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Painting Architectural Lines and Spaces: An Interview with Erin Holly



By Amanda-Jane Reynolds

@iamajreynolds






Erin Holly 'Progesterone' 2023. Image courtesy JD Ma lat Gallery© the artist.



London-emerging artist Erin Holly has been exhibiting large-scale oil paintings with visual imagery featuring liminal spaces. The catalogue-inspired architectures aren’t of new design, yet they are contemporary, utilised as representations of the transitioning between the past and the current trajectory. Holly invites the viewer to reflect on their own emotional and physical journey.


In her works, you will come across specific locations such as sitting and dining areas and water closets, most unoccupied except for a few vertically standing figures. The paintings devoid of human forms aren’t devoid of life: flowers, glasses of wine, and food can be observed as well as the architectural features too, which can be understood as characters or, at least, can be characterised. The characterisation of the spaces can be linked to the monochromatic colour palettes chosen, the location and the perspective in which the artist points the viewer.


Interviewing Erin Holly allowed me to delve deeper into these spaces and her artistic practice.

 

 

Your artworks challenge discourses on architecture and its relationship to gender and identity, and how communal and solitary spaces can affect experiences of inclusivity and accessibility. What are your personal experiences around the politics of space?

 

You only have to turn on the news, read a newspaper or look at collections in institutions for example to realise that I am not welcome in certain spaces. My body is politicised by others. When I have practised meditation as a way to feel grounded because of this, I am reminded of the connection I have to the earth. That the land itself provides stability and space for me to grow from. I'm reminded of all the people who support and hold me in my community, and in return, I'm reminded of the ways in which I can be of service to others and actively seek to reduce the harm I cause in the world.


Erin Holly 'The Healer' 2023. Image courtesy JD Ma lat Gallery© the artist

 

The Healer’ is a beautiful painting which features your signature interior environment flushed in a multitude of monochromatic shades of red, with a few pops of contrasting colours. The figure intriguingly reaches out across the canvas towards their shadow.

This painting has been exhibited in your recent solo show ‘A Trans Arrangement of the Painted Space’ and the current group exhibition ‘Contemporary Figuration: Between Body and Metaphor’, both exhibited at JD Malat Gallery in London.

Could you talk us through some of your methodologies within this painting and how they relate to your practice as a whole?

 

This work shows my partner Louie and to me shows the love I feel for the work they do as a community healer. I took this photo after our first-ever bath together in Brussels. All my work is in some autobiographical. We’ve been together for 2 years before that. It was about 6 months after a major surgery. During the first six months of recovery, I experienced a level of care I had never experienced before.

 

It’s a strange image, both vulnerable and protective at the same time. That's Louie and I think that’s what helped me heal mentally as well as physically. Knowing how to understand the boundaries of my body. Having that bath submerged in water changed my life, made me feel new again and helped me leave recovery behind as something I would only remember.



Erin Holly 't4tt4t' 2023. Image courtesy JD Ma lat Gallery© the artist.

 

You have recently used reference materials sourced from interior advertisements and DIY guidebooks spanning from the 1950s up to the present day. How did you source these materials, and why did you choose this period in time?

 

This period of time came to me because a friend of mine was throwing away an amazing book of interior images made in the 70’s. So, I didn't specifically go looking for the images but rather the opposite.  I then collected various books and magazines and also have a collection of digital images I work from since then. I continued to use these images because the longer I looked, researched, and studied them, the more I understood what they represented.


Erin Holly 'Tipping Point' 2023. Image courtesy JD Ma lat Gallery© the artist.

 

These reference images were typically created to persuade consumers looking for aesthetic inspiration. What makes these ready-made, mass-produced images the ideal reference material for your work, as opposed to photographs you might take yourself?

 

They are ideal because they already come loaded with meaning. But I also have the opportunity to transform them, through colour and mark making, but also through language when I add titles to the work. The images give me the chance to have an ongoing exploration into interiority, to keep evolving my understanding of it. It's probably a project that I will continue throughout my life to some extent, however, more recently I am beginning to think on things that are much closer to me personally.

 


Your paintings often feature unoccupied interior spaces. Do you believe them to remain unoccupied, or does the viewer become the occupier, transcending the boundary of the painting?

 

Yes, exactly this. This is always my hope with the work, that the paintings give space to the viewer to imagine themselves in the scenes.

 


Erin Holly 'Levels I' 2023. Image courtesy JD Malat Gallery© the artist.

 

Your paintings also feature an occasional figure, who is this character and what is their relation to the space they inhabit?

 

I am drawn to Rainier Maria Rilke’s poem ‘Go to the Limits of Your Longing’ (1905) he writes

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.”


These lines articulate for me a conversation with the self, that the impermanence of experience and emotion becomes a gesture of how to effectively move through trauma. I am attempting to undo the rigidity of the bathroom by leaving the identity and gender of the figure unknown. I place the bathroom cubicle situated ‘within’ the painted surface so that the space appears to be breaking away into paint. That is to say that the painted abstract space and physical representation of the bathroom space are starting to become each other.


Erin Holly 'Scapegoat' 2023. Image courtesy JD Ma lat Gallery© the artist.

 

A vast amount of your work includes depictions of bathrooms, which I believe represents the ongoing fear and challenges architectural lines present to many people. In ‘Scapegoat’ there is a figure standing on top of the toilet, is this to create a sense of displacement, or perhaps to display a sense of courage?

 

It’s about trying to make bathrooms a place of refuge and claiming ownership over them. In ‘Scapegoat’ the figure becomes an embodiment of a person trying to overcome the anxiety that is projected onto them. The trauma experienced by navigating public bathrooms is rooted in a cis-normative idea of what bathrooms are. When I look at my paintings, I am able to ask myself “How am I existing in a system that is oppressive?” and “What does this do to me?”. My painting is presented as a question to the viewer.


Erin Holly 'Real life experience' 2023. Image courtesy JD Malat Gallery© the artist.

 

You have said that “experience, existence and embodiment are all linked”. What do you mean by this, and how are these ideas represented within your practice?

 

Each painting is a representation of my lived experience, that is to say, I have spent time embedding, scoring and storing information into the canvas with paint and I do this with my body and my mind to read all the information I have created at once, like a continuous on-air impression. It's similar to a stop motion but you get to see all these things at once, in one go.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your practice and exhibitions at JD Malat Gallery. I would like to finish off with one last question – if you could offer one piece of advice to our creative community, what would it be?  

 

To rest and to write.

 

 

Erin Holly’s artwork and responses provide a unique insight and perspective of public areas, highlighting the language and how it has responded to individuals throughout the decades. I mention decades as a referral to Robert Gober’s 1980s ‘Sink’ series and their commentary on the Queer community being made to feel unclean and impure during a harsh and incredibly heart wrenching time.


Water closets have been used as a weapon on the Queer community, yet Holly’s environments feel warm and inviting. I, especially, enjoy ‘The Healer’s expression of vulnerability wrapped in a protective embrace – this, I, too, like to feel.

And now, as advised by Erin, I will rest.

 


You can view Erin Holly's work in the group exhibition Contemporary Figuration: Between Body and Metaphor’ at JD Malat Gallery in London until the 27th of January 2024.

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