Move Over Betty Page, Famous Pin-Up Artist Olivia takes on the Queen of the Dead
Olivia De Berardinis – known worldwide as simply “Olivia” – is the first name in pin-up art. Since 1985, Olivia has been a contributor to Playboy magazine, where her breathtaking erotic portraits often appear with captions by Hugh Hefner. Olivia’s artwork has been shown in art galleries throughout the United States and Japan, and her work is collected by fans worldwide.
What enticed you most about doing an interpretation of Queen Gethsemoni?
Olivia: I was generously offered the ability to interpret her character by Tom Gilliland of Sideshow, the creator of the Court of the Dead. I was excited to have a new challenge, after spending so many years in the Playboy world. I thought a death-themed pin-up would be refreshing.
What qualities about her do you gravitate towards most?
Olivia: Tom told me that she was powerful, beautiful and nurturing. I interpreted a very solitary interaction, instead of multiple interactions. You die alone – or in this case – with whomever was taking you to the other side. So, I imagined this final, intimate scene.
Describe the inspirations and muse that came from your mother, and any other sources?
Olivia: I was bedside when my father passed away a few years ago. The process of dying was amazing to watch. I’m now watching my 94-year-old, blind, crippled mother fade to a skeleton with white eyes; it’s pretty haunting. When I was a child, her paintings prominently sat on an easel near the living room… What hell for an artist to go blind. Connie always loved her hands, with her extreme alien-like fingers. I asked her: “Mom, I’m painting the Queen the Dead embracing and dragging her charge into the Underworld. Wanna pose?” We laughed and she posed her hands for me. She gave me a couple of snarls and claw hands. I asked her what she thought the Queen would look like, and she replied, “long, black veil.” Connie’s hand is barely seen in the painting, but it is there. So, the Queen has this personal underpinning of a moment in time when my mother and I are taking each other to the end of her life.
Describe your artistic process for this piece, the first studies, working with the model, etc.?
Olivia: I imagined an erotic connection between Gethsemoni and the soul she is transporting: tenderness, passion, a love of life and death. The pose conjured up the taking of a being; an explosion of neurons in her brain that opiates her when she captures the last breath from the mortal. It’s an act of hedonism for her to enjoy: The moment she brings them to the Underworld.
I chose the beautiful Ulorin Vex for the model. We had a plastic, life-sized skeleton that we posed her with. I thought that it would be really easy at first, but I found that it was an awkward object to pose with. The poses sometimes felt like she was advertising with a designer purse, because it was… dead weight.
When we finally freed her from carrying the body and put it on the ground next to her, her body naturally started to embrace and wrap around it. I had her grab the bottom of the rib cage, and I changed her other hand to clasp the heart or spirit she ripped from the being. I love when I have a really expressive model like Ulorin – she gave me exactly what I needed.
What mediums did you use for the final piece?
Olivia: I didn’t start out with a sketch, I went straight out with an acrylic-on-wood study. When I couldn’t work it out, I went to another piece of wood and worked it until she showed up. I wish I planned better, but sometimes I’m not exactly sure of where I’m going and I have to wait and work it till she shows up.
What are you most proud of regarding the final result?
Olivia: That the creator Tom loved this version of the Queen, and that we had a similar vision. I love that the Queen is part of the early development of what I’m sure will be a long life for the Court of the Dead.
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