by Giuseppina Biondo
English translation by Katia Smaldone
Laurel Holloman is an artist, the typical artist I like: a painter, an actress and a humanitarian. The plural sides of art often make us much more appreciative of the people we happen to run into during our lives. For this reason and because of the significant importance this interview-critique has for me, I nearly ended up considering it as a new publication.
Over the years Laurel Holloman devoted herself to independent American cinema marking her screen debut as an actress at 24. Since 2010 she is entirely devoted to painting, following the New York school of abstract expressionism. The 12th July the Galerie Joseph of Paris will host one of her solo show.
I'm now going to introduce a few canvases for each of her solo exhibits and then ask her some related questions to satisfy our own curiosities.
Tribeca Collection 2011
Ms. Holloman, this is probably the canvas I would have wished to paint: “I Walk Alone”. Maybe one day I will tell you why. Meanwhile it is worth pointing out how magnificently you use yellow; the color has a calming effect and is in harmony with the idea of a solitary walk. The graduated shading of colors, which yield a bright green in the lower part of the painting, are a clear representation of inner peace typical of loneliness and of the artistic reflection of solitude.
Could you explain us the origin of this picture? What is meant to be seen and what have I actually missed?
I Walk Alone has two figures walking away from each other and two smaller figures at the bottom. I painted this when my marriage was falling apart and I think the figures represent everyone in my family. My ex husband and I are now great friends so the painting is now a reflection of a different kind of family. At least when I think of it now. I also knew it would be me to end the marriage and it was a painting that gave me strength. I cared for my partner but I was no longer in love and I wanted my children to see a different kind of relationship. I chose yellow because my decision to be alone was well thought out over time and it finally felt like a calming one. Also the green at the bottom represents growth. In another way I also feel that the painting is about death. We die alone and I also see the figures walking towards heaven. My step father (who used to be a priest) saw that part right away.
I recently described Hans Hofmann’s “Orchestral Dominance in Yellow” as the most ‘tempting’ painting (for the force it has to incite anyone to paint) I have ever seen, considering the way the artist plays with the colors. I can feel the same thing when looking at the protruding oil in “Lush” where the solidity of the color is achieved by short brush strokes, seemingly dotted. Why would you describe this way of painting as something “lush”?
This painting is deep in color and vibrant. It was about not blending out the colors and letting them play against each other. Thrive is very similar, but on a larger scale.
Coeur Libre Collection 2012
“Red Rain”. It is probably one of your most popular pictures, at least one of the most recurring ones on the Internet. It is clearly meant to be the sound of the rain pouring down, the gravitational force. But, why this red rain?
It is a painting that graduates in color and texture. I purposely wanted the top to be blended and the colors of the blend to show through without being blended so they had to be dragged by the brush. It created a rain affect. And the red counters and balances the other colors.
“Soul Pocket”. I admit that if I looked at this canvas not being aware of your artistic motivation, I would automatically assume that it is the view of a planet from above, of a world featuring craters and nebulae moving in circular motion. Nevertheless, if we read the title, it’s crystal clear that we are talking about a pressed soul. There are the dynamics, there are different characters and personalities mixed together, which can often be found in all human beings.
So, is the canvas representing a tortured and tormented soul? Can your soul be described in these terms? Please tell us something about this artwork…
It is basically two paintings in one. The first is a resin based "pour" paintings much in the style of Paul Jenkins. The next phase is the hand rub of the piece with silver and gold. It is really about art being the soul. I see the universe filled with little soul pockets that illuminate. I used LEDs to back light every thing. It also symbolizes the connection of art and finance. Quite often the wealthy begin to feel soulless and they look to art to replenish them. Art is a peacock's feather for the elite. The silver represents the money and the underneath (the colorful part) is the soul. Somehow they are uniquely codependent on each other. I think it is also implies that all the money in the world cannot create happiness. It can't give you spirituality or compassion or make you more soulful. It can't by you love or friendship.
“Escape”. I must write something about this canvas as I love escapes. Actually, I can’t see in this representation the natural impulse of freedom. Moreover, the painting’s dimensions are considerably smaller if compared to some of the others. Why do you describe the escape, this spiritual journey, in these terms? I would instead say that “Coeur Libre” is the one that describes this feeling… as that white recalls a headlong dive.
Escape represents a place in your brain where you are free of your problems. When I see the painting it just seems to look like that on a cellular level. I often think in terms of science or biology. I found the organic shapes of cell division fascinating. The painting seems to symbolically represent an escape. Coeur Libre is really about freedom to be what you want. For me it was about leaving a career and a marriage I was no longer happy in.
