Meet the Artist // Ona Lillet

Ona Lillet is an artist interested in realms of possibility, questioning ways of living, working, and relating and advocating as a change agent. Creating multi-layered oil paintings that are built up, one decision responding to the last, a series of relationships form a journey into the depths of seeing how relationships of color, texture and shape create new ways of reaching out to what cannot be reached. Finding not a representation of an idea but the experience itself of holding oneself open, Ona’s paintings are filled with space and won

Hello! Thank you for having me in your studio. 

Can you tell me, how did you start your artistic practice? 

I’ve always been a really sensitive and observant person. I’ve always empathised with objects that are around me, even from a really young age. For example, if my mom was baking, I’d be doing drawings on the flour on the table. It just always was a natural part of my life. 

Did you study art? 

Yes, I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I loved the school because it was interdisciplinary and you didn’t have to choose a major. I experimented a lot. It’s important to me to continue pushing and growing as an artist by being open to what you learn from different materials and different processes. I fell in love with oil paint. I feel like there’s endless possibilities of what oil paint can do and what it can say. So, I decided to become a painter pretty quickly, but I always did other things as well. 


Can you tell me a little about your inspirations?

I’m inspired by this great desire to really explore what it means to be really alive as a human being. How do we live better? How do we live more present? How do we find ourselves in relationships with people outside of just work and capitalism, and how can we show up authentically? I’m inspired by a lot of poets. Mary Oliver is such a guru in my life. She’s a poet and writes a lot about nature and about what it means to be a person in this world, and how being an artist is really exploring and engaging with that journey. Jafar Panahi and Yasujirō Ozu are some of my favourite filmmakers, who also have similar ways of asking questions about humanity and doing so through compassion and through embodying their own material. I’m also interested in language, and different forms of language that are not verbal. If you think about sound, if you think about a symphony, without verbiage there is so much meaning in the relationship of sound that I feel the same way about art and painting… The relationships of colour create meaning, create feeling, create a somatic experience… I’m really interested in experience in art. Art is a way to experience yourself and the world and hopefully cause new pathways of openness and connection. I’m not very interested in art that is about telling me something or being informational, but that is really rooted in a somatic experience that causes you to feel differently. And as a result, of course, to think differently too.


Allowing ourselves to take time off can help us tap into these feelings, is that something that made you decide to come to GlogauAIR, and does being here have an impact on your practice? 

Yes it definitely has a big impact on my practice. Not only that it allows the time to focus. What matters the most is not the time to actually do the making, it is the time to do the feeling, to do the emotional work of not being busy. We’re so often busy in our daily lives that we don’t even know what’s going on inside of us. We don’t even know how we’re feeling and what we’re doing, how we are relating to people. Part of having this kind of bubble of time has allowed me to reflect on relationships I’m in, reflect on how I’m feeling about the world and how I can be a part of the world, how I can interact with people. 


I’m thinking of the importance of kindness and compassion in your work, and I can see behind you the painting inspired by the Rainbow Fish, which is a tale about a fish that gives away his most beautiful scales to his friends. This feeling of getting together and sharing is also something you can find in an art residency a lot!

Yes! I think it’s really hard being an artist because it can be a very lonely job. I love being alone, but I also have felt intense loneliness. Being able to be in a community of artists has in some ways renewed my faith that people do care and people are also holding the same path, holding the same hopes for the world through being artists. I think there’s so much sacrifice as an artist, but you gain so much too. Seeing how other people are also really believing in the possibilities for change and showing up for themselves, and therefore also showing up for each other and for this life experience is probably the greatest sense of camaraderie. It’s important that we know that we’re not alone.