We're excited to have sat down with the talented Holly Graham to dive a little deeper into who she is and how she got to this moment in her career as an artist.
From boxes of stacked crayons to lunches with Rothko at the National Museum of Art, Holly has had an exciting journey. Read on to hear more about how she found her place in the detailed and unique collages that she is known for.
Don't miss Holly's work in our April exhibition, Song & Sea, on view through April 30th, 2022.
Q: Hey Holly! Tell us a little bit about yourself - where are you from, family, etc!
A: I’m originally from Charlotte, NC, and that is where I call home with my husband, son, and daughter.
I had a lot of adventures before I moved back home, though! Venice, Italy, Washington, D.C., New York, Chapel Hill, and Atlanta to be specific. We’ve been settled here for about 10 years.
Q: Have you formally studied art or is it something you picked up?
A: I was always the kid with a stack of crayons or paints nearby, and I think I even said I wanted to be an artist when my teacher asked me in kindergarten! I was always in an art class growing up. Then I majored in Studio Art at Wake Forest University where I studied painting, printmaking, and photography.
Q: How long have you been creating? Has it always been collage?
A: I have always created, from the time I learned to hold a crayon. I was constantly drawing as a kid, and I loved to make things like doll clothes out of scraps.
I had a lot of art instruction growing up and in college, but I started to experiment with collages when I did my Honors thesis show my senior year. I used digital photographs of ordinary objects and vignettes in thrift shops and cut them up so that abstract patterns and forms emerged. These pieces were then mounted similarly to the collages that I make today. It was a real breakthrough for my art because it wasn’t like anything I had seen before.
Q: Tell us about your journey as an artist...
A: Well, it has been a long one! I didn’t think I could just go out and be an artist when I first graduated from college, so I decided to surround myself with art instead. My first job was the National Gallery of Art in Washington. I think I went to every lecture and artist talk that was offered. I would spend my lunch hour sitting in the Rothko room, or wandering the galleries. It was an amazing experience to be able to see artwork on that level everyday.
After we had kids, I decided I wanted to stay home to be with them. That’s when I got the itch to create again. I started painting in 2014, and haven’t looked back. The paintings went from still life’s to landscapes, to abstracts, and finally back to collages. I guess I have come full circle from my college days!
Q: Tell us a bit about your process...I know that it has taken you years to perfect your approach!
A: It’s taken a lot of research and plenty of trial and error, but now I have figured out a successful way to create what I was visualizing in my head.
I start by pulling a color story from my stash of painted materials. If I don’t see what I need, I paint it. Then I tape them directly to my studio walls to see if a composition emerges. This is the stage that takes the longest, but it’s the most important one because it where the color and shape comes together. Next, I build each piece with foam core supports in layers, which takes several days of glueing and waiting for each layer to dry. I love that this last stage uses a different, very detail-oriented side of my brain. I find the yin and yang of the whole process so satisfying.
Q: What would you say to someone who thinks your work is simple?
A: I would ask them to take a closer look! What I love about this work is that it is impactful at a distance and then the details create even more interest as you get closer.
Each piece of paper, canvas, wood, or cardboard has been hand painted, usually with several layers of color and different gels and media. I’ve also been experimenting with new folding techniques and new materials to add pattern and visual interest. Believe me, if you visited my studio you would find the process to be anything but simple!
Q: What does a typical studio day look like to you?
A: I usually clear my head first thing in the morning with exercise, then head in around 10 am. Ideally, I like to start with experimentation for about an hour. I am a morning person, so I tend to come up with my best ideas at the beginning of the day. That could mean just trying to find a new use for something. I recently brought in a pair of pants with rows of stitching at the knees that I would love to incorporate into a piece. I always have a few collages in different stages going at the same time in the studio. When I’m getting ready for a show like “Song + Sea” it looks like my studio has been through a hurricane, but then the pieces come together, I clean it all up, and I start all over again the next day! I usually end the day around 3, racing out of the studio to meet my kids at their bus stop.
Q: What inspires your abstract collages?
A: Travel, nature, and music give me endless inspiration and energy. I try to channel that into the work. Mostly, I appreciate the peace that can be found from all of these things, and I hope that is conveyed in each piece.
Q: What kind of challenges have you faced as an artist?
A: I think the most challenging thing I’ve faced through the years is figuring out what I want to do with my artistic talent. After trying a lot of different paths, I think I’ve finally found the right one.
Q: Do you listen to anything while creating? Music or a podcast?
A: It depends on the day. I love both and find that I can work either way. I love a podcast that will make me laugh, but I also like to listen to other creative entrepreneur’s journeys, too. Lately, “Second Life” and “More Than One Thing” have been on my list. They are both about entrepreneurs who have had unconventional paths on their creative business journey. Music is always an inspiration to me, and I can really get into a flow in the studio with my earbuds in!
Q: What advice would you give an up-and-coming artist?
A: I think it’s important to try a lot of different media and techniques. Don’t be so focused on finding your specific style right away, or worry about making “sellable” art. I have made so many different types of art through the years, and they have all brought me to where I am now. I love being a student and I feel like I will always live my life feeding my curiosity.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting to collect art?
A: I know it’s said so often, but collectors should really buy what they love. Buy art often. You will love seeing your collection grow, and you will probably see a pattern in what you’re attracted to. For those who say their budget isn’t large, buy small works on paper. And mix it up with sculpture and mixed media pieces. They add so much dimension to a space!