Skip to main content

--- 9 min read


A meticulous artist who embraces the sloppiness of her craft, Olivia Mae Sinclair is an open book— perhaps a book made from a crisp cotton-linen blend, with frayed pages, loosely bound in a spidery thread. With her latest solo exhibition sponsored by DesignTO debuting at The Combine, we sat down with Olivia to flip through those pages, and pull on a few of those threads. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)


COMBINE: This exhibition is called “AND I KNOW YOU’LL NEVER SEE THIS”. But who’s “YOU”?

Olivia Mae Sinclair: Last year, my exhibition was titled, “BUT I STILL HOPE YOU SEE THIS.” The window read: “OVER 3 MILLION PEOPLE IN THIS CITY AND I DREAD RUNNING INTO YOU.” This was about somebody who was a part of my life for a long time and was no longer part of my life.

I was angry and heartbroken. But I didn't want to run into them because I knew it would hurt me. I knew there was a chance they would see it. And I hoped maybe they would reach out to me. They never did. That was fine. But this time last year, I was going through it, so to speak. And the exhibition was so important to me. 

Writing the proposal for this show, I was thinking about how I could incorporate last year's show. So this show is the response to it. 

COMBINE: Who else is your work talking to?

OMS: When I was at school, I had to take a course: Business for art. They asked, “Who's your demographic?” At the time I was like: I don't know; probably female-identifying like 18 to 20 or 25, maybe 30. But I found over the past few years that it doesn't matter. Anybody that's sad and horny and likes my work— and there's no demographic for that. Surprisingly, I find a lot of older LGBT men love my work.

And I'm like: Yeah, of course. If you're sad, if you're vulnerable, it's for you. I don't know if it’s conceited, but that's what I like about it.

COMBINE: How do you feel your art fits into an institution like DesignTO? 

OMS: What I do has a lot of design sense to it. But I do feel like… “Hey, guys” (waves sheepishly). A lot of the work [in Design TO] is so gorgeous, with people designing chairs and lighting, and I'm not quite doing that. But I like that they include me. I feel like the black sheep in a good way.

COMBINE: Your stuff is pretty personal and raw. How do you feel about speaking to it so openly?

OMS: I was 18, 19 when I started all this. The work was always intimate and confessional. So it took me a couple of months to talk to people about it, but I'm desensitized to it. I’m like whatever, here it is. And people open up to me too. Like I've heard crazy stories because I put myself out there and people will come up to me, like: Here's this crazy, offhand story— and I'm fine with it. Sometimes I feel like the work is maybe so personal people can't relate to it, but they do. They see it as a platform to talk about things they might not want to admit.


COMBINE: Your gallery contains pieces you have to crane your neck to take in, and some you walk across. How does that fit into your gallery?

OMS: My first solo exhibition was entirely interactive. Every piece was made to be touched. The piece that says “WALK ALL OVER ME” was on the ground at the front of the gallery. So people were forced to walk on it. Some people were super excited about it and it was very Instagrammable to be like, “I'm walking on the art”. But some people were very uncomfortable about it— like, “You've spent a lot of time working on this. I don't want to destroy it.” Others are like, “I want to get in there and like fuck it up”. I've had somebody rip my work down before, in Hamilton, at a show. I loved it. I was like: Well that’s your reaction, then yeah, go off.

We're taught these rules in a gallery setting. We don't touch the art. And I'm asking people to break those rules. So the question kind of came to be, rather than how do I encourage them, how do I force them to touch it?

COMBINE: Both literally and figuratively, your art has a lot of “threads” of destruction. How does that play a part in your creative process?

OMS: The destruction of stuff? Absolutely. It's a methodology I call “Sloppy craft”. It's looking at the process of making, rather than what the outcome looks like.

The rules of sewing say that, like, I should trim all this stuff. But I embrace it. No, this is what life really is like. Life isn't neat and trimmed and tidy. No, I'm a fucking mess and that's okay.


COMBINE: Do you have a favorite “sloppy” element in your work?

OMS: I tend to spell things wrong and people will, once in a while, catch it. They’ll say, “You spelt ‘Believe’ wrong”. And I’m like, “Yeah I know. It doesn't matter. You know what it says.” But I really like the threads hanging from all my pieces. I think it’s really special. When threads come off and stick to your clothes, sometimes I say it’s like you're taking a piece home— even though you're not buying it.

