KAT KEEBLE-BUCKLE INTERVIEWS HARRY HOLLAND
I have been incredibly fortunate to have drawn alongside Harry Holland in his Art Studio located in Pontcanna. It is a scene of creativity, a small exhibition wall of ‘work in progress’ is mounted for Holland to reflect back to daily. Paints, easels, mannequins, brushes, cups of tea, and in the background there’s always dimmed music ranging from Folk, Bluegrass, Blues, Gospal, Classical…and if you’re lucky…a few power ballads!
I am always completely captivated by his techniques and vision whilst sketching, now being able to interview Holland himself, it’s been inspiring to sit and discuss his experiences and passions.
Harry, can you tell me about your upbringing in Glasgow, and how growing up around your surroundings impacted on your artwork?
HH: My surroundings didn’t really impact my artwork as I was young. The area I was in was pretty poor; I was identified as a ‘Toff’. I was only there for four to five years then came down to London when I was twelve.
How old were you when you became interested in Art?
HH: I was very young, in school. I was always drawing, in fact, one of my teachers was amazed by the fact that I could draw somebody, and it would look just like them. This was when I was in Scotland; I couldn’t have been more than eight. I always enjoyed drawing, as it was a way of expressing myself. I also enjoyed making model aeroplanes; I wasn’t interested in the flight aspect, but the rendering side, making everything looking genuine.
What was the most profound thing your time at Central St Martins taught you?
HH: There were some financial complications at the time as we had a young child, she knew how passionate I was about my Art and what I wanted to do, and she knew I wouldn’t be good at anything else. So she worked out that I could get a grant to help me study. However, I did have to lie about my GCSEs, fortunately, back in those days there were no computers, so they were unable to check my records.
Going to an actual Art school was the most profound thing, actually being able to study there.
The college introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed, and a world I felt comfortable in. I felt I had something to say. You can’t teach Art, and I think, like most artists, in many ways we are self-taught. We did learn things at Central St Martins, but I learnt more from my own experiences.
What is ‘Art’ to you?
HH: It’s a way of human beings to demonstrate to one another that we are all actually, in the end, in the same state of mind, we are all the same as each other. In other words; behind these eyes, there is a person. Everyone is just as big, concerned, insecure, messed up, confident as you are. We are living in a very strange place, living by strange rules that nature doesn’t follow.
Art is a reflection of what the real world is like; it is a way of communicating.
What artist do you take inspiration from?
HH: Stanley Spencer was one of the first artists I recognised, the Pre-Raphaelites I like, long before they became popular. I never did like the impressionists much. I love the Americans; they still have a very strong Art tradition.
Some of your art is suggestive, why do you engage such a sense of mystery?
HH: Most of what I do, is either stolen from another artist, from any of the big boys, take any 19th century artist, Goya, Tischan, I like Spanish Artists particularly. My work is inspired from these artists; personally I take the spirit from the originals and bring them into the modern world.
The idea of the women floating in the sky is so funny so ironic and so fun, it can’t be anything else than ingenious and I think so innocent. I don’t see the paintings like others do (erotic), my wife hates them, she calls them ‘Pigs in magazine tins’.
The paintings are not erotic at all in my eyes, they don’t even look like real women. These paintings get interesting when you start looking at the composition and space.
You’re used as an educational tool in colleges/universities. How do you see yourself fitting into the Art history timeline?
HH: I’m not a great artist; I’ve not made any changes in the way art is seen in the world.
When did you know to take the leap of faith from lecturing to become a full time artist?
HH: It was a worrying time as my wife was very scared of the financial implication that would lead on from this. But I had got to the point that I was talking to my colleagues and they no longer cared about the students, I didn’t want to become concerned with their problems, I could see the way Art education was going and I wanted to get out, in fact I was quite prepared to go back lorry driving, or even being a post man.
As I was fortunate to get paid over the summer breaks, it would give me more time to focus on my own work, I’d already sold pieces to Charles Sattchi, I got lucky and took the risk to be a full time artist.
What is beauty to you?
HH: Who it is, isn’t important. If I were to put a face into one of my paintings, people would be more focused as to find out ‘Who’ it is, rather than the actual subject. I think female human figures are beautiful things and well worth using, they are comfortable things.
You’re currently embracing digital art, where do you see your figurative work going with this technology?
HH: The art may change a bit; the quality in terms of going to print is just the same. The difference is how they’re seen and how they’re let out. People will look at them a different way. It’s a new world and I’m fascinated as to where it’ll take us. There is only one feel with the pen on the pad, nothing like a pencil to paper-with that you can apply pressure, and this is the only thing I miss. However, making any mistakes on the tablet is easily fixed.