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Meet the Artist: Holly Frean

Posted on February 10 2017

Holly Frean is taking the art and interiors world by storm!

 

We met with Holly in her fantastic studio to find out more about her work, and future projects she has on the horizon!

 

 

 

Holly Frean is an artist of exceptional vision, whose art is the ultimate infusion of accomplished technique and light-hearted humour. Frean's work uniquely captures the subtleties in a face, body or movement.

Over the past decade she has exhibited work in the UK and USA, regularly contributing to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Frean has also won multiple prizes, including the 2012 National Open Art Competition Painting Prize (awarded by Grayson Perry) and has completed numerous commissions for various clients, including the Duchess of Northumberland and Ricky Gervais.

 

 

 

"My intention is to give someone something that isn’t complicated to understand, that they can bring to it whatever they’re carrying. It’s not didactic, its not political. I want it to be beautiful in a way, I want it to be luscious." 

 

Meerkats

Fine Bone China Side Plate
20 cm (8 inch) diameter
Hand-printed
Open Edition
2016

 

 

 

Your style has a very universally friendly, almost children’s book style – with the Noah’s ark series for example, was childhood a direct influence? How important do you feel that influence is?

 

    I don’t think about my childhood directly when I’m working. I think about where I left off with the previous piece of work. One thing follows another. I think the Ark theme came up because of a wonderful commission from a client asking me to collaborate on some fabrics and wallpapers.

     

     

    What were your influences as a child artist?

     

      My parents as they run a textile design studio and I grew up on the floor of their studios playing with scraps of paper and scribbling in their books. Their library of artist monographs and design manuals were very influential.

       

       

       

      Blue Monkeys After Matisse
      Limited Edition Print
      A4
      Edition of 50
      Signed

       

       

      You like to work both on single pieces and using tryptichs – what are the pros and cons of these methods? Why do you alternate between them?


        Yes I do like to group my smaller paintings into grids, crowds, if you will. I like to see clusters of a similar subject to make comparisons between them. I see the arrangements of multiple paintings as single pieces of work though. They are each a statement on what I’ve leant about a subject in a given period of time (lots of hats, faces, feet, chickens and so on). I paint more but always seem to end up with about 50-60 in one frame.

        In the last year I’ve left the tiny gesso panels alone and I’ve been experimenting on larger canvases about 5 or 6 feet square. But they still have groups of whatever subject I’m focusing on. It’s more of a challenge getting it on one big surface and I like that. You’re right - sometimes, for practicality’s sake, I butt up two or three canvases together – mainly because I don’t have a 20’ studio wall (yet)!

         

         

        Hippo

        Fine Bone China Side Plate
        20 cm (8 inch) diameter
        Hand-printed
        Open Edition
        2016

         

         

        What is the significance of portraiture or depiction in your work?


          I began life as a painter of portraits. After I had pushed representational painting as far as I found it interesting to do, I left it behind and began painting faceless portraits of people and animals. These had – I believe – an equal sense of individuality and personality in them as the ones with features. They were recognisable in so far as the posture, silhouette, colouring, pose, composition, angles, clothing, were the same, yet the new work invited interpretation and became interesting as paintings to the viewer who did not know the subject.

           

          Crocodile

          Fine Bone China Side Plate
          20 cm (8 inch) diameter
          Hand-printed
          Open Edition
          2016

           

           

           

          Why do you choose to show people and animals depicted in this style?


            In painting the face of a person or an animal – you are looking at the subtle relationships between two eyes, a nose, a mouth and the surrounding features. There are infinite variations, infinite characters to discover. I suppose they are self-portraits too. So it’s an exploration of self as much as the subject in front of you.

             

            Monkey

            Fine Bone China Side Plate
            20 cm (8 inch) diameter
            Hand-printed
            Open Edition
            2016

             

             

            How do you decide to choose people or animals?


              Depends what I’m working towards. Depends on what I want to paint on - I give myself a brief and explore. My old tutor used to say painting is ‘playing – with intent’ – so giving yourself a platform to discover new things.

               

               

               

              Animal Plates
              Set of 8
              Fine Bone China Side Plates

              20 cm (8 inch) diameter
              Hand-printed
              Open Edition
              2016
               

               

              Do you use the roles of people and animals separately in your work, choosing to differentiate, or are they shown as one and the same?


                Good question. They are ‘Beings’, we are all ‘Beings’!

                 

                Sea Lion

                Fine Bone China Side Plate
                20 cm (8 inch) diameter
                Hand-printed
                Open Edition
                2016

                 

                Occasionally you will paint on specific objects, textures or items – will these always be crucial to what you paint onto them or is there an element of spontaneity, i.e. lost and found?


                  A bit of both. You cant be too rigorous with planning, I like to surprise myself!

                   

                   

                   

                  Brown Bear

                  Fine Bone China Side Plate
                  20 cm (8 inch) diameter
                  Hand-printed
                  Open Edition
                  2016

                   

                   

                  You like to paint ‘packs’ of caricatures on self-made playing cards. What is the significance of these to your work?


                    I made eight packs of cards – 52 plus 2 jokers in a pack - each with a different theme, for my first solo show in New York last year. They were collections of - for example - portraits from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Picasso’s portraits of women, Matisse’s dancing cut out figures, the British royal family. I really like the number 54. If you’re working on postcard shaped papers, they can be arranged as six rows of nine. I find the scale very pleasing. I think initially it was a decision based on a formal interest and an interest in grids, then I started to think again about the ‘game’ of art, gambling, poker and so on. I called the show in NY ‘Poker Face’… 

                     

                     

                     

                    Your animals and people have a character all their own – would you consider taking these characters out of static, painterly territory? i.e. usage on shirts, other product?


                      Once I have painted a picture, I feel it is out of my system and I am at peace with that particular subject. So in theory, yes I would be happy to see it on other objects. Not any old object mind you! It depends on who wants it and why! I love flat things like wallpaper and upholstery fabric – even tea towels and tablecloths – where you can see the whole image.

                       

                      Pig

                      Fine Bone China Side Plate
                      20 cm (8 inch) diameter
                      Hand-printed
                      Open Edition
                      2016

                       

                       

                      What are your future directions for your art style?


                        So hard to say without giving too much away. I am launching an online shop where people will be able to ‘click and buy’ limited edition prints and also a new set of plates (my ‘Holly’s Ark’ range of side plates) and other bits and bobs. A sort of Holly Museum souvenir shop, if you will. And I’m planning to make my best ever work yet this year ;-)

                         

                         

                         "There are things I want to investigate – it’s visual things, visual problems and things that I want to find out about my medium."

                         

                         

                         

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