Artist Spotlight: Olivia Bonilla

Olivia Bonilla is a painter and sculptor born in Vermont. Bonilla received her BFA in painting, with a minor in sculpture from Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. Bonilla continues to focus on unconventional materiality, an inventive approach to color theory within sculpture. Cement transforms into the soft and fluffy, resin to irresistible hard candy.

Bonilla has recently expanded her approach to sculpture through large installational series and mixed media experimentation. She was a featured artist at the 2019 Affordable Art Fair in NYC and currently on display at The Vendue, Charleston's Art Hotel in the "Welcome to the Jungle" exhibition. Her work has been seen in Vogue Portugal, House Beautiful, Traditional Home, and HBO. She currently resides in Charleston, SC and where she holds her studio.

Miller Gallery: Tell us about this new collection and what your process looks like. 

Image story captured by Photographer Drew Somerville

Olivia Bonilla: In this collection, I continue to use color as a vehicle for conversation within sculptural forms. Materiality has always been an important part in my process, from experimenting with pigmented cement to manipulating resin for a gooey, wet-like finish. This collection has a mix of a seasoned series like the Cupcakes and Gummy Bears with a few new additions. I have introduced a new shape and material to the vocabulary! Heart Kandy is a collection of three-dimensional wall sculptures comparable to the Mega Gummy in scale. These wall sculptures provided me with the perfect canvas to experiment with airbrushing and various finishes and take automotive paint a step further. 

I'm particularly excited about this small batch of cupcake pieces. The cupcake concept is the oldest and most transformative collection I've explored within my work. I started making these back in 2016 and since then, have refined the process. For this last release, I decided to keep the height to around 13 inches, still dynamic in composition and narrative, I feel this size hits a “sweet spot” in scale and still carries the narrative. As the Carolina heat started trickling in, I took inspiration from peaches, yellows, pinks, and purples - a true sun fade-in palette.

MG: What new techniques are showcased in this body of work and how have they impacted your creative practice?

OB: Kandy paints and airbrushing became the focus of this collection and experimentation that I haven't quite explored yet. For those learning with me, Kandy Paints are the watercolor of automotive paints. They are designed to be applied in layers over a “silver” base coat, giving a rich finish. The benefit is achieving an array of colors within one graphic piece. I then went a step further to apply layers of color-tinted resin over the pieces to give the final result depth and a gloss finish.

As an artist that is material-based, I'm always looking for opportunities to add to my artistic skill sets. As a sculptor, I find it's important to understand methods and materials as part of your practice. When the ideas start coming, it's the know-how of various materials that helps facilitate the vision. For example, I wanted to mimic the graphics used on motorcycle tanks and car, so learning the vocabulary of airbrushing was a necessary step in achieving the vision.

MG: Where do you find your inspiration?

OB: 80’s and 90’s color palettes have a special place in what makes me a happy creative. Childhood pastimes and toy culture have a spot too. As a sculptor, I'm fascinated with the “object” or the “thing”. These attachments to toys and memorabilia have always stuck with me. I think it speaks to a collectible sense in my work. 

Along the lines of collecting toys, die-cast cars from the 60's - 90’s have always brought me joy. The design of older cars has such a fascinating story to tell. The colors, the culture, the craftsmanship. Admiring what cars used to be, they've become a nostalgic symbol of a bygone era. I think that's a reason why I gravitate towards car paint so much. Seeing the luster of these colors applied to my nostalgic sculpture, there's something there. This is my fourth year exploring automotive paints and most recently airbrushing techniques. 

For the many reasons why I love color, the color combinations are endless. Combine sculptural forms with inventive “modern patinas" and that's what it's all about. I don't see many sculptors using automotive paint as their “patina” (Patina is a traditional term for finishes, often sculptors use bronze patinas or patina metal to activate a finished look on sculpture) artistically I aim to bridge the gap of color within sculptural elements.  

MG: Do you have a favorite tool or medium you like to use in the studio?

OB: Ah! It's hard to pick just one. I love working with pigmented cement for its opaque and pastel properties, the way it falls in layers in the mold, and has an unpredictability about it. And then resin, it has an equally unpredictable “flight pattern” that goes with the flow of gravity. I love its transparent qualities and resemblance to hard candy, there's sort of a sensual property to it. 

MG: What’s your big goal for 2024?

OB: I can’t believe we're almost to the midpoint of 2024! I'm in the thick of it with some of my big projects. This year, I received a grant from the South Carolina Commission for the Arts, and the project will be finalized next month. For the first time in a decade, I decided to sculpt a portrait, and this time it was of my daughter. It was a challenge! But I'm glad that I followed through with it. The experience opened my eyes to sculpting more figurative forms again. I think there might be some more figurative work mixed into my Candyland coming soon. The Nefertiti and the classical sculpture bust from my solo show, The Grass Is Greener, with the Miller Gallery served as inspiration that influenced this direction. 

Coming up later in the year is the creation of a smaller version of the 4-foot-tall cherry that I made over a year ago! I have been working with a local business to CNC smaller-scaled versions and will start building up the plaster and resin walls very soon. This project will be a fun one in having multiples to play with various gestures. The cherry has become an icon in a lot of my work and I look forward to bringing it to life again. Although I say “smaller” from the base to the tip of the cherry, it will stand around 24” x 8” x 8”. I'm always shooting for the wow factor!


Thank you for tuning into our exclusive chat with Olivia Bonilla! You can explore more of her sculptures here. For any inquiries, please email