Saturday, May 26, 2007

Art Space Talk: Lisa Holden

I was introduced to the art of Lisa Holden while attending the Art Chicago preview. Lisa Holden is a British-born artist based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her earlier visual work explores notions of the self as a series of estranged identities-guises adopted and appropriated, and dependent upon context.

Lisa combines digital imagery with hand-painted layers to create 'parallel realities', referring to the exploration of displacement, adoption and the reinvention of identity as a necessity for survival. Holden's large-scale, 'digitally flawed' painting-photographs interpret and react to our super-fast-paced, technologically driven society. The result is the artist's depiction of a psychological spiral into more personal fracturing of identity, multiple transformations, and a more isolated self and society.

New works clearly bear the stamp of Holden's recent interest in Victorian painting and literature in which richly colored fantasies and hallucinations were often opiate-engendered. These influences manifest themselves in images of actual dreamscapes she recalls on waking--in other words, instinctual wishes of a body and mind desiring to get out.
Lisa Holden is represented by Alex Novak of Contemporary Works.

('Gentian' lambda print, dibond)

Brian Sherwin: Lisa, I observed your work at the Art Chicago exhibit. How successful was the exhibit? Was any of your work purchased?

Lisa Holden: It was great to present my work at Art Chicago. I’m based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and have exhibited widely in Europe but until recently hadn’t really shown much in the US.

At Art Chicago people responded really well to the work. Some even said they’d never seen anything quite like it. A couple of people called it ‘intoxicating’. It was great for me to have a chance to meet people and hear their views about the work. And Art Chicago was certainly great for me in terms of sales and contacts.

('Lizard Boy' lambda print dibond)

BS: Having exhibited widely in Europe and now in the States- do you notice a difference in the types of art that is created based on geographics? In other words, what differences do you see in European contemporary art compared to the art that is created in the United States.... or do you think that we, as artists, have reached a point that their is a 'global connection' in the images that we create? A connection... yet unique differences...

LH: I think in many ways art is definitely globally connected. I mean, the Internet is a great resource for me and I discover many other artists through it, although of course can only see their work on screen.

I think there are bound to be differences too, based on cultural and historical backgrounds. The Brits and Americans share similar cultural references to a great extent – there’s a similar interest and grasp of certain styles or pictorial references. In Holland, for instance, Mondriaan, born in 1872, was one of the key figures to shape the art aesthetic in Holland. In Belgium – which was more of an industrialised country, like the UK – Fernand Khnopff was creating Symbolist works more or less parallel to Mondriaan.

The longer I live outside the UK the more I connect with certain cultural aspects like the Gothic imagination in painting and literature. And, of course, in the UK women were very active novelists. Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein’ after all, so these kinds of images and metaphors were rooted perhaps in a feminine consciousness.

('Reveil' lambda print, dibond)

BS: How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it before?

LH: The work is photo-based but I wouldn’t really call it photography. I sometimes refer to it as ‘digital photowork’. I originally started as a painter, before moving into performance and video. The images still have a performative quality, I think, I definite narrative thread. And I went from videoing performances to concentrating on still images, many of them taken from video footage of performances. This led to working on the images in the computer – initially to improve brightness and quality. But I rapidly started experimenting with the image itself, adding and subtracting things.

I often use myself as a model, not because the work is about me, more because it’s about non-identity. I can alter my appearance quite easily, and can look quite androgynous, which sometimes comes in handy. I’ve also worked with other people – people I know, not professional models – when I need to capture a specific pose and can’t really do that if I’m the subject because I can’t achieve the angle or position I want.

The raw material is shot using a variety of digital cameras – some video, some still – which is then manipulated in the computer. The compositions are created in a fairly laborious compositing process something like collage. I used to work a lot in collage a lot, but the actual edges of the collage always irritated me. I started using Photoshop because I could layer and combine.

It just started off very playfully. The effects that you can create by tearing paper, and that kind of thing, I found I could do in Photoshop. I combine analogue and digital techniques in the sense that I make a print of a composition, paint or draw on it, then re-photograph it or scan it into the computer where I go on with the image-making process.

I also paint and glaze many of my large images – some as large as 2 metres high. It’s almost obsessive in a way – adding layer upon layer, but I like to handfinish many of my pieces; I think it gives them an extra dimension, an added emotional quality.

('Siren' lambda print dibond)

BS: So do you think that the impact of your work would be less if you used professional models?

LH: I’m not sure. I kind of suspect that they might be too polished and lack a sort of awkwardness that I actually find very interesting. And because I also deconstruct and reconstruct in the computer, I quite like to work with material that is less than perfect. It gives me more space for my own imagination.

BS: Since you use many methods in your creative process do you find yourself in conflict as to which route to pursue during creation- or do you find a form of balance with the materials and selective process?

LH: There’s not really much conflict about how to approach the creative process. I usually make the decisions as I go along, depending on the piece I’m working on and what I think it needs. So, yes, there’s a balance with the materials and selective process.

('Sleeper' lambda print, dibond)

BS: I was recently talking to a few friends about digital art. One of my associates mentioned how digital art is the new photography in that not everyone is accepting of it as a medium yet- kind of like how photography was not taken seriously at one time. Have you noticed this? Have you experienced someone not enjoying your work due to your use of technology? Also, what would you say to people who are not that accepting of it?

LH: Yes, this is definitely an attitude I’ve come across. Because my original background was in painting, and I’ve also worked with video, people advised me to ‘paint the images’ or ‘get back into video’ as these media are considered either more commercially or artistically valid. Someone even commented: ‘who wants to pay for a computer print’ which I thought was a pretty uninformed remark, as most digital work is printed in the same way as a photograph, albeit digitally. And you’d never say that of a photographic print.

