Ola Volo (BFA, Emily Carr University) is a Canadian Mural artist and illustrator from Kazakhstan with a distinctive style drawn from folklore, multiculturalism and identity. Her intricate works bring animals, people, architecture and nature together to articulate diverse stories rich with symbolism and elaborate forms. Ola creates complex narratives that acknowledge the subtleties of human nature while celebrating the little surprises of everyday life.
Her work is internationally recognized for its inventiveness and unique stories; every character is full of spirited personality and inhabits a dynamic environment. Her practice lends itself often to the public realm, with many of her murals helping to shape and beautify spaces across the world. As well as creating commissions for a wide range of international clients including Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Lululemon and Volkswagen, Volo also finds time to do gallery artwork.
What part of the world inspires you the most creatively and why?
I was born and raised in Kazakhstan and have always been drawn to Eastern Europe for inspiration for my work. A lot of the patterns, colours and characters you see in my work are inspired by cartoons and books from my childhood. When my family and I moved to Canada, I wanted to merge both worlds in my art, and this was when I found my voice.
Walk us through your typical morning routine. What time are you up? Do you read? Exercise? What do you eat? Any odd habits or superstitions?
On a typical day, I wake up at 6:30 - 7 (I've always been an early bird). I make coffee for my partner and me, and we take 15 minutes to have a coffee, check-in with each other and connect. I also do movement training a few mornings per week. My workout focuses on body positioning since I'm always stretching for painting Murals and crunching over my sketchbook, Ipad, or canvas. I make an effort to avoid all technology until I get to my art studio. Concerning the superstitions, don't get me started - I'm Eastern European, and superstitions are engraved in our culture!
Who is one person you look up to most, and why?
My mother has always been my main inspiration. She is a powerful woman and a creative soul. She taught me to be humble yet highly ambitious.
Favorite artist, musician, and author? Why do they resonate with you?
Gustav Klimpt has always been my favourite artist, and I've been a serious fan since I was 14. I have always been drawn to how he uses symbology between his subjects. The way he illustrated people were edgy and fresh, and his work feels timeless.
What do you do to combat stress and the never-ending to-do list? Any self-care routines?
Stress is a sensitive subject for many of us, and of course, it is one of the craziest things to manage the day you decide to be a professional artist. Stress is a feeling that you choose to interpret as positive or negative! Yet, as creative, we need stress to accomplish our artist mission. I'm presently working on switching the perception of stress and transforming that energy into something positive. It is not easy, and I'm still working on it. However, I found that some habits could help me switch that perspective faster, like exercising, dancing, talking to someone I love, and meditating.
What was your first notable project you worked on, and can you explain the impact it had on your art?
One of the most notable projects I've worked on was a colossal mural in Montreal. Although it wasn't my first Mural, it became a landmark for the city. It is so large that you can spot it from the air from a flight right before landing at the Montreal airport. I was mind blown the first time I saw it on a flight back from Vancouver!
How long did it take you to develop your current illustration style? Is it always evolving? What is your style inspired by?
Classic to say, but it did take me a lifetime. If you looked at my sketchbooks when I was a kid, a teen, and an adult, you could see the style overlaps that reveal where I'm coming from and give you a sense of how my style is evolving.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you've faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I face is to preserve my voice over commercial projects that require many revisions and others people's inputs. However, I believe that art has a place in commercial spaces. I also want art to be part of many homes and public spaces as much as possible, whatever format it comes in. Sometimes, with bigger collaborations comes the acceptance of compromises, which is always a challenge for me and probably most artists.
What's one of your favourite childhood memories? Did it have an impact on your creativity?
Back in Kazakstan, my grandmother had an absolute passion for flowers. So when we were going to the 'Datcha' (a family cottage in Russian), she continually educated me on the significance of each flower, the origin, names, etc. Most of those flowers that we had at the datcha often appear in my work.
If you could help bring exposure to any global issue with your artwork, what would it be?
My main message is about feminine power in all of its forms. For example, the latest cause that I contributed to was one with the Seneca women and Nifty gateway, where the profit of the sales was going to an organization to support women through the war in Ukraine—knowing that they are doing everything in power to protect families, children and elderly. Another important project that I did was with the YWCA, where I painted a giant Mural downtown Vancouver, outside of Burrard station. We integrated QR codes hidden in the Mural to educate digitally about domestic violence toward women and children. In addition, the Mural raised funds to build new housing for YWCA.