Infused with witty observational humour, Holly Frean’s work is everything we love about young British artists. Her art is so full of life, colour and charm. It instantly puts a smile on your face!
Holly started her career in architecture, yet slowly but surely painting took over her time and interests. Architecture seems to have never left however, with some work being uniform rows of characters peering out from their symmetrical squares, meticulously mounted and evenly spaced, whilst others are layers of organised chaos.
This design-eye combined with her studies of Fine Art at City & Guilds of London Art School, creates a beautiful balance between the two. Holly’s work is almost art within art. Always a beautifully minimal frame, mount and backing, then punctuated with her characters individually anchored and often raised from their canvas.
Holly’s work is mainly in oil, yet her designs have translated effortlessly to several other mediums – from ceramic collections with Anthropologie, fabric ranges with Andrew Martin and works with some of the biggest names in fashion, such as Burberry and Paul Smith in there for good measure.
Holly Frean has exhibited in galleries from London to New York, received awards from the likes of Grayson Perry and you can find her works throughout our hotels.
We caught up with Holly to get a little more insight into her day to day and to dip our toes into her wonderful world. Here’s what she had to say…
How has your work developed over time?
As a student I had an interest in mapping things out to understand where I was, literally and figuratively. At the time, I was drawn to aerial views, bustling crowds and building sites and even went paragliding to experience them.
My focus shifted to scenes of daily life so I made a series of paintings of people looking at art on gallery walls. I started to wonder about the life of the person gazing at the work and imagined who the artist was, these were titled ‘A Day In The Life of …’.
These paintings were sequences of images painted in oil on canvas which you could read from left to right, top to bottom, to get a sense of an artist’s working day.
Last year was.. well.. it goes without saying! Has it changed the way you work, think or live in any way?
We finally got a dog! We rescued Bella the 8 month old greyhound from a life of racing just after Christmas. She had never been inside a house before but very quickly adapted to the warmth and cushions and delicious food and is regularly love-bombed by the whole family.
Like all greyhounds, she is gentle, polite, affectionate, elegant, communicative and supersonically fast! She is poetry in motion running at full whack. Dogs teach us all the important things: devotion, tolerance, delayed gratification, compromise, patience, how to have fun, the importance of play. Above all they teach us how to love generously – this is probably the most important lesson.
With lockdown, homeschooling and commissions, I use whatever time there is in the day or night to commit paint to canvas, playing around with new ideas that are unrelated to the above which I find so important.
When it comes to your work, do you have a method? Are there any distinctive work mannerisms or habits to get creative?
My early morning dog walks are a great help. It has become one of my favourite things to stop and chat with other doggy people en route to the café in the park with my coffee cup each morning.
A whole world has opened up to me now I have a dog on the end of a leash. Before Bella, it would have felt strange to strike up a conversation, whereas now it’s so easy to talk to my fellow Londoners about poo bag etiquette or how often to clip claws. Plodding around a muddy field every morning in my walking boots also gives me precious thinking time, so I always carry a tiny notebook in my coat pocket in case inspiration strikes. A strong cup of tea also helps.
Your characters range from frazzle headed chickens to dancing figures. What are your favourite themes to pursue?
It’s all about the connection I have with the image I am creating and noticing how it can change the more times I attempt a painting. Portraits of old masters, playing cards, the animal kingdom…the aim is to surprise myself and find out something new about painting and to make images that sing.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
I had a rock solid Head of Art at school who had a very rigorous academic approach to secondary school art education and made us draw and draw. He kept instructing us just to ‘LOOK HARDER’ and talked about Cezanne and Coldstream and other uncompromising draughtsmen which stood me in good stead by the time I went to art school. (Thanks Mark Dunford if you’re reading this!)
You have the most wonderful portfolio of collaborations and commissions. In an ideal world, who else would you create work for?
I grew up in a house of textile and graphic designers, so problem solving and answering a brief comes naturally. I enjoy the banter and I am fascinated by industrial manufacturing processes. I had a great time with Anthroplogie collaborating on a chicken themed set of ceramics and homewares.
I got to work with Andrew Martin on a fabric and wallpaper collection a few years ago which I loved. Meeting people who like to discuss the structure of a tapestry in depth or the relative value of different scales of milk jugs opens my eyes to a life outside my studio and keeps things fresh. I would like to continue to make things for people who love colour and appreciate beautiful paintings on their walls!
We all agree your work makes us smile, it’s inevitable! What is the most memorable response you have had to your work?
A patron once said that my paintings made them smile first and then made them think and kept them smiling, it lingered with them all day.
It was a huge compliment to hear that I had made something impactful that had peaked and sustained their interest in some way – amazing! Art is powerful!
It must be hard to choose, but what’s your favourite piece and why?
My favourite thing that I’ve made is always the thing that I have just finished. It is my most recent statement about where I’m at and therefore the most honest and up to date. The last thing I made was an open edition of large giclée prints. It is a grid of seventy-two dogs painted in gouache called DOG RAINBOW No.3.
I am splitting the profits from the first batch of prints between the RSPCA and the NHS, two charities which we are all leaning on especially at the moment.
If Holly’s work teaches us anything, it’s to look for the joy in the little things. A facial expression, a bunch of flowers, a dog waiting for a treat. It’s the little things that, when noticed, turn into big things.