Free Falling Collection 2012
Ok, I admit I would like to talk about all of your artworks, but I definitely have to make a selection, which is not a simple task. So…
“Swelling Rage”. Rage, a growing rage. At this point, I’m really tempted to ask you who made you angry, but I will not do it as I know you may probably not want to answer. I usually couple yellow with revenge, and I can clearly distinguish it in some points of the painting; however, from my point of view, rage could have been represented by fog, or some falling white or gray … after all rage blurs our vision. Yet you depicted it using vivid colors which overlie and conceal the light blue-lilac layer beneath. Is this the concrete representation of the strong feeling of rage that brutally assails the peace of mind? Could you explain us the reason why you decided to use these colors?
Swelling Rage is loosely inspired from a song called White Blank Page by Mumford and Sons. I wasn't really mad when painting, I just used the song to pull me through the piece. I was interested in what rage would look like as an abstract. This painting was painted over several months with many layers and I used lots of lighter colors underneath to get the effect of something surfacing. Maybe I was unaware of my own rage or just released it somehow. I can't really say. I am not sure i would want to understand or label it so directly. That's why I paint…… so I don't have to…. label and analyze it all.
“Free Falling” names the collection. Comparing the title to the artwork, the painting representation is perfectly clear. Is this the canvas of the collection you prefer the most?
No, I prefer Quiet Alpha Male in that collection.
“Thrive”( 350x200), another popular artwork. In Italian we would translate it with the verbs prosperare and rifiorire. The painting is the expression of an intense awakening, the gradual sleep/dream evanescence. Am I wrong?
Yes you are right!!!! It is about thriving in life personally and professionally. I also love the sound of the word.
All the World Inside Collection 2013
I admit that it’s becoming quite complicated choosing the right artworks for our conversation, especially when changes of style take place; indeed each canvas is different from the previous one.
In “All the world inside” the force of nature is perceivable and a landscape seems to be appearing: of course mountains, a sky which is bright in the middle and gets gradually gloomy towards the top. It’s like a swallowing force. I’m impressed. I can see the painting in its apocalyptic perspective, yet at the same time there’s something cozy and comfortable. I think it would be better if you described this work to us.
It is a piece that is very grounding to me. Somehow it just represents the power of the earth. We are here on earth and for a very short time. I also felt it is meant to be interpreted individually because some people see other things like a volcano.
“Inevitable Fault Line”. How could you recreate such a light? There’s the brightness of a sword blade, the glittering ice, the stars’ light reflection. It resembles a bracelet, full of valuable stones, observed through the eyes of a nearsighted person without glasses.
Such vividness also occurs in “The Weight of Water” and in “Upstream”: in those three canvases, is the azure the color that creates the described effect. Please tell us more.
This painting is about two things. I live in California and we all live over fault lines in the earth. That can be stressful if you have experienced a big earthquake. It also symbolizes the potential break in any relationship. Not just love, it could be a friendship too.
I love blue and find there are endless choices of water when I paint with it. I am obsessed with water and being near the ocean. I live near the beach in Venice, CA. I find water to be very cleansing for the soul. Along with Swell, which is in the 2013 Venice Biennale these paintings also represent how water can be turbulent and unpredictable as well as calming and restful.
“The Silver Lining” (430x338cm). In my opinion this is a true representation of femininity. If I depicted a woman, I would probably imitate this canvas. A magnificent artwork, neat, delicate, soothing. The more I look at it, the more I become sure of the fact that it represents a woman, and the blue background for the tomboy side that, more or less, all women have.
How much off topic did I go this time? Please tell us about this canvas and its significance.
I was looking to create a counter to Quiet Alpha Male. The Silver Lining is more delicate and elusive which for me is more feminine. The color in the color field was a way to keep it floating. Both paintings are inspired by Paul Klee who was a master at symbolism. I was looking for each piece to be symbolic of male and female. Yet also to show how we have a lot of both qualities within ourselves. I wanted the works to be more organic than some of the symbolism I had seen before. Again it goes back to cell division or reproduction.
To conclude “The Velocity of Dreaming”. In this representation there’s something kind of titanic, mythological. I can taste legends and divinities, the pulling power of dreams. There it is. The tumult of dreams, their constant pressure, their intimate and at times overbearing will (after all who can bottle up dreams?). If we happen to have dreams, like the dreams of your representations, Ms. Holloman, I seriously doubt they could be bottled up. Please describe to us one characteristic of that canvas and explain its meaning to us.
