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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Harry Holland

Formation, Harry Holland
Virtually every artist today with a college degree in the fine arts has been exposed to the painting and drawing of nude figures. Most found the experience tolerable, some quite agreeable, while others enjoyed the basic training in composing and rendering the human figure immensely enjoyable to the point that nude figures become a major component of their oeuvre. A few days ago, in discussing the academic limitations women faced during the late 19th-century when they began seeking entrance into the previously all-male precincts of academic painting studios, I noted that back then all academic art students spent an inordinate amount of time gazing upon the innate beauty of the unclothed human body. Successfully drawing and painting nude figures was considered something of a litmus test as to whether a would-be art student was serious about becoming an artist or simply liked ogling naked bodies.

Invariably, one of the most difficult problems in dealing with
living artists is their individual works lacking titles and dates.
That's all the more the case with Holland in that he paints "series" with numerous similar works, none of which are titled.
The 20th-century British painter, Harry Holland is one of those who, perhaps quite literally, fell in love with nude figures and the inherent pleasures found in drawing and painting them. His love was not quite, but almost, to the exclusion of all other types of art content. He is widely regarded as one of Britain's best craftsmen, producing technically brilliant and very beautiful paintings of varying content. His style is distinctive and immediately recognizable, a trait which every artist seeks. His paintings are in no way lewd, obscene, nor pornographic. The closest he comes to any of that might be to term them suggestive, but only in the sense that they imply situations, events, or relationships that, while not directly expressed, imbue them with an engaging aura of sensual mystery. A master of painting, Holland works with uncompromising commitment and sincerity. His work is intense and rewarding. Despite his subject matter, Holland has a predominant interest in the formal and technical aspect of painting. His contemporaneity is based on the study of classical values applied to modern metropolitan life.

Besides his nudes, Holland also paints portraits, most of which are clothed.
Harry Holland was born in Glasgow in 1941. However, he spent his childhood in various parts of the UK before his parents settled in London in 1949. He trained at St. Martin's School of Art from 1965-69 where he first exhibited in 1969. Since 1973 Holland has lived and worked in Cardiff. Working out of his home-studio, much of the time as a portrait painter (below), Holland has definitely achieved success as an artist. In addition to having had numerous solo and group shows, his work has been acquired by a number of notable institutions worldwide such as the Tate Gallery, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, the National Museum of Wales, the Welsh Arts Council, and the European Parliament.

I think I admire Holland's family portraits most. I've done a few myself and have a intimate understanding of the difficulties involved in such work.
Holland, in an interview, recalls that many years ago he had written in a catalogue for an exhibition labeling himself as a realist. A visitor to the private viewing, asked if that meant that everything had to be depicted as conforming to the laws of gravity. In looking at much of his work such as his Formation (top), it's plain to see that was an reasonable question but it was so simple, and so simplistic, that he found it disconcerting. Having been so bound up with the metaphorical and semantic implications of the term realist, he recalIs having forgotten some of the technical realities. One of the consequences of thinking about that is the "floating females" and climbers we see in his Caprice series (below).

One of the few cases when we see both male
and female nudes in the same Holland painting.
The Boat Men, Harry Holland
Though it may seem like it, not all of Holland's nude figure are women. His Boat Men (below) is a floating counterpart to many of the paintings in his Caprice series. Holland defines Caprice, as a noun meaning ‘a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behavior’, which finds it’s etymology in the 17th century Italian word cappriccio, or ‘a painting or other work of art representing a fantasy or a mixture of real and imaginary features. It's an apt description of not just his "capricious" series, but much of his other works as well.

The Eden Series, Harry Holland, presumably Adam and Eve and all their surviving children. I know, the "first family' was kicked out of Eden, but apparently such trivialities are of little concern to Holland.
The Post, Harry Holland.
Fancy, Folly, Invention, imagining, divertissement, capriccio, are words more commonly used in architectural or musical discussion than in pictorial but the concept is just as common in the history of paintings as in those disciplines or literature. You could include caprice in the genre works by Bosch, Goya, Watteau, and Guardi. Caprice does not mean surreal, since that involves a subversion of reality, nor fantasy, which is the replacement of one reality with another, although there are elements of both. Caprices are lighthearted and take liberties with the reality we see every day. Many of them give a nod to classical mythology and treat that rich and familiar world with the same capriciousness as the everyday world. Most caprices begin with the premise, "What if?" For example, what if a building had no other purpose but to look ancient and ruined? What if Hell comprised of punishments specific to our personalities? What if women could fly? Holland imagines such a premise in The Post (above, left) and The Well (below). Perhaps they would fly "off the handle."

The Well, 2013, Harry Holland.

A female carousel? A sexist caprice.


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