I meet Ezequiel Olvera at a backyard cafe in Koreatown. Next to us sit a Tinder date, and around us are a series of pretty Asian mothers and young college students. It's as quintessentially Ktown as you can get on a Sunday night, short of getting stoned and grabbing all-you-can-eat 10 dollar BBQ, and it's the perfect place to examine this city and its ever-shifting culture with the 25-year-old LA native. We’re sitting together to talk about his latest art piece, Spirit on Papa’s Chair. It's a sizable piece that is reinforced (he admits, ‘not well’) on multiple pieces of wooden boards. Inspired by Khalil Joseph’s recent exhibition at MOCA, Double Conscience, the collage started as four separate pieces, with the intention that they would be unified in some way.
Focusing on this simultaneous deconstructing/reconstructing within his pieces, Olvera’s latest work highlights his mastery in contrast, and it’s this ability to make his viewers feel human and vulnerable that makes him an unstoppable force in LA’s art scene. Like a lot of his previous work, there’s a strong musical component well hidden in plain view. Most notably, for this piece, is its ties to Olvera’s late grandfather, who was a jazz trombonist.
The background of his latest collage is adorned with the inner pages of a worn down jazz dictionary he had discovered that contained names of musicians, bands, and song-titles, and included the name of said grandparent. He smeared, tore, and deconstructed, while crafting the background until it became the backdrop of the collage. An old drawing of his grandfather from Olvera's teen years is included in the artwork as well. He finds that these elements tie in greatly with the LA art culture, mentioning Kendrick Lamar’s musical message and Joseph’s video installation. Both at times can focus on death, legacy, and spirit, and Olvera similarly finds himself exploring these themes as well. In the studio of artist Noah Davis that he spent some time working at, The Underground Museum, he notes that there were objects throughout the place, like Davis’ deceased father’s shoes or clothes, and Olvera tells me that the weight it carried resonated heavily throughout.
The idea of a spirit can be a little superfluous, but when someone’s [physical] items are there, you can’t help but feel the weight of [that person]. — Olvera
He toggles between focused and distracted- at one point after the interview, he’ll point out what to me are everyday items, like a dingy light on the typical Ktown apartment complex by the cafe, or tiles that I would have glanced over without a thought if I was alone. They resonate with him in some capacity, striking his eye at opportune moments.
For the average person, the city of LA can blend into liquor stores, taco trucks, and worn down streets, but an artist can see something exciting where others do not. I compare it to the character in American Beauty that is seen filming a flying plastic bag in the wind. I was halfjoking, but he actually earnestly agrees. Another time, he wanted to stop and look at a worn down red lantern close to a spot I personally remember as a place I once blacked out at. I can't help but be a little embarrassed, because while I’m telling an anecdote about a time I got drunk at a NYE event, he’s actually seeing the world with all its fine details. He sees it all in a way that I don’t, or maybe can’t.
His designs are in tune with this simultaneous yo-yo-ing of distraction and hyper-foci. Intricate, disturbing lines create tension in his work. It’s manic, there’s so much going on, but there’s also a calm simplicity when the viewer steps back. His 40Days4Madlib series highlight my point exactly. Dive in to each piece and there’s no end- for example, the subject in his piece Afro Swim has hair that balloons into a whole separate, detailed world. Swimming in it are distorted breasts, faces, and a tree, among other things. Every look reveals something new. And yet, look at the piece as a whole and everything being said shifts entirely. There’s little stories being told underneath the big ones, and perhaps thats what’s happening in his mind as well. Prodigal Son, Dream 1, Fancy Clown, and more all follow this line of intricacy and simplicity. Every man is a walking clusterfuck of contradictory thoughts and feelings, Olvera bears it all on his sleeve. I’ve always thought of myself as creative in some capacity, but it’s not until I hang out with an actual artist that I realize what it means to live in art.
If his 40Days4Madlib series or his latest collage weren't an obvious indicator, he’s a massive fan of the beat scene, but he laments that it doesn’t expand further fringe enough. For such an experimental scene, he ponders, ‘why don’t we see a beat scene drag show?’ It’s such an obscure thought that I’d never once even considered, so I don’t have an answer. He even reveals he’d be a willing participant if there ever was one. It’s interesting- the LA beat scene is considered an apex in experimental style on the West Coast, but it’s dominated largely by men and the very specific gender roles hip hop created early on. It’s an obscure world that boasts being on the fringe, but one that ultimately fails to redefine anything beyond its natural comfort zone. He finds a lot of curious corners of hip hop formulaic; for him, it’s lost it’s experimental touch, and people are no longer, or never were, willing to cross these unspoken boundaries.
Finally, it's nearly impossible to mention Olvera without mentioning his Hip hop fortune cookies. He calls it his “bastard child,” and it doesn’t seem to be his main focus at the moment, but nevertheless, it's attached to his name and worth noting. There's a Frank151 article that goes into it a lot more heavily than I will in this piece, and like a good researcher, of course I had read it beforehand, but when asked, he left it only as something that came to fruition "from a flirtation [he] had with someone [he] no longer talks to, [and] that it's separate from all of his art." Still, to me it shows how far his creativity will go- even with a chance encounter on a night out, he's onto something. He plays it down, but I wish I could come up with something after some dude hit on me.
He explains in lengthy detail his art and at the end, he apologizes for his rambling, which is silly since I didn't have a lot of questions... thankful that he had a lot to say instead. There was a lot to sort through, but the only thing I've decided is that there are no solid answers you will find in art, his or otherwise, only more questions. In terms of what he's working on next, he won't tell me. According to him, it’s because incomplete ideas shouldn’t be revealed, and elements get lost when he does. What he can tell me, is that a zine and a book are slated for a July release.