What do you enjoy about it?
I like how ‘no tricks’ it is. It’s almost that painting is perhaps one of the most traditional forms of art, yet it doesn’t limit you from telling a story or an idea and having lively communication with your audience. In its simplicity, you can play with scale and textures to create a more spatial experience. I am just scratching the surface when I talk about my art practice, though.
What inspires your creative practice?
Real life. Real things I see, observe and ponder upon. A lot of them are human-related. I’m obsessed with the idea of being, what it means, and those existential thoughts we all have. The idea I ruminate on for each art piece is always personal, and all of them stem from a personal experience or those of my peers. I feel lucky that the world we live in is filled with interesting people and that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s rather perfect in its imperfection.
Tell me about your day-to-day. Where do you live?
I live in Redfern, and my design and art studio is in Marrickville.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’d get up and tend to my sweet whippet, Henri, and have a sliver of morning niceties with my partner Andrew if time allows before entering the hustle and bustle of the Marrickville studio. Arriving, we would do shouty greetings between office dwellers Daniel Shipp, the wizard photographer, and Paulina DeLaveaux, Thames & Hudson publisher extraordinaire. Then I enter the design and art studio where Susan, Nicole, Kait, Wilson, Zoe, Zac, and I create some magic. A day is a wedge of painting, designing, and meetings, always with music. Before you know it, it’ll be home time. Some days we do longer hours to communicate with clients from the opposite hemisphere, but I am a big promoter of work-life balance, so I stress that you take the evenings as seriously as the mornings. This means dinners and seeing people I love.
What is exciting for you about the current Australian creative landscape?
I think our remote location within this world can be both good or bad. Good in that it is a unique place that will come with its own kind of inspiration, and it is a less ‘noisy’ space if you would like to focus and cook an idea. You can easily witness this when you see the unique works of some Australian artists and designers that are forging their path internationally. But I think it can also be bad if you get comfortable and forget about the many other worlds that exist out there.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’d say crafted. I wear very little colour these days – I wear a lot of black – but I appreciate detailing. Think artistic cuts, a good mix of materials, and not shy of expression.
Do you have any favourite designers (Australian and international)?
My wardrobe is dominated by pieces from Commes Des Garcons, Junya Watanabe, Margiela, Acne, and Henrik Vibskov, a sprinkle of Song for the Mute, Lee Mathews, and Issey Miyake here and there. I’d love to wear a wider variety of brands, but I also know it takes lots of trial and error to find brands with cuts that fit your body - just like a good relationship!
What is one piece in your wardrobe you couldn’t do without?
My oversized Margiela overcoat, that is way too big on me, but I don't care.
Who are your idols?
My Oma Betty is a living, life idol. She is 93 this year, and to grow to her age and be as positive as the sun every single second of her life is an inspiration.
What or who is currently inspiring your world?
I always find Henrik Vibskov inspiring in that he runs his art, music, and fashion practice rather holistically. M/M Paris for their smooth way of marrying art and design.
Describe your workspace - where is it located and what do you need around you to feel creatively motivated?
The design studio is deemed ‘The Yellow Office’ by my 3-year-old friend Lulu, I guess because of the wood panelling on the wall and our oak furniture. It is not the neatest nor most glamorous, but it’s filled with creativity. I liken it to a Japanese architect’s tasteful but messy desk. The art studio is an art studio - panels, paints, and tubs - it’s a working space. Both have different energy. The design office is very fast-paced, but the art studio feels like time stops there. Both always have music on. And both are located at the end of a Marrickville building which used to be Ansett Airlines’ BlackBox investigation office. While the art studio is fine with me alone, the design office needs its inhabitants to feel the way it’s supposed to feel.
Can you take me through the creative and physical process of making one of your works, from inception to the final piece?
It always starts with an idea, then an idea of the execution, before a deep dive into creating the work. The first part is what takes the longest, but once you’re deep in the world… sometimes I don’t want to ever leave!