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Artist’s talents help viewers climb through imagination’s keyhole

Artist Oliver enjoying a sip with some figments of her imagination. (West Life photo by Jon Wysochanski)

Artist Oliver enjoying a sip with some figments of her imagination. (West Life photo by Jon Wysochanski)

Things look different through a child’s eyes, but what do they look like through an adult’s eyes trying to recall those distant images?

The work of local artist Oliver App reflects myth, fairy tales and memories all played out in a surrealistic form as paintings on canvas and as puppets. The work will be on display July 15 and 16 at Legation, a gallery, in Cleveland. The exhibit is titled “Climbing Through The Keyhole.”

App, known professionally as simply Oliver, is originally from Georgia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in fine art in illustration and printmaking at Savannah College of Art and Design. She moved to Ohio with her husband Alex, originally from North Olmsted, who is also an artist.

The 29-year-old Oliver, who works at Trader Joe’s in Westlake, said her style of painting and puppet-making is something that comes naturally.

“I have a lot of family members that are artists as well,” Oliver said. “I started drawing at a young age when my grandmother started teaching me how to do watercolors and ink washes.”

From then on she was hooked, and it is safe to say that art is not just a hobby for Oliver. It means everything to her family, herself and her husband.

“Both my husband and I are literally the type of people who will roll out of bed in the morning and we’re thinking art,” she laughed.

She said it is nice being married to Alex because they can give each other constructive feedback while supporting one another and feeding off each other’s strengths.

Alex said he can’t wait to see his wife’s work on display at Legation.

“She’s worked very hard and she’s shown in a lot of galleries and group shows,” he said. “I’m really excited to see her at a solo show. She deserves this and I can’t wait to see it all come together. I love supporting her work. I’m her biggest fan.”

A few years ago Oliver said she started feeling like drawing wasn’t enough. In walked the puppets, dancing through her mind, becoming real creations that are now ready to be displayed and interacted with.

Puppet-making is a different art form than painting, Oliver admitted.

“For the most part I’m self-taught,” she said with regard to puppets. “You meet a couple people along the way that teach you things, whether it’s people that know how to sew really well, or people who have been making puppets. They teach me a few tricks here and there.”

The puppets are made mainly from bass wood, cloth and acrylic paint, Oliver said. They are colorful, creative and wildly surrealistic, just like the paintings that go along with them. Her paintings and drawings are done with watercolor, ink and graphite.

Oliver said she has done shows in the past where it is purely a matter of displaying the artwork, but at other displays the art is intended to be interacted with.

“I want people to be able to touch it; I want them to be involved in it,” she said.

Inspiration for her pieces comes from the concept that everyone is always trying to figure out their place in the world, Oliver said, and things are always changing. Distortions of reality are one way her artwork expresses the theme of growing, changing, interacting and adapting, she added.

“You have this evolution sort of building up, that you’re developing,” she explained. “Whether it’s as a child or adult, (my art) has to do with that connection. The perception you have of yourself as opposed to the perception that others have of you.”

Her inspirations have always been people like Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss and Jim Henson, Oliver said.

“Though they were fun, they always had very deep, meaningful and personal messages behind their work,” she said. “It wasn’t just something that could speak to children; it could speak to anyone.”

She is also inspired by the work of early 20th century artist Egon Schiele, an Austrian figurative painter whose work was known for twisted body shapes and intense, expressive lines.

Oliver’s work will be on display at Legation, July 15 from 5 to 11 p.m. The gallery is located at 1300 D, W. 78th St. in Cleveland. For more information, contact

Oliver at, or visit Legation at




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