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Interview with body positivity artist, Olivia Kitty Gregory

In this week’s interview, Britain Uncovered is speaking with oil painter and body positivity artist, Olivia Kitty Gregory, about how her work is empowering women to find the beauty within themselves. We discuss the art tutorials that rekindled her passion for painting, Olivia’s recent Be Your Own Muse series, the impact of her work, and a great deal more!

Britain Uncovered: Hi Olivia! It’s been so exciting to see all the artwork you’ve been creating this year over on Instagram, and – as big Sophie Tea fans here at Britain Uncovered – it’s great to see that you consider her as one of your primary influences! What was it that first appealed to you about Sophie’s work when you first saw it, and how do you go about using her work as inspiration whilst creating with your own unique flair?

Olivia: Thank you so much, this is my first ever interview so I’m really excited about it. Thank you for reaching out to me!

Ahh Sophie Tea! I love her! Her art tutorials on Instagram were the first thing that stood out to me actually. That’s how I first came across her work and I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing out on! Her buzzing energy was really motivating and I love how you can see that in her work.

Her use of colour is what inspired me most. I’ve always loved using colour in my work – I’m a self-taught artist so I guess I’ve never really learned how to properly mix/paint skin tones and so, when I first started painting, I’d quite literally paint what I saw. I remember my first ever portrait years ago was just a combination of rainbow colours. So, seeing that in art again – especially from someone who is seen as such a force in the art world today – was really inspiring and encouraged me to start using colour again. Whilst I love realism and try to get the perfect skin tones, colour will always remain a prominent part of my artwork.

Also, Sophie’s tutorial is what got me back into painting after a very long, three-year break whilst studying at uni. When I was following it, it just hit me that I need to be doing this again for my own mental health, and then the video became sort of background music as I went off on my own tangent and ended up creating my first piece in ages… it felt amazing!

Britain Uncovered: As we speak, you’re rapidly nearing the end of your Be Your Own Muse This Galentine’s series – which has seen you creating no less than 14 nude oil paintings in a month featuring an array of different women. Could you tell us a little about how the project came about, and the ways in which it’s helping people to find the beauty within themselves?

Olivia: Yes! I am indeed, I have two more left! I’m so excited to finish the series, not because I haven’t enjoyed it, but because I just can’t wait to see them altogether and to look back at it and think ‘Wow! I really did that!’

The project came about quite naturally really. February is an exciting month for me as it’s my birthday two days after Valentine’s Day, so I always knew I wanted to do something special throughout that month (hence my giveaway as well). The original idea was to do a series of women in red underwear for Valentine’s Day, or just in something that made them feel sexy and empowered. Then, as I thought more about it, it felt right to just leave it up to their own devices. I didn’t want to have specific requirements.

Originally, I put the idea to my friends, but then I just plucked up the courage to advertise it on Instagram to encourage women I didn’t know to get involved.

Valentine’s Day can be a hard day for a lot of people. Although it’s something I celebrate with my boyfriend, it upsets me that a lot of people spend the day feeling down because of the pressure to be in a relationship or down because they aren’t in one. That makes me feel sad. You don’t need to be in a relationship for self-validation, you know? It sounds cheesy, but the best and most important relationship is with yourself. I want to use my art to encourage the importance of loving yourself first and a Valentine’s series felt like a step in the right direction. Why not turn a day or month filled with love into something about you, and encourage women to feel that too? So, that’s how Be Your Own Muse came about, because single or not, Valentine’s day or not, you should always be your own muse.

Also, I was originally only going to do 10 paintings, but as I was drafting my Instagram post, 14 just came naturally because obviously Valentine’s Day falls on the 14th, so it just felt right!

I think (well I hope) it has really helped those involved find the beauty within themselves. From the feedback I’ve had it seems that way, so that’s amazing! I think paintings allow you to see yourself in a different light, especially the paintings for this series. There is just something quite breathtaking about the pink background and the fact the main focus of the painting is that their body is powerful. Each painting is a unique statement and every woman in them looks, and is, mesmerising.

Seeing how someone else interprets your body is a very special thing, I think. I guess it just gives them a sense of owning themselves and their body. To be a part of something, a series, is empowering too. It’s something they can look back on and think, “Yeah! I did that, I was a part of that!”

Britain Uncovered: What have you most enjoyed about this particular project, and what has the feedback been like from those who submitted photos for you to work from? I can imagine many people who have been painted have found it an empowering experience, to say the least.

