by Grady Mitchell | You may not have realized it at the time, but you’ve probably seen an Ola Volo piece before. A stroll through any Vancouver neighbourhood is liable to uncover one of the dozens of walls and buildings, both large and small, that bear the local illustrator’s work. Aside from public spaces, she’s created commissions for Hootsuite, Lululemon, Save On Meats, The Fox Cabaret and numerous companies and publications in Vancouver and beyond. Take a quick look through her portfolio and it’s obvious why.
Ola combines a whimsical fascination with childhood fantasy with the distinct artistic style of her Eastern European heritage, using intricate patterns to tell folky day-dream stories. In addition to her commissions, she is forever scribbling away at personal projects. We pulled her away from the paper and pen to ask a few questions.
I know your heritage has significantly influenced your work. Can you tell me about that style of art, and how it’s affected your work? Multiculturalism has been a very inspirational concept for my work. I come from a diverse Eastern European and Asian background that was complicated by historic transitions during my childhood. My origin, my move to BC, and my subsequent immersion in its own variety of cultures, has undeniably become the main focus of my art. My illustrations merge aspects of history, people, animals and traditions through patterns. I use specific patterns to form specific narratives. Learning about patterns and the ways they are used to embellish and define a culture has been very interesting to me. Thus the mixing of the right kind of pattern is integral to my art, and the intentionality of patterns gives me a lot to play with.
A lot of your work calls back to childhood fantasy. What about that phase of life intrigues you? Great question. When I was growing up, Kazakhstan’s landscape and culture were completely different than they are now. That time of my life seems like a vague dream, as childhood seems for most adults but even more so because of the unrecognizability of the sites of my childhood now. Tapping into those childhood memories, and further exploring stories and characters that shaped my childhood world is a nostalgic act, perhaps. It may sound a bit saddening but its always a fun day at the studio!
Storytelling is another major part of your images. Why is that important to you? How do you incorporate stories into a piece? I believe that a visual narrative is a great way to connect with people especially in multi-lingual cities. I attempt to communicate through anthropomorphism. Through animal characters I’m able to mimic different types of personalities and emotions without excluding too many people, and tell stories that hopefully can be interpreted in different ways.
Any upcoming projects you want people to know about? Lot’s of interesting projects lined up for this year, you can follow me on Instagram and keep up to date with my future projects!