When thinking about art, the mind typically falls toward paintbrushes, famous artwork or beautiful historical pieces, but probably not feet. Toes, an artistic expression of the dancing world, are exactly what artist Kayla Olive is using for her work.
Olive, a 2020 alumna of USC’s School of Art and Design, has work currently displayed in McMaster Gallery. The graduate thesis shows were canceled due to COVID-19, so this show offers a second chance for the artists to display their work.
The gallery holds a series of nine 8-by-6-foot paintings, 50 5-by-7-foot paintings and similar-looking pieces that have been intricately sculptured with "vessels" and ornate containers.
What makes these paintings unique, however, is that instead of brushes, Olive used her feet; not just for novelty’s sake but because of what they represent.
On her website, Olive said her feet and toes are "unique" because of her "genetics and dance training that impacted" her movements. They represent the places she’s been and experiences she’s lived through. Dance has been a huge part of Olive's life and inspiration, but in studio art, there is less opportunity to practice it.
Olive said the mix of watercolors, acrylics, pastels and colored pencils she uses represents the fluidity of dance. Olive said she found "personal freedom" in her search to "disconnect," leading to the realization that this combination of two types of art, dance and painting, provides the "joy of creating, playing and leaving [her] mark."
“My entire show is inspired by my experiences from my childhood dance, and so I would start out each of my paintings laying the canvas on the ground," Olive said. "I would use my feet and dip them into watercolors and acrylics and dance on the canvas and just create a matrix of marks.”
She would later go back to them and add, remove, edit and create the large paintings we see today.
The gallery director of McMaster Gallery, Olga Yukhno, said she has a close connection with Olive through her regular volunteering at the gallery.
“I really connect with the pieces because I love the color. They create warmth for me in a very intimate atmosphere. So every piece just grabs my attention, and I enjoy viewing them as a whole, but also I find an infinite number of different details in every painting that I enjoy. The more I look, I always find something else,” Yukhno said.
In her art career, Olive has taken many steps to find her artistic self, developing the ability to experience and adapt, she said. Starting with other forms like visual art, Olive said she has come a long way since the beginning of her art career in high school and during her undergraduate years at Carson-Newman University in Tennessee.
"Of particular note is her drive and determination to bring her creative vision to light. In producing this show, she put in day after day of marathon studio sessions, dancing on canvas, developing the gestural marks into forms with depth and presence. So much of this intensity is conveyed in these works, and I know they will impact viewers at USC and beyond," Olive's thesis adviser, Sara Schneckloth, said in an email.
Olive has done various art shows with differing forms or inspirations, but toes and sculpture art have been a common theme throughout. She said her artistic voice is why she chooses to do more freeform art now.
“I wanted to have more of a voice, and I wanted my voice to be different and heard in the way I painted something,” Olive said.