“My art is not about what I see… Its about what I invite you to see” are the words of contemporary light artist Olivia Steele, who has earned an international reputation for her spirited public neon happenings. Always symbolic and sometimes irreverent, her neon statements suspend time and motion. The interpretable phrases inhabit spaces of contradictory, confrontational or conciliatory meaning. They crystallize the unity between landscape, semiotics and spectacle that engenders myriad avenues for contemplation.
Steele harnesses the power of neon gas to assert symbolic phrasing that allures and provokes. Her expansive career has seen her impart fragments of wisdom and wit all over the globe, from Tulum to Berlin to Mumbai in the form of site-specific land art and indoor installation. Aside from the immediately iconic and often humorous style of Steele’s work, her interventions are pointedly placed in environments that prompt existential musings. Her innate relationship with the sublime and spiritual manifest as explosive imagery where Steele’s opus positions her as one of the most compelling contemporary artists working in her field today.
Proving that “it is the spectator and not life that art really mirrors,” Steele’s oeuvre is a synthesis of contrast and contradiction. She encapsulates the contemporary storyteller and uses the traditional medium of neon to form her striking expressions that address the vortex of modernity. Her neon works are short, punctuated truths that mirror the ingenuity (or malaise) of the digital age. Her glass acumens are often paired with incendiary imagery – explosive atomic bombs and religious symbols – that are evocative stimuli for the viewer. Covert emotions and unforeseen forces also charge Steele’s themes where her studies into consciousness and the divine pervade her transformative pieces.
In dialogue with media such as facades, rivers, photographs, and found objects, she tells short stories that evoke thought while illuminating our perception with acumens formed in neon glass. Henri Nannen once wrote, “Art has to be provocative, it has to stimulate our thoughts.” With this as encouragement, Olivia Steele uses iconic images such as exploding atomic bombs or the seemingly sacred cross along with deep personal sentiments to jar the viewer beyond the everyday. The nature of her content is both provocative and reflective as her work asks the viewer to consider the hidden emotions and unforeseen forces in these moments of reflection. Another level of Steele’s contemplative works is transformation, inspired by the otherworldly nature of divine inspiration and consciousness. "Good, bad, right or wrong, it’s all relative. Art is notoriously ambiguous as there are no rules. The art of challenging conventional semiotics and observing the vast spectrum of strangers’ reactions and interpretations is both filled with lessons and highly rewarding," says the artist. Yet, she holds true to the belief that it is the spectator and not life that art really mirrors.