Painting as Preservation
The painting spoke to me. I saw it in my Facebook feed. It was a plump red pomegranate, splayed open with its ruby seeds dripping onto the dark wood table it sat on. As someone with a large, often unproductive pomegranate tree, I wanted that piece of fruit. Pomegranates are also rich in symbolism in Jewish tradition. As a Jewish woman, I needed to make a place for it in my home.
I knew that the artist, Isabel Oliver, painted. She posted pictures of her work on Facebook pretty regularly. But I knew her better from years of seeing her at events as the wife of Ron Oliver, The Marine Room’s chef de cuisine. So when I visited her website, I discovered a side of her I never really had seen. And it was vibrant with color and style, joy and soulfulness.
Oliver, originally from a small pueblo filled with artisan communities outside of Morelia, Mexico, grew up exposed to artists and their works. But, she said, she never pursued art in those days.
“I wasn’t artistic as a kid,” she said. “I didn’t know I could paint.”
In the ‘90s, she moved to the U.S., married Oliver—whom she actually met when he was traveling near her hometown—and then spent years raising their two daughters.
But, she said, she needed something for herself. At one point, she pulled out a palette of eye shadows she had and, using a Q-tip, painted a fruit bowl.
That was over eight years ago. Oliver found a “Painting for Adults” class at her local Parks and Rec center in San Diego’s South Bay and that was it. She found her calling. Today, she primarily works in acrylic on canvas, although at her home and upstairs studio, she showed me some works in charcoal, pen and ink, colored pencils, and sepia that she’s starting to focus on.
To me, what’s most striking are her acrylic still life paintings of fruits and vegetables. All over the house, walls are filled with images of dragon fruit, asparagus, figs, a mango, lemons, and eggplant. Oliver works with the seasons and many of her paintings have sentimental value.
“The mango reminds me of the summer I was pregnant with Jasmine and all I could eat was mangoes,” she said with a smile. “I call it the ‘Summer of ’98.’”
A lovely rendition of a delicate glossy tangerine looks almost like a photo (I bought that, along with the pomegranate painting.). For Oliver, it’s reminiscent of her childhood celebrations of Las Posadas, when every kid gets a bag and usually a tangerine sits inside. “The smell of those tangerines permeated the bag,” she recalled.
Then there’s a dramatic looking artichoke. It’s from her husband Ron’s first cookbook. The pair of martini glasses? Well, it’s what she and Ron drink when he gets home from work.
Everything has a connection—even if it’s just because it came from a local farmers market. As she noted on her website, “Painting is a way of preservation. Once set on canvas, fruits and veggies will never spoil and flowers become ephemeral no more. I also paint as an homage to farmers. In today’s world, there is a connection and a call to get closer to our food, to understand where it comes from, who it comes from and how it gets to us.”
Oliver recently participated in a show down in Rosarito, and will be in another on—ArtWalk Liberty Station—August 12th and 13th. The event is free and set in Ingram Plaza in the Arts District.