Olivia: It’s been really special. All the feedback has been really positive which is absolutely amazing because, you know, it’s nerve-racking for the artist too. I want to make sure I get it right!

Many people told me that they even found the experience of taking a nude empowering! I think that’s important, as it’s a chance to focus on yourself and feel a little bit sexy – but just for yourself. One woman told me she’d never felt empowered in her body but now she wants to show her painting to everyone. Feedback like that really makes me emotional – in a good way!

What I’ve enjoyed most, of course, is the painting process and receiving such amazing feedback; but also, I feel like I’ve created a small community now with these pieces and that’s pretty cool. Particularly for those who took part, I will always be that artist who gave them the opportunity to be a part of something, encouraging them to see themselves for the beautiful women they are. This is the first time I’ve actually taken the time to sit down and think about it as it’s been go go go since the beginning. When I do think about it, it hits me how amazing the whole experience has been. I’m so proud and grateful to everyone who took part and I’m so happy I could use my art to make a difference to their lives.

Britain Uncovered: It’s clear to see that the theme of body positivity is right at the heart of much of your art, and it’s certainly an important cause that’s helped fuel the content on our own website too. With this in mind, how and why do you think it’s important for you to encourage body positivity through your artwork, and have projects such as the Galentine’s series changed your own perception of body positivity and made an impact on you, as the artist?

Olivia: I think body positivity is just so important, and it comes from my own experiences too. I went to an all girls’ secondary school and I feel like, for me personally, body image seemed to be at the forefront of our lives. Looking a certain way seemed so important back then and it was quite damaging and sad to witness, especially as I reflect on it. I feel like it’s something everyone goes through, whether they speak about it or not.

Today, it’s become more prominent and there are many more movements surrounding body positivity, which is so amazing and inspiring to see. I think especially after such a surreal 2020 and the challenge of multiple lockdowns, advocating body positivity and self-love is more important than ever. There’s such a pressure to ‘get ready for June 21st’ or ‘look your best after lockdown’ – it’s as if people are forgetting this has been the hardest time of our lives, individually and nationally! Whilst health is important, your body image shouldn’t come before your mental health. Do what helps your mental health – you don’t need to prove yourself to anyone!

I think like I said previously, having a painting of yourself is so empowering. When someone sees themselves through the eyes of an artist, it changes how they view themselves. They see their body in all its beauty, which hopefully encourages them to appreciate their body for what it is.

The Galentine’s series and my work in general has definitely changed my perception of body positivity and made an impact on me as both an artist and individual. The women involved in the series allowed me to see their body in its natural form, and their courage and bravery is beyond inspiring. It has definitely opened my eyes to the importance of advocating body positivity, and I wish I was surrounded by it when I was younger. I’m more aware of its importance now and as a society I believe we need to do more, for men and women. This is especially true for younger generations who are growing up surrounded by social media. Everyone has their insecurities whether that includes body image or not, and if I can use my art to help that person overcome theirs, well then, I’ll be happy.

Britain Uncovered: Nude art can be an excellent way of empowering people and celebrating bodies of all shapes and sizes, but – on a more general basis – do you think that social nudity experiences (such as life art classes, naked charity fundraisers, nude photoshoots etc) are worthwhile and can help people feel more comfortable about their bodies?

Olivia: Yes! For sure, all of those things are worthwhile! I think photoshoots are empowering and exhilarating. That’s why I use other women in my work – I believe sending a nude photo encourages them to step out of their comfort zone, whilst encouraging them to love themselves and appreciate their body.

Importantly though, I would never push anything onto anyone! You have to respect that some people may not share the same values as you. I think it’s quite subjective – some people might not find nude art empowering but find naked fundraisers empowering. I think it depends on the person really, but I think all the movements you have mentioned are empowering. It’s important to do what you can to help people on their journey to becoming comfortable in their bodies because it’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight. That’s also the beauty in painting nudes – it’s a process which again, doesn’t happen overnight so they sort of echo each other… if that makes sense?

Britain Uncovered: We particularly admire your piece, A Call For Change, which was inspired by David Attenborough’s Life On Our Planet documentary, and it’s interesting seeing the theme of body positivity coupled with an environmental cause such as this. What specifically prompted this creation, and what message would you hope the viewer takes away from it?

Olivia: Ah, that feels like a lifetime ago now! Thank you! I haven’t actually told anyone this, but that series was for a competition on climate change which I entered on a whim, but I haven’t heard back. Lol, you know… you win some you lose some, and I had so much fun creating the piece, so I don’t mind!

