Drawing from her life in El Paso, Marianna Olague’s paintings dissect the concept of “borders”

With a focus on realism and using a bold colour palette, Marianna Olague reveals “the strength and resiliency of those living on the border.”

10 June 2022

For artist Marianna Olague the concept of a ‘border’ is complex and multi-faceted. “When you live near a border, especially one that is so fraught with political conflict and violence, it can feel like balancing on the edge of a knife,” says the artist. “At any moment you will be asked to leave, to return to your country, to ‘where you belong’. And although many people in El Paso were born in the US, including myself, it still feels like we’re immigrants.” On top of this lived experience, Marianna also observes the ‘border’ to be something “nonphysical”, existing as a metaphor for wider structural issues. “It’s a place, but it’s also a feeling, often one of displacement,” the painter adds. With these considerations in mind, and looking to the people and places that surround her, Marianna endeavours to depict a side of life so rarely portrayed in wider media: “I want my paintings to always reveal the strength and resiliency of those living on the border.”

Often showing people in the midst of the working day, sitting at a supermarket checkout or delivering fast food, Marianna’s paintings are a snapshot into everyday life. One such image is Paint All Outlets White, a recent work of Marianna’s that was created for a group exhibition in El Paso. Rarely exhibiting where she lives, she wanted the piece to “evoke a familiarity that people could connect with”. Depicting her brother-in-law who works in labour and construction for apartment complexes, he is shown bending down, spray painting a small wall outlet. Whilst her brother-in-law shared how much he hated the seemingly “inconsequential” task, Marianna was taken aback by how quiet and engrossed he became when completing it. The final painting has a peaceful, meditative feel to it, a quality that makes Marianna most proud. “I loved marking that piece because it is an honest, yet unexpected depiction of manual labour,” says Marianna. “A rare moment when a person can find stillness in a mindless task.”


Marianna Olague: Paint All Outlets White (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2022)

While Paint All Outlets White errs to the more muted side of things, Marianna’s paintings are usually distinguished by their bold use of colour. Marianna’s colours are rooted in her “desire to inject love and life into dark places”, as “the desert we live in is barren and pretty much colourless and I feel it is my duty to reinsert life back into it”. But, on the other hand, colour is a means by which Marianna “describes” emotion. Using oranges, yellows and reds, Marianna pays homage to the desert, but also the fire within: “The subjects in my paintings are always burning from the inside out with untapped rage or desire.”

With her father being a painter and an art teacher, Marianna has been exposed to the arts throughout her whole life, but initially, it was drawing that Marianna fell in love with. Studying the medium at college, it was only at the end of her degree that Marianna switched to painting, from which she hasn’t looked back since. The artist is keen to impress however that her years of drawing still very much inform her style, specifically, her hyper-realism. “Drawing is all about precision and control. You exact more control holding a pencil than you do with a brush,” the artist explains. With that element of precision being so core to her artistry, it bled into her paintings. To this day she still uses a very small brush, for how it feels like drawing. “Being looser with my brush has always been a struggle for me, but perhaps that’s what makes my work interesting,” Marianna ponders.“To me, realism celebrates all the minute details that make up a person or a place.”


Marianna Olague: Mom Delivers Grubhub (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2020)


Marianna Olague: Paper Route (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2021)


Marianna Olague: Roofero (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2020)


Marianna Olague: Blond Grass (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2021)


Marianna Olague: Virgen por el Gateway South (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2021)


Marianna Olague: Por el Camino de Mount Cristo Rey (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2021)


Marianna Olague: Por el Camino de Mount Cristo Rey (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2021)


Marianna Olague: Maya (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2019)


Marianna Olague: En Pleno Día (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2020)

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Marianna Olague: Customer Service Representative (Copyright © Marianna Olague, 2020)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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