I feel this painting symbolizes our thoughts and I truly believe we can manifest our own destiny be it good or bad. Our thoughts take up much of our space in our brains. We can choose to dream big and go for things that seem unreachable or we can also self destruct. I used velocity because of the motion I see in the painting. I wanted to show how a thought can becoming an obsession and spiral out of control. In some ways obsessive behavior can be good for work and in some ways it can be bad. I just simply wanted the painting to show velocity and I picked the sky as a setting because it is truly what we look toward constantly to gather our thoughts or our dreams.
Where and when will your next exhibit take place? Have you already made plans in Europe for 2014? What about Italy?
The 12th of July I will be in Paris and I was just invited to the Contemporary art Biennale in Buenos Aires Argentina for October.
Are you currently working on a painting? If so, would you like to briefly describe it?
I work on about five to seven paintings at a time. My newer work is smaller than the murals and influenced a bit by Fernando Zobel. It is softer and more blended with smaller more detailed brushwork than the larger murals.
I’ve watched some videos of you painting, and I think your way of creating the color’s effect is charming. At times I have thought you played through colors the role of your own soul. What are your feelings when you paint? Is there any possible link between painting and acting?
For me painting has very little to do with my acting life (which really doesn't inspire anymore) It simply is just a separate creative muscle.
I suppose there can be moments of artistic block, during which you cannot go on, correct? If and when it happens, how do you deal with it?
I don't force myself to paint if I am really blocked. I know it would work against me.
Recently, Milan’s Royal Palace hosted the exhibition of “Pollock and the Irascibles”. I think there is something of Rothko and Barnett Newman in your works, yet I’m not going to compare your creations with some other paintings as it’s often very likely to come to similar conclusions through different paths. I actually would like to know where everything begins: is there any particular artist you were inspired by? Where do exactly your creations put down their roots?
To what extent do education, technique, and a person’s sensitivity positively affect the final outcome?
I am inspired quite often by photos I take. I think everything can effect a painting. Sometimes your lack of skill set can work for you in abstraction if you stay connected emotionally and don't overpaint.
Since you were very young you entwined art and cinema. At the early age of 24, you performed as a leading actor in “The incredibly true adventure of two girls in love”. I just turned 24, and your career makes me feel inadequate!!
You also played shoulder to shoulder with leading actors, such as Jennifer Beals, Julianne Moore, Mark Harmon and Burt Young.
It’s just amazing, thus I have now a very expectable question: don’t you miss the big screen?
I enjoyed my time as and actor but i really do not miss it. I want to be creative up until I am in my nineties and I see very little older age women working on a regular bases. Also, I can paint or make things without needing set of people. For film and TV you need this. This was the most important thing for me in my choice of leaving acting. The choice to be creative daily alone in my studio is simply more rewarding.
No, I was a bit sad to find out that I didn't. It started to feel like a way to pay the mortgage and I knew that wasn't interesting for me.
Ten years have passed since the first episode of “The L word”. In 2005 you received the “Golden Satellite Award” for best actress of television drama series section.
In Italy you have such a reputation as actress more than you might expect. In the role of Tina Kennard, you now nearly represent the Derek Sheperd of all homosexual women. Do you think your career as an actress may hinder the one as a painter? After all, what you did has made you a more complete and complex artist.
I can't undo what my career was before. I can only move forward which I have. The Venice Biennale was very inspiring. No one there cared or knew anything about my acting past. I was just part of a group show and I really loved the artists I got to show with.
Humanitarian commitment. Tell us about the projects you carried out, the ones you supported and would like to support. I think that love means to be able to fight for a cause that is not ours, and actually you seem doing it.
I have raised money for Doctors Without Borders and Emergency. I really love what Gino Strada has done with Emergency and felt honored he was at my Free Falling Opening. We raised a lot of money for children to have heart surgery in Sudan.
You know, Ms. Holloman, the first story I published tells about a third year BA female student intrigued by a woman of different nationality that eventually turns out to be a painter. Nevertheless, this woman’s paintings are permeated with magic and mystery; each person looking at them sees something different. They are white canvases, all having a title carved on their back side, an important topic related to life. Therefore, everyone gives them different representations and assigns differing meanings to them. Thus I think that this is the beauty of the art of painting: the plurality of sense, of meaning.
As you can see, we took the same direction. Moreover, the story was published in 2010, which was the year you decided to devote your life to painting. If I look back at all the dates’ and numbers’ coincidences that follow one another in this interview, I’m led to believe that Fate is definitely a romantic mathematician.
Arrived at the end, I have to repeat myself, and say, as I wrote above, that this interview has the same importance a book publication has for me. I thank you for the time you politely granted us. Oh, one last thing, would you mind sending your greetings to the readers?
Thank you for all the support.