Multidisciplinary artist Tia O’Donnell on being an artist for the people
Tia guides us through her fascinating and engrossing childhood-inspired work, and discusses advocating for art as a source of strength.
- Joey Levenson
- 11 June 2021
London born-and-based multidisciplinary artist Tia O’Donnell is quickly making her mark on the contemporary art world. “I started off using drawing as an excuse to stay up past my bedtime, and it worked,” she tells It’s Nice That. Images of her mother gathering in the garden with friends would be a constant source of inspiration for Tia, and often she sat in the middle of her mother’s garden rendezvous and drew the women together. “I think what fascinated me about these events were the powerful women that my mum had around the table, all the bellowing laughs and the sense of sisterhood.” It was this tactical use of drawing that carried Tia through a childhood that was riddled with bullying and struggles with dyslexia. “I was labelled as something that not everyone could understand, but that was actually my superpower,” she says. Now, it’s evident in her maximalist, vivid, and oft-times bewitching works that Tia has found a source of strength within the endless creativity of illustration. “Drawing will always be my way of communication.”
What’s most charming about Tia is how grateful she remains to her younger self. Whilst most contemporary artists often skirt over the juvenile aspects of their work, Tia embraces them. “My style is a very overgrown child refusing to be an adult,” she explains, pointing to the array of artwork she has collected and stored from when she was a child. Using these as references helps guide Tia, but certainly doesn’t limit her. “To be spending my adult life yearning to be a clueless child again through my work only feels natural,” she says. “I love to contrast the childish playfulness in my work with my struggle.” It’s an interesting line between fantasy and reality that Tia plays with, grounding her work squarely in an autobiographical realm whilst taking off into a chaotic Kafka-esque assortment of faces, colours, and collaged shapes. “I view my work as a diary entry,” she tells us, enjoying it most when “audiences are able to relate to it.”
What’s more fascinating about the multi-talented artist is her fragmented process. Being so accomplished in the fields of illustration, painting, collage, and sculpting may seem at first overwhelming – but Tia makes it seem profoundly methodical and somewhat easy. “The process always starts with my diary, and I treat each piece of work as a part of myself,” she begins. “The work will stem from some form of trauma, memory, or experience, and what the project is based on will then determine my format.” Hoarding receipts, tickets, crisp packets, squashed drink cans, and even fabrics and hair she finds along her travels, helps Tia craft a beautiful mosaic-like element into all her pieces. She reassures us that “you’ll often find at least one of these sentimental elements in my work.” For Tia, she considers these treasures as an extension of herself, and by attaching them to her work, she finds “a way of therapy.”
Whilst her style is clearly adept for brand and creative partnerships, it is admirable that Tia has stayed protective of her work’s identity. “Since I struggled for so long with my own identity, I am very protective of it.” Her unapologetic and fierce passion for strong-willed and strong-minded creatives is perhaps what led Tia to her latest project, Will I Get Home Safe? “It’s a project I made based on the safety of women in London,” she explains. The project was a performance piece in collaboration with Central St. Martin’s and The National Gallery, which saw Tia “create a sculpture of a flower with the words ‘Will I Get Home Safe’ across it.” The words were for audiences to ponder as they watched her walk from Trafalgar Square to Christ Church in Spitalfields. “I was inspired to create this performance by a painting inside The National Gallery titled The Rape Of Sabine Women by Rueben. It’s very powerful, poetic and sad.” However, it wasn’t just Rueben who inspired Tia. In her own visceral reaction to the recent tragedy surrounding Sarah Everard, and the overwhelming three-thousand male artists inside the National Gallery (compared to the 20 female artists), Tia ventured out to performance art for the first time as a backlash. It was a brave risk that paid off, but Tia is quick to note that “I was heckled for most of the journey.” Whilst these comments were plentiful – including slut-shaming – Tia was also happy to see “the overwhelming amount of cheers and clapping” on the way, which filled her with hope. We can expect to see the performance piece released soon, she teases, as it was filmed by videographer Christian Roman.
As for what’s next in Tia’s exciting and always-dazzling career, she hopes to soon “host workshops for children.” She’s a proud advocate for breaking down taboos and stigmas within her art, mostly towards mental health in adolescents and building up strength where one may see weakness. “I dream of being able to show others how art really helped me in discovering myself, my emotions and self-love,” she says, drawing on the various ways in which art has healed her. “I am by no means a qualified therapist. However, I believe that through painting, sculpting and drawing you can be your true unapologetic self.”
Tia O’Donnell: T.I.A (Copyright © Tia O’Donnell, 2019)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.