IT CLINGS LIKE A LEECH : A Debut Solo Show by Olivia Sterling | It's 2020 For F*ck Sake – A Thirteen Artist, Back-to-Back Solo Exhibition Marathon
As a black, plus-sized woman, my “leeches” are centred in racism and fatphobia, but I hope to make paintings that apply to a range negative feelings the viewer feels burdened by — or better put, has grown up with, forced into their minds, which they find now sucking, clingingly, from themselves.
“Persistently or clingingly present.” This idiom refers to the way a leech attaches itself to the person or animal it draws blood from; once they begin feeding, the parasites are very difficult to remove, sucked to the skin.
This series examines the process of unlearning stereotypes, traits, and characteristics that are thrust onto us as children, but which begin to collapse as we enter adulthood. However, as the title suggests, this is not so simple a task — we often find these norms and values “stuck”.
In pursuit of this idea, the paintings contain figures physically removing things, or wrestling with currents, liquids, and objects. In doing so, the figures interact with others facing much the same challenges — the negative thoughts and attributes these gestures signify are made increasingly difficult to overcome when reinforced by one’s context. In this imagery, I examine the practice of dismantling and unlearning biases and phobias pertaining to one’s own identity, particularly when these ills are sewn into the social fabric of our naturalized communities.
Olivia Sterling parallels modes of othering through painting cropped domestic scenes. These scenes focus on blackness, whiteness, and racism’s small indignities and violence through a “slapstick” sensibility. Paintings are often populated with letters and lines, regularly indicating the nearest colour to draw attention to the inanity of the language of race. One might see a “white” hand accompanied by ‘p’, for pink or peach, in contrast to the supposedly superior, pure white, which takes the form of a sticky, liquid ooze.
Her paintings are often set in bathrooms, kitchens, and playgrounds, private or public areas — any place where racism’s macro- and microaggressions might occur. These locations also suggest a variety of transformations, from raw to cooked, dirty to clean, cool to burnt. Sterling believes this aligns with moments of othering and certain observed social phenomena like blackfishing or new modes of exoticization.
In reaction to growing up in a countryside town in England, Olivia Sterling’s paintings often reference British identity by containing specific icons of the British experience, ranging from Victoria sponge cakes, milk bottles, double cream, and Pink Panther biscuits to Girl Guides imagery and plug sockets. Through the use of these objects she wishes to bind her experience as a black woman to its inalienable Britishness, and to tether the paintings to a specific time and place.
Olivia Sterling is a painting and installation artist from Peterborough, living currently in London where she received her MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art. Recent exhibitions include Without a Painter, Fitzrovia Gallery (2020) Tomorrow: London, White Cube (2020), London Grads Now, Saatchi Gallery (2020).
Guts Gallery and Soft Punk Magazine are proud to collaboratively present “It's 2020 For F*ck Sake”, a thirteen artist, back-to-back solo exhibition marathon, running from 24 September 2020 to 21 December 2020, first in a railway arch under Haggerston Station, and now with a return to lockdown, online through VR content.
Born from a desire to refuse the conditions of silence, paralysis, and erasure brought on by our current social and political climate, this exhibition series has been conceived as a means of exhibiting some of the most promising practitioners of the new generation, creating space for display, experimentation, and artistic ownership in an otherwise compromising market.
Actively aware of the scarcity of shows for underrepresented emerging artists, each artist exhibiting has been given full license over the space. However, this is an exhibition marathon founded in community — while each artist has a solo show, the broader ethos is one of collaboration, accessibility, progress, and collective shouldering of one another.
Once more returning to “lockdown” as of Thursday, 5th November, the remainder of the solo exhibitions will be launched and viewed through virtual reality, a viewing room via Guts’ upcoming Artlogic website and of course, Instagram. All of these platforms will be made live at the same time each week on the date the private views were due to take place. We would like viewers to engage with the works as you would in our physical space, curating an environment specific to each show and artist.
At a moment when the arts sector is on the brink of a major crisis, we are committed to continue putting our community first, paying fair wages, and providing sustained support for artists in any way we can.