It's all about image

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 November, 2009, 12:00am

SCANDINAVIAN DESIGNERS are known for their minimalism. Simple, uncomplicated, clean and uncluttered, much like the region's natural landscape. Then there's Katrin Olina. The Icelandic designer's work is a frenzy of flora and fauna, lush landscapes inhabited by characters and creatures that appear trapped between dark and light worlds. But while her designs simultaneously project a sense of chaos and calm, there is one thing that's very clear: fantasy plays a big role in Olina's reality. 'Making things has always been a big part of my life, as has my imagination. Sometimes I feel as if I must define my work but it is difficult,' Olina says.

Olina's images seem alive, to dance on surfaces - many surfaces, in fact, with her designs finding their way on to products as varied as porcelain cups, posters, snowboards, scarves, helmets and couture fashion, testimony of her wide appeal. 'My work spans several creative branches,' she says.

Born in the coastal town of Akureyri, Olina came down with the travel bug at a young age. At 21 she moved to Paris where she graduated from the prestigious Creapole-ESDI design school. Her first job was retail product displays for Est?e Lauder followed by product development for Philippe Starck. Next job stop was Ross Lovegrove's studio in London. Impressive foundations for a budding designer. Since then she has bounced around the globe working in Reykjavik, Tokyo, Milan, Switzerland and Helsinki, completing fine-art installations in several countries including a commission for the Oslo National Gallery in 2005, and 100% Design Tokyo in 2007. From 1998 to 2005, she collaborated with Michael Young in MY Studio, Reykjavik, where they created the popular Coat Hanger Tree for Swedese. She is responsible for the interior design for SKIN clinic in Italy, a line of limited-edition products for the young brand Fornarina, and a graphic series, Art in Porcelain, made in conjunction with German porcelain specialist Rosenthal in 2005. She was also invited to create the official poster and visual identity for last year's Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

One of her most ambitious projects, and one of the most acclaimed, was the Cristal Bar in Central, Hong Kong. Olina was responsible for designing the interior space, which looks like a seamless painting covering more than 365 metres topped off by the bar top which is layered with almost 300,000 Swarovski crystals.

'Cristal Bar was an amazing project because I could cover an entire interior with my graphic universe. It's storytelling in space ... like a door to another universe. Using modern technology to stretch one continuous painting across an interior space, floor to ceiling, is amazing. I also like the fact that this other universe is to be found in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong.'

For Olina, the stark landscape of her home country has been her biggest inspiration, with the long winters feeding her imagination and the summers and midsummer nights giving her the chance to put her ideas into action. 'Iceland is arctic, wild and vast. It's so spacious and inhabited by so few people [only 300,000] that you can easily be a solitary figure in a landscape. Experiencing solitude in nature like this is likely to affect anyone deeply and in my case it has. For me the vastness creates space for the imagination and it's really in this feeling that my work comes from. It is the opposite of Hong Kong where most of your environment is man-made.'

But while her native roots have fed her mind she also realises the role technology has played in her art. 'My inspiration comes through a lot of drawing, a lot of experimenting. It's been a great journey. A lot comes from my native roots in Iceland and from nature in general, cultural history and dreams. But also through spontaneous, fluid drawing. I am naturally curious and spend a lot of time studying. The internet is the biggest wonder of our contemporary world.

'The digital revolution has changed my life. When I got my first computer, I had already worked for some time in the field of product design, but for me the computer was a drawing tool and a good filing cabinet. I've just started animating my graphics and have done short animations, making my world move offers endless possibilities.'

Travel has also been a huge source of inspiration. 'I've been fortunate to be able to travel and live in different parts of the world. Every place has its magic and lots of places are on my list that I'd like to visit. Iceland, my native country, has influenced me more than any other place. My roots are there and when you travel a lot you realise how important your roots are. France also deeply influenced me because I lived there for many years, Japan is magical and Portugal is a place I feel I have a special connection to, also Scandinavia, Hong Kong was great to live in too.

'My last project was to create the visual identity for the Scandinavian short film festival Nordisk Panorama in Reykjavik. I created an animation trailer for the festival with a mascot which was amusing.'

And while dreams, people and nature continue to keep Olina on her creative toes, the designer has one sweet project on top of her wish list. 'As long as the dream is required for a project I'm happy to do it. But I have one project in mind - that is to design a chocolate shop, it would be a boudoir for the senses, a complete fairy tale. My wish list is endless ...'