Olivia Flanagan: An artist with a passion for making mesmerizing murals

Olivia Flanagan is an artist from New York who specializes in making murals. She has been making art on and off her whole life but especially got into it during quarantine, as she had time to explore the extent of her development as an artist. The 17-year-old is largely self-taught with the help and encouragement from family members and friends who are also artists.

Last September, Flanagan was commissioned to paint a mural at her town’s landing on the Philipstown Depot Theatre for their 25th-anniversary benefit gala. This was her first public mural, and she only had two weeks to complete it. Flanagan said it was stressful but felt good and fulfilling to make artwork other people would see. Her work also has a positive impact on others. The mural was a surprise for the director of the facility. The high school junior believes that “celebratory experiences need art sometimes.” 

When Flanagan first started making murals, she was strongly influenced by psychedelic culture and the counter culture movement of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. She finds psychedelic poster art fascinating and inspiring. Flanagan also finds inspiration from music during that time period. Many of her murals are inspired by songs by David Bowie, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. After finding inspiration from past decades, Flanagan started to explore other sources of inspiration to include in her work and expanded her artistry.

Flanagan has always been interested in patterns. She thinks, “patterns in nature are compelling and beautiful.” Flanagan finds that highlighting the intricate patterns we are immersed in is a magical element to explore in her artwork. She wants her art to emphasize this beauty in natural patterns that she has always seen. Flanagan conveys this critical component in her artwork through organic linework. These details depict fingerprints, tree stumps, vines, edges that waves leave in the sand and other designs that infinitely repeat in nature. 

Art makes Flanagan feel connected to her loved ones and people who share the same passions and values as her. Connecting to other artists and bringing light, color and joy into an environment are both high priorities of hers. Flanagan also thinks it is essential to become immersed in a world where things are made out to be more beautiful than their reality. The scales of Flanagan’s murals tend to be big because she finds that making larger pieces than her physical self contributes to her searching for a sense of fulfillment. She believes, “it is powerful to dedicate yourself to something bigger than yourself. It feels good to make a work of art that will have a greater impact than just your words and that also represents the essence of your passion.” 

Flanagan enjoys using materials that make her excited about putting a piece together. She works primarily with acrylic paint and occasionally with paint markers. Her favorite medium is glitter glue because it is a common classroom art supply for children. She has used glitter glue to represent the morning dew on grass, marmalade skies from the Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and space in a mural inspired by David Bowie’s song “Starman.” Flanagan chose glitter glue for these elements because she thinks “representing objects in the natural world with an artificial medium is an interesting concept to play with.” She says glitter glue brings her work to life. She truly enjoys looking at it, even though it is tedious to work with because you have to watch it dry to ensure it doesn’t drip everywhere. 

Flanagan has a thoroughly developed and distinct artistic style for a young artist that makes all of her work seem like a unified, cohesive collection. She believes it is crucial for artists to create that technique in their work because it makes the artmaking process systematic. An artist’s own stylistic features can also represent something of value, like the patterns of nature she does. She plans to further develop her art style’s sophistication and expand upon her current knowledge and skillset. 

Flanagan says her artwork influences the environment by making people think about the deeper meaning of the places she depicts in her art. Her most recent piece of art is of a garden and is titled The Earth’s New Staple. Flanagan says this piece of art represents the exquisite attributes of plant life and the magical aspects that make it come to life. Gardens represent a sacred space in many cultures and religions and are seen as sanctuaries that embody the essence of nature. The word for garden also signifies enclosure in many languages. Flanagan says these ideas and bigger meanings she has woven into her artwork make you look at the ordinary details and contemplate what they mean to us, our culture and overall, what they represent in society. 

In the future, Flanagan wants to dive deeper into public art and do more projects that will transform her as a person and the communities where her art resides, especially communities in need of some light or positive energy. Flanagan says, “public art installations completely transform the whole mindset of the community and have the power to turn things around for people by bringing a little bit of art into their everyday lives.”

Photographs: The artist painting in her room; the artist with her Philipstown Depot Theatre mural; Lucy’s Sky; and The Earth’s New Staple.

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