OLGA ESTHER | Forlorn Fairy Tales
I believe in a world where people are autonomous and free to be and feel free, regardless of the gender to which they belong. Women can be brave and save ourselves, we can have more goals in life than waiting for the prince charming, we want to be scientists and writers and painters and mechanics and businesswomen and engineers.
Here is an artist who’s journey through life can be mapped in her paintings, hailing from Valencia at the end of Francisco Franco’s reign as prime minister. Born into a world still showing the scars of an oppressive regime Olga was thrust into a complicated and politically tumultuous time. Both her parents are activists fighting in the anti-fascist movement and defenders of social justice. When she was still very young they moved away from the city to seek a new life. This is where we see Olga’s first loves begin to manifest, namely animalsand the world of books. A shy young child she easily becomes enraptured by the worlds within her books, fantasy and science fiction are the genre of choice.
Later in life she leaves this world behind and begins her path as an artist, studying Fine Art at the University of Valencia. It was during her time at the university that she first became aware of the feminist movement and what it means to be a feminist. Attending workshops of the feminist anthropologist Marcela Lagarde. This would have a profound change in every aspect of Olga’s personal and professional life and knowing this will help to understand the complexity of her painting. She traveled outside of Spain during a period of experimentation not only for her art, joining the anti-globalisation movement in Prague and the Zapatista (a guerrilla group to protest economic policies that they believed would negatively affect Mexico’s indigenous population later developing into a forceful political movement that advocated for Mexico’s disenfranchised Indians). This time led to new modes of expression and styles of painting which would look at giving her work meaning beyond simply the aesthetic beauty.
LadyBird ► © Olga Esther
Upon returning to Spain she has gone back to her childhood roots and dedicates herself to painting. With a studio in Ruzafa, Valencia and her little house in the mountains, Olga Esther has put everything into her princesses and knowing more of the artist's back story really allows the viewer to see a deeper meaning with the paintings. There is an undeniable talent to be seen in these works, the level of detail and depth to the paintings is incredible. The artist is able to create these amazingly lifelike representations of young girls, the complexion of the skin, the intricately studied eyes and the true to life hair really make the viewer think that they are looking at a young girl. It’s not simply the facial features that get this in-depth treatment. The clothing and environment are also meticulously painted, every fold and crease in the dresses is there and understanding of how light plays on fabric is astonishing. These princesses are often depicted within their fantasy settings, exquisite house interiors or lush and verdant landscapes again all painting with such realism.
One looks at these paintings and thinks that we should be admiring a fairy tale, the image of a storybook princess, it should conjure feelings of childhood whimsy and imagination. However, this is not the feel of these paintings. Knowing what we do about the artist's background helps us to understand how and why these works have this air to them. There is a sense of longing, of sadness, of imploring. These young girls don’t want to be there, like a young child forced to wear their uncomfortable Sunday best these girls look as if they have been placed in this setting and character but long too somewhere else. Understanding the artist's feminist background it becomes clear that these paintings carry a message to the wider world. Going back through the decades there is a staggering number of girls stories that convey that girls should all want to be princesses, that it is the best life they could wish for, where they are meek and mild beauties who long for their prince charming. It is only fairly recently that there has been a shift within children’s books, movies and cartoons towards portraying girls and women as something more than the helpless princess. They are showing girls that they can be anything they want to be, scientists, adventurers, spies, footballers… artists. Olga Esther’s paintings are a message to us all, we should not sell young girls these pretty pictures of lives as objectified princess’s we should implore them to explore the world and challenge preconceptions much like the artist herself has done throughout her own life.