Neoteric Art: You are a self-taught painter born in Canada where you still live and work. Along the way have you ever considered art school?
Holly Farrell: When I began painting it was to alleviate the stress of day to day dealings of an emotionally draining job. I was heavily influenced by folk painting/tole painting which was fairly easy for me—copying and applying designs to wood, metal and paper. It was very much a hobby at this point—I was 29 years old. This process became too repetitive for me and I eventually moved on to canvases. I tried for a while to paint my own ‘primitive’ paintings but felt they weren’t very successful paintings. I felt that in order to be a good artist I should learn how to draw—that all good artists knew how to draw. Having no time or the funds for art school I felt my only option was to “wing it”. I would take things from my apartment…the day-to-day things that were part of my life and sit them down in front of me. These things became my subjects to practise my drawing. When I was ready to paint I applied the same technique I had learned with wood. The thought was always in my mind to eventually make it to art school to learn more about technique and art in general but I never got around to it. I think the day-to-day experiences I have with my paint have been my education. I certainly feel lucky that painting is my life. I think art school may help people develop skills and explore different methods in making art and it provides an atmosphere that encourages creativity. I wonder how different my life might have been in such an atmosphere.
NA: Your subject matter frequently incorporates a single object ranging from shoes, bowls, toys, hats, bow ties…and also with sparse room settings involving chairs, televisions, desks…. Describe your thinking and/or working process.
HF: I like to think I’m intuitive when it comes to choosing subject matter. I’m not a big planner. I’m also very impatient and when I think about something for too long the idea usually gets stale for me. I like being surprised when I paint so I don’t like to think too far ahead. As Still Life was initially a tool for me to learn how to draw and then paint, it was an accident that the paintings became my devotions to things common. I really do feel connected to the things that I paint. The subjects I paint are not always rooted in good memories – sometimes I’m trying to work out something ‘bad’ from the past. This has actually helped me find some good in the things that happened to me, an acceptance maybe? Anyway, I began painting only singular subjects for the most part—portraits of things, but during the past couple of years I have been attempting paintings of simple scenes which are a challenge to do because I am trying to keep the sense of Portraiture, the sense that we are looking at one thing, one thought, one memory.
Growing up in various towns along a highway I had friends who lived in town, on farms, in the woods—all walks of life it seemed. So I have direct experience with many of the subjects that I paint and I connect my subjects with the people, places or times I have known. I think of these things while I paint and try to ‘get it right’. And sometimes I change what I do (a little) when I think it needs it. I am not a realist painter. I think the best description for me, as one critic put it, is that I am a “folk realist”. I think this is because my work still has that folk element that comes with being self-taught. I struggle with what I see and what I feel and hope that the choices I make for a painting are the right ones.
NA: Which painters have been inspirational and influential for you…and why?
HF: I am not sure that there have been painters that have actually inspired me to paint in the manner that I paint—I had never intended to become a painter, I just kept going once I started. I love the work of John Brown who is a well respected Canadian painter. There was a retrospective of his work here in Toronto a couple of months ago which was breathtaking. I really like Mark Rothko’s work. I like how they make me feel. It’s odd but I find myself drawn to Abstract art more than Still Life. An exception would be Morandi. Someone referred to him during one of my shows and I looked him up – I have been a fan ever since. In the past ten years there has been a growing interest in art in Toronto that has enabled artists like Jennifer Harrison, Melissa Doherty and Douglas Walker (to name a few) to work at their painting full-time. In this kind of climate, where I, as well as my friends/peers are enjoying some success, it is difficult not to feel positive about working as a painter. Last, but not least, I do have to give great credit to many anonymous folk artists whose work I have seen here and there, in books and magazines. I initially wanted to be a ‘real’ primitive painter but it wasn’t in the cards. I feel I am still rooted in the folk aesthetic, mainly in it’s simplicity of form and colour and I think this is always in the back of my mind when I paint.
NA: You are represented by 3 galleries in Canada and 2 in the US. How has your experience been dealing with these varied galleries?
Working with galleries is fairly new to me as for the past 16 years I have sold most of my work through my studio. I had always felt that a gallery should be able to do more for the artist than the artist could do for themselves. As art was my only income I had to consider what it would mean to give a gallery 50%—what for, right? Well, galleries can offer exposure to new people, and should the work sell will result in higher prices. I have been lucky so far to have had good experiences with my galleries. I am still selling work on my own but the majority of my income now comes from the galleries.
NA: What are some of your short and long term goals for your work?
HF: At present, short term goals go into 2009. With art, life seems to be allocated into six month segments which go fairly quickly. Starting August I will be focussing on a solo show in Vancouver for January which is then followed by a solo show in Tokyo in March. Doing shows for galleries allows me to plan a group of paintings for a specific space that will hang well together—something that I wasn’t as concerned with working on my own.
I don’t really have any long term goals—I’m a bit superstitious that way. I will consider myself very lucky if I can continue to support myself painting as it’s the only job I’ve had that I’ve been able to do with any success. And I actually love what I do. Maybe, sometime in the future, I would like to experiment a bit—find time to try some ‘loose’ painting…whatever that means.
I always strive to be a better painter.