We had the good fortune of connecting with Olivia Phare and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Olivia, how do you think about risk?
You know, a mentor of mine once said, “Fear is the beacon,” and that became a kind of credo for me. “Risk” plays a big factor in my life and my art. Where other people may see risk and the accompanying fear as a negative experience, I see it as the place where the good stuff really begins. I think the clearest example of this is with my work. I try to stay extremely vulnerable with my concepts and execution, and being deeply honest comes with a lot of risks: “What will people think? How will I explain myself?” etc. These are the kinds of questions that let me know I’m on to something good, and rather than trying to cover up or hide it, I try to get even more open and honest and raw. Fear, risk guides me to my best work. Sometimes, the risk of being that vulnerable ends up being, “expensive,” and I’ve definitely had my share of loss as the result. But the truth is that taking a risk to be vulnerable, to push into the fear, to sit with my own discomfort, has afforded me a much greater sense of self, of purpose, of meaning, of being truly seen, and the amazing thing is it affords those same benefits to other people who have been through similar experiences. They feel seen, they feel understood. They feel, maybe even for a moment, that they aren’t alone, and those benefits outweigh a lot of the downsides that come with risk.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Imagery is my first language. Before I ever laid hands on a camera, I was thinking and imagining and sorting through life’s problems via the visual metaphors in my mind’s eye. As a result, I felt like I could never really communicate what was going on inside me as a kid. When I finally got my first camera at 15 (some dinky point and shoot with 8 megapixels), I felt I could communicate in a way that was intrinsically mine for the first time. The camera became the primary way in which I processed my daily life.
Following high school, I did portraits and events for nearly a decade, even though I studied Fine Art Photography in college. I was a freelance creative director during that time as well, but none of it felt right. Instead, I was burning out; quickly. One day all of my camera gear was stolen out of my car. It was a $15,000 loss, and insurance didn’t cover any of it. A small mental breakdown ensued, followed by a long stretch of time where I didn’t make anything.
For years, I worked on figuring out my own boundaries and treating myself with more kindness. I moved out of state, I left my religion, and I did a lot of soul searching. The biggest thing I learned during that time is that it is not wasteful or selfish for me to seriously invest in my fine art practice because making art is just as much about my mental well-being as it is about outward expression. I do not owe my life or creative vision to anyone else, no matter how important they are. In fact, it became abundantly clear that just about everything in my life improved when I was expressing myself through my art, and I wanted my kids to know that you can choose to be who you are at the core of your being without permission from anyone else. Once I grabbed hold of that, I really started making personally resonant and vulnerable art for the first time.
Two years later I was turning 30, And I didn’t have a single finished body of work to show for it. Somewhere deep down, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be seen, and much of that came from my upbringing. I realized that if I wanted to succeed. I had to take myself seriously before anybody else would. I joined a critique group, reconnected with a professor from college as a mentor, and enrolled in a class on how to find and pitch your work to the right gallery. I dedicated the rest of my time to completing the series that would become my first solo exhibition, Hold Me. It paid off. Two months later I had secured my first gallery show at Fine Art Complex 1101 in Tempe, Arizona. It opened in May of this year (2021).
Going to my first opening as an artist, was an amazing achievement. It signified years of work and searching and internal conflict to become the person I really want to be. I sacrificed a lot along the way including my family of origin, including money, including comfort, and I think there are some people who would say it wasn’t worth it. But I know that it is worth it.
I know that being seen for who you truly are and expressing yourself fully is so much more meaningful, important, and exciting than any amount of playing by the rules or meeting other people’s expectations. I know that giving away all of your creative energy in service of another leads to emptiness, but making deeply vulnerable and honest work for yourself can benefit just as many people. I know that risking everything is a small price to pay compared to the risk of losing your truest self to years of lying to and convincing yourself about the world and what you believe your role to be. I know that fear is just an indicator that you’ve found something important to you, and leaning into that fear can change your life for the better in a million ways.
Still to this day, many of the pictures I make are ones I’ve already seen in my mind. The result of self reflection; they are my truth, and I try to communicate those truths with as much integrity as I can, even when it feels like it might kill me. It is through the admission of those truths that I can come home to myself and become more fully alive. Part of me may die, I may lose something along the way, but I see it as more of a refinement than a loss: pruning away the damage and leaning into growth. My hope is that those truths reach other people who who can empathize with my story out of their own experiences, and it can help them move through their own fears, losses, and vulnerabilities into something altogether more vibrant and joyful in their lives.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Having moved to Arizona during the pandemic, I’m still learning the area myself so I’m not the best tour guide. However, if you’re visiting the Phoenix area, you definitely have to take a look at Hive on 16th. It’s full of amazing artist studios, a couple thrift boutiques, and it has a great coffee shop where you can get a drink and snack while you do your shopping. As a parent myself, I consider this place to be pretty kid friendly, but there are a few breakable things around, so it’s best to keep the kids close. Still, every single person working there is super friendly and hospitable and you’re guaranteed to enjoy it.
If you’re into nature and/or hiking, White Tank Mountain Regional Park, is my favorite. It’s stunning, there are a lot of saguaros, and it’s never too crowded. If you’re looking for some rest and relaxation Civana Wellness Resort & Spa in Scottsdale is a special treat my partner and I afford ourselves once in a while, but if you’ve got kids to entertain, The Children’s Museum of Phoenix is absolutely amazing.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost I want to recognize the O’odham, Hohokam, and Piipash peoples who have stewarded this region since time immemorial and have sacrificed much in protesting and sustaining the land that is rightfully theirs. To my partner, Aaron, who has been my greatest supporter, and the love of my life. Photographer, Shane Rocheleau, my mentor, and the one who taught me that “Fear is the beacon.” Tennille Neilsen (who invited me to consider a studio space at Hive on 16th) and all the other artists with studios there; they inspire me daily. Photographer, Alanna Airitam, my art world bestie and literal artistic genius, and finally to Fine Art Complex 1101 in Tempe and Grant Vetter, Program Director & Head Curator. They gave me my first solo exhibition this year and I’m so grateful for their support.
Instagram: @livmakeswork / @oliviapharestudio
Other: TikToK: @oliviapharestudio