COMBINE: What does it mean to have a gift shop in your gallery, so to speak?

OMS: I think it's important. Especially for my work. I can't afford a lot of the art in this city. Maybe if I charged more for my own work, I'd be able to afford more art. But the feedback I get all the time is that “You need to put your prices way up if you want to be taken seriously”. And I have my rebuttal ready: I think the people who enjoy it most should be able to afford to buy it. I always price my work accessibly. It's no good to me sitting in my basement or my studio.


COMBINE: Have you ever made a piece that you thought that you would set out to have be part of like a salable gallery and decided, No, I want to keep this? 

OMS: Not so much. I think the only piece I'm not able to part with is the “WALK ALL OVER ME”. That one's not for sale. I've had many, many offers, but like the amount of money that I would have to charge to purchase it, I don't think somebody would pay that much. And if they did, I still wouldn't want to give it up, you know?

COMBINE: It's like a piece still in progress. Are there any other interactive pieces you have in the works?

OMS: I have an installation coming up, titled “It Takes Two.” It's going to be a 6 foot fabric book. And so two people are needed to flip it.

COMBINE: What's going inside the 6 foot book? 

OMS: You probably have to go with a friend to find out. But it's talking about codependency— inside of relationships, or maybe within your own sadness. Like how it's easier to sort of burrow into being sad than to pull myself out of it. Yeah, so I'm still working through that one for sure. But yeah, I'm excited about it.

COMBINE: What drew you to textile art?

OMS: It was kind of an accident. I was enrolled at Laurier on a sports scholarship— dorm and program paid-for. Everything. Two weeks before moving to Waterloo, my coach quit to work at the Olympic Training Center in Montreal. He divorced his wife and moved. 

He called me like: “Hey, so I'm not going to be coaching anymore.”  So I had to decide, like, am I going to go to a university for a program I don't care about? Or should I just say, “fuck it” and go to art school? So I called Sheridan two weeks before school started, to say, “Can I still come?” 

Olivia sitting for an interview at The Combine


I wasn't sure if I was going to stay but then ended up making friends and being happy. It was totally my calling. Then, by third year, my classmates were making these beautiful crisp, clean pieces— like, gorgeous. My instructors kept telling me, “Your work isn't clean enough. You have to work harder.” But I was working so hard and, yet, I was always compared to my peers. Finally, I decided to lean into it and I made this piece of art that was, all torn up— all fucked up. The instructors loved it.

COMBINE: Tell us about the space where you work now.

OMS: I have a shared space at Harbourfront Studio. I have to clean everything up before I go home each day. But generally, when I'm there working, it's a disaster. Like really bins of stuff, floor-to-ceiling, fabric, and materials. So it's a mess, but I kind of thrive in that.

COMBINE: How do you manage to be such a mess in this rather stiff, reserved culture that we find ourselves in?

OMS: In the studio, I'm not guarded. I'm super vulnerable. I'm a different person right now than in the studio. Like, I might be sobbing making these pieces, and that's fine. Being honest and a little goofy and silly is okay too, because you're right— people are so serious. The art world can be so pretentious, and I don't want to be part of that culture. It’s not even about connecting with people. If I’ve made something and I’m happy with it, I've done what I set out to do.

COMBINE: The “YOU” that this exhibit is addressing— or not addressing: Can you say more about how they influenced this work?

OMS: This year, the piece in the gallery window says: “OVER 3 MILLION PEOPLE IN THIS CITY AND I DREAM OF RUNNING INTO YOU”. The idea is: time heals, you know? 

There are things we wish for so desperately but aren’t ready for. And if this person reached out… am I ready? Now I feel I’m in a place where I don't even want it, but I am ready for it. I've spent so long reflecting and understanding myself and understanding relationships, it's prepared me for it in a way. I've done the work. 

COMBINE: This is the work. 

OMS: This is. This is truly the work.

Written By:The Combine

225 Wellington St WToronto-ON / M5V3G7

The Combine is a division of Tadiem, a framework for forward thinking.

©2024 All Rights Reserved. The Combine®