Basically, what I say to people who are not accepting of it is that digital art is still new, and is, in my opinion, an ideal medium for addressing today’s world. You could see it as a medium produced by the coupling of military and creative technology, so what could be a better way to produce images reflecting on our fractured society? I think the writer Peter Straub once said of the horror genre that it wasn’t taken seriously when he started out, which was great – it meant the genre was uncharted territory and he could do what he wanted. That’s how I feel about digital image making. It gives me enormous freedom. It’s kind of anarchic and irreverent. I love it!

I have to say that people have never not enjoyed my work because of how it was made. At first they’re wary because it looks different – the palette is quite specific, the depth of the image is not what they’re used to. But if someone is put off because of my use of technology, I don’t try to ‘convert’ them. I’ve been working digitally for nearly ten years, and it’s a medium that allows me to make images I couldn’t make otherwise.

('Thru the Wire' lambda print dibond)

BS: What other motives or thoughts do you convey in your art? What gives you direction?

LH: I’m intrigued by layering imagery and creating depth and body. Working in the computer gives me a way of creating images that would be impossible with other mediums, I think. Drawing on historical references is part of this layering.

Referencing painting also gives me a sense of re-experiencing history and ideas of representation, of inserting myself into the past and appropriating it in some way, of making it mine. Taking historical imagery also opens up ways of investigating ideas relating to history, gender, power and representation.

In many ways, making images is my attempt to understand the world and people around me. I try to take the disjointedness and disconnectedness I think many of us have experienced, and bring it into some kind of balance, if only for a moment.

My work began as an exploration of identity. In this case, my own identity. I was adopted as a baby and brought up in near Liverpool in the north west of England. My birth parents were South African and Austrian. So I was brought up knowing nothing about my biological roots at all and always had a feeling of not really belonging.

Now I live in the Netherlands in a culture quiet different to the UK. Maybe that’s why I’m particularly fascinated by exploring aspects of British culture – Victorian painting, the gothic sensibility, the British imagination.

In the Victorian era the northwest was one of the booming parts of England, though now of course it isn’t. You had this enormous legacy of Victorian money, and the new money wanted a new sort of art. You had people like the Pre-Raphaelites, and you had people like Lord Leighton, people like this painting the image of the woman in various ways. So I grew up surrounded by these images, but I never really liked them. They have a certain cheesy quality. The colours are very dream like, almost hallucinatory.

In England there’s a certain specific sense of the feminine being seen as something to be contained, that can be threatening. It’s a theme that has always interested me, and I started creating a kind of technological dreamscape as a backdrop for me ‘characters’, and images from Victorian painting just started coming into my mind.

I’d kind of been brought up around Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian paintings, but I’d never really looked at it as an adult; I had thought well that’s so tacky, and kitsch, and sentimental. But when I started to actually examine the way the images were built up, and the way that women were represented, I thought it would be nice to play on that; partly because you had so many social and technological changes at the time, which I think mirror some of the changes that we’re going through now, with technologies changing at such a huge rate.

The Victorian era was also a time of great migration, with people going from Ireland and other places to America, in search of a better life. I thought well, maybe it’s a little bit the same situation now. It just seemed a really quite exciting time because there are lots of undercurrents.

('With Cupid and Partridge' lambda print, acrylic glazes, dibond)

BS: Lisa, I understand that you have been back in the studio since the Art Chicago exhibit. You have been working on new pieces. Has the Art Chicago experience influenced this current work? I'm sure you took in a lot of great art and sites while in Chicago.

LH: Art Chicago certainly gave me a lot of energy! Although I was only there for about 4 full days – mostly spent in the art fair itself – I managed to visit the Art Institute. I loved the photography of Saul Leitner I saw there – very lyrical, poignant images that I’d never had a chance to see in real life before. The institute itself is a lovely building, and I also took in the Millennium Park although I’d have like to have spent more time there. Sadly, I didn’t get to see very much of Chicago itself although what I loved the river running through the city and the way the clouds touched the skyscrapers. The architecture – what I saw of it – was very impressive.

At Art Chicago I really enjoyed seeing the AIPAD presentation of Joel Peter Witkin. I also loved his hand-tinted pieces on show with his gallery’s booth. Another artist whose work I enjoyed is Deborah Oropallo – her series of prints ‘Guise’ was fascinating, with its superimposition of scantily clad images of women onto 18th and 17th century paintings of men like Napoleon. It was great to see other work playing with the language of painting and the allure of power created by gesture and pose.
(3 Sleepers)

BS: This new work will be featured in the August edition of 'Eyemazing'. 'Eyemazing' is a leading contemporary fine art photography magazine, conceived and published by Susan Zadeh. Are you excited about the publication?

LH: I think it’s one of the most interesting and well produced photography magazines around. It highlights a wide range of work, all types of photography, and all kinds of photographers from all over the world. I am very excited about appearing in the publication. It’s a great opportunity to reach a big international photo-based audience. And Susan Zadeh is quite remarkable – she puts so much of herself into the magazine, and has such a passion for photography. I think that her personal passion is partly what makes ‘Eyemazing’ so unique and special.

('Reclining' lambda print dibond)

BS: Sounds like a great publication. I've noticed that more and more publications are offering a variety of art instead of focusing on certain 'styles', or what have you. It appears we live in a time that is very accepting of all methods of artistic creation. Would you agree?

LH: I think that things are certainly changing, and people are coming to appreciate a wider range of styles and approaches. I think, in the end, it is the image – the ultimate work – that counts, not the way someone has arrived at it. There’s also been more interest in and respect for digital work.

I hope you have enjoyed learning more about Lisa Holden and her art. Feel free to leave a comment about her work. You can learn more about Lisa by visiting her site:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I particularly like "Bathsheba" posted on L.' website. It avoids some of the high-end model feel and is also less... Kabuki.