I wanted to combine two things I am passionate about – nude art and climate change. I spent hours brainstorming how I could possibly intertwine these to create one painting and then it just came to me; literally a lightbulb moment… why not paint a back with each side showing two contrasting worlds.

I actually love the back. It’s one of my favourite parts of the body and I feel like we tell stories with our backs, with posture and so on. So the message I was trying to give was that as human beings, we are responsible for the future of our planet. We carry that responsibility in our backs almost, or, you could say it’s literally ‘on us’ to change the world, to write the ending of the story. I thought the best way of showing this was by highlighting what the world could be if we decided to change our actions – a utopian world if you like, or sadly, how it’s going to look if we don’t change. So, it literally was ‘A Call for Change.’

Britain Uncovered: In our recent interview with artist Bex Taylor, we looked at how she’s been thinking outside the box and including her artwork on unconventional items such as phone cases and Christmas cards – and, along the same lines, we love the creativity of seeing your art appearing on the side of sustainable drinking cups! How did this come about, and do you enjoy experimenting with new concepts like this?

Olivia: Oh, I love those ideas! I really want to take my art further and create more things like that. Painting on the cups was actually just a random idea that popped into my head the night before my birthday actually. I had some sustainable coffee cups from a café I used to work at, and I just thought, why not personalise them for my family to drink from on my birthday. It was something different and exciting to do.

I can be quite spontaneous with my art sometimes and when an idea comes into my head, I try and put it to paper straight away because I’m worried I’ll lose the idea or artistic drive. It’s quite a bad habit actually because I end up trying to do too many things at once. I need to learn to breathe.

I just love experimenting with new concepts. I have some ideas which I want to bring to life but yes, I definitely want to start painting on unconventional items and hopefully sell them! I’d love to see people drinking out of cups or just using objects with my paintings on, that would be pretty cool.

Britain Uncovered: With your Galentine’s series scheduled to end later this month, what projects are you lining up next, and will body positivity remain a key theme throughout your work? If so, how do you think your art can continue to inspire people to feel better about the skin they’re in?

Olivia: I enjoy pushing myself out of my comfort zone because it creates a new focus, so I want to create some smaller pieces as I’m so used to going large or going home (haha). Also, I want to return to my original pieces and start creating some colourful paintings again. I loved those and enjoyed painting them so much. I just think there is something so joyful about painting with colour. With body positivity, there is something beautiful in seeing your body painted in bright colours and it’s a way to inspire and encourage people to feel better about the skin they are in.

Body positivity will most definitely remain a key theme throughout my work because it’s a movement I’m passionate about. I like to use my art as a tool to encourage movements I am passionate about, like mental health for example – that’s something very close to my heart so I’m already brainstorming how I can integrate this into my work in the future.

I would love to reintroduce portraits into my work because they are something I always struggled with and put off, so I’d like to work on those and get better at painting them. It’s all a work in progress really. I have so many ideas but also a bad habit of overthinking. Like I said, I think of too many things at once and end up becoming overwhelmed, so I’m trying to go one step at a time! However, I am excited for what the future holds and to see how my art progresses. I really want to create my own website and give people the opportunity to buy my work too.

Britain Uncovered: Finally, what would you consider to be your favourite piece to date – and is there anything you could tell us about it that we perhaps might not know?

Olivia: Gosh! That’s a hard question, I actually don’t know how to answer that! If I had to choose, I think it would be my pink one against the black background, just because of the personal meaning behind it.

I’m such a perfectionist, especially when it comes to my artwork, and I find it hard to let myself go. But with that particular painting (which as you can see, is really not perfect) I just went with the flow. You can see the brush strokes so clearly and I think it was the first piece where I really let myself trust the process and not overthink it – I found it exhilarating! The style came quite naturally, so rather than changing it or blending all the colours as I usually do, I let them sit imperfectly and I loved it. I love the contrasting pinks and how you can see the background coming through the body. I want to create more of those for sure, but in different colours.

I find, like everyone, I have good days and bad days with painting. Some days it comes easily and naturally and others it doesn’t. With the majority of my paintings I’ve messaged my friends saying, “It’s awful, I hate it”! And they all know I’m going to end up loving it, and I do! So, one of the most important things I have learnt and keep having to remind myself is not to give up, even if you think it’s a disaster, power through. Sometimes taking a break and stepping away from the painting is all you need to refresh your mind. It’s a process and you’ll get there in the end!

- To see more of Olivia's ever-increasing portfolio and to keep tabs on her upcoming work, follow @byoliviakitty over on Instagram.

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