Olga Manosalvas is a polyglot, of sorts.
Take a trip through her work and you’ll see that she speaks multiple languages through well-defined explorations, artistic styles and mediums.
Her obra de mano, or handmade work, reveals her divergent paths, observations and tics. Olga’s work is a garrison of grotesques, saints, sinners and bawling babies. No one is left untouched — characters pulled from the commedia dell’arte, zaftig cubanas and brasileiras, indigenous madres latinas.
Olga resurrects images seared into her primordial (and to family members, frighteningly accurate) memory. She harnesses found objects and bends them to her creative will. She breathes life into a menagerie of fantastic creatures created from insanely detailed, embroidered fabrics, dressed over crimped wire.
Art is not just a vocation or calling. For Olga it’s her diet, her nutrition. As with her artwork, a simple meal prepared by Olga turns into an exploration of alchemical herbs and ingredients, resulting in something you may have dreamed of, but never before tasted. A stroll to the market becomes a moving meditation, a pilgrimage. She logs a million artistic Fitbit miles in everything she does, transforming quotidian chores into exquisite and finely attuned daily rituals.
Olga is ruled by ritual. She is pulled hard and fast toward an examination of arcane rituals and she holds them up against her Christian upbringing, reverently taking what she needs, and discarding the rest. She doesn’t always choose what she creates; it often chooses her and invites her to take what she needs.
Key West Art & Historical Society honors the work of Florida Keys-based and internationally exhibited painter and sculptor Olga Manosalvas in a solo exhibit entitled “The Restless Eye // The Visions of Olga Manosalvas,” which opened on Friday, July 19, in the Bryan Gallery at the Custom House Museum (281 Front St.).
Olga has been a visual shaman and storyteller of sorts for more than two decades, influenced by her Ecuadorian ancestry, her New York upbringing and most recently as a resident of the Florida Keys. The New York City native studied at the Art Students League, the High School of Art & Design, the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Madrid and at Parsons School of Design. She moved to the Keys after a three-week vacation in 1980 to “live in a place that matched her ideals,” she says, eventually setting up shop first in Key West and then in Sugarloaf with the beloved ‘Baby’s Coffee’ and establishing coffee roasting plants in Miami and Breaux Bridge, La.
Her work is a dazzling amalgam of acrylics, oils, embroidery, found objects and “anything that works,” she says. “I like using society’s discards in my icon pieces because I want to remake them into precious things.”
An overarching theme of “La Familia” and the family circle weaves together articles of faith, the figurative and the occult in her work, as witnessed in “The Listening Man” and “Quick Fix,” two paintings in the upcoming exhibit.
“The first two reflect family dynamics I’ve observed,” she says. “’The Listening Man’ is my ongoing interest in the figurative; ‘Quick Fix,’ my preoccupation with articles of faith and the expectations that come from the adoration of these.”
Viewers will also glean insight from Olga’s sense of memory — a family death in Ecuador and the gathering of the family to wash and dress the departed, dreams and other family scenarios. They will be invited into a meditative realm of ritual, a mixture of Catholicism and esoteric religions she experienced as a child.
“My grandmother decided that my ongoing fever spikes were a result of the evil eye,” she says. “Traditionally it is thought that if an infant is pretty, there are certain people that can make them ill with too much looking, admiring. The ritual involved a doorway, cigar ash, the breaking of an egg to examine for blood and prayer. After this, the cycle of fevers ended.”
“The Restless Eye // The Visions of Olga Manosalvas” exhibit runs through Sep. 30. For more information, call Cori Convertito, Ph.D., at 305-295-6616, ext. 112, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit kwahs.org. Your Museums. Your Community. It Takes an Island. ¦