Coming from a long lineage of painters, Australian artist Ashleigh Holmes has literally and metaphorically made her mark in the art world: being a finalist for both the Combat Prize and Mosman Art Prize. Holmes’ newest collection of works, Recollection Echo, is the artist’s most experimental and sentimental yet. Utilising photography, ‘Drunk Tank Pink’ theory, and gestural mark-making, Holmes injects the personal into the abstract to explore the concept of fading memories.
As a fourth-generation artist, can you tell us what it was like growing up surrounded by painters and the art world? What is your earliest painting-related memory?
It was very subconsciously inspiring to witness my mother painting from home, to be encouraged to join in with her and paint from a young age. Our house was full of creativity, music and art. My relationship with my grandmother (also a painter) is very close, she and my mother would often talk about my art and give me positive words of affirmation about how they saw my pieces. The earliest memory I have is when I was in year 3, I painted my first acoustic guitar on canvas, the piece is about sixty centimetres by sixty and we still have it. There are photos of me painting from age 3, however the memories I can recall start later on.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken with you on your career from your family?
My mother believes in ‘reach for the moon, if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars’ type of mentality. Very optimistic and positive – I feel that this gave me the first stepping stone to imaging my future and to envision and self-talk about the dreams and goals I wanted to accomplish. Believe it, see it and go for it.
There’s a clear interest in mark-making within your work. What would you say is your relationship with abstract expressionism?
As an abstract painter, I believe I’m articulating an unspoken language through mark-making. My message is for the viewer and myself to feel a sensory effect to my pieces. The mark-making is a unique code or language that adds a rhythmic layer of voice over the top of my work.
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Moving to your dreamy colour palette, what draws you to the pinks, peaches and warm neutrals which dominate most of your art?
Further to the above, I love the feeling that these pigments hand us. I believe we are always searching for elements in life to connect us back with nature where we feel connected to our inner self. These tones offer us a sensory feeling of calm, peace. Science has proven the effects of the colour Pink, if you research into the Drunk Tank Pink theory it shares more evidence on this!
How do you achieve the distinctively textured appearance of your paintings’ surfaces?
Once I start a piece, I will add so many layers of paint that over time, sometimes months the layers collide and create different surfaces and textural differences. My pieces are very heavy once complete!
Your newest collection Recollection Echo uses a wider and more experimental range of materials like denim, charcoal, spray paint and linen. How does this more diverse materiality play into or aid the thematic concept of softening memories?
When I started Recollection Echo in the studio, I was drawn to using my photography for the first time, images from my travels, everyday life and studio taken over the past 6 years. Once I started to source the materials to create the works, I was looking through old t-shirts, denim, linen throws, tote bags and fabric I had collected over time to use as a base for the artwork, as opposed to the usual canvas.
Once the collection started to take shape, I was able to connect the dots and noticed that all of these materials where moments from my life and an expression and appreciation for my memories. The photograph or t-shirt is evidence of the memory, however, the moment in my mind is like a distant fading echo.
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Have you incorporated your own memories into the collection? Was this the purpose of using images from your film camera?
Yes, this was my intention. The piece Fabriano is an image of my Japanese brushes on the studio floor, transferred onto a fabric Fabriano tote bag I received from my favourite art store years ago. I set the composition up so the smaller rectangle was like a window looking into the memory surrounded by a field of colour. I felt it was important to use my own film photography so the images are sentimental.
Can you tell us about the organisation you’ve chosen to support with ten per cent of the profits of Recollection Echo and why? Does it tie in thematically with the artworks at all?
Among many other programs, Gunawirra encourages and teach Aboriginal children to connect with the cultural knowledge and art heritage. This feels important to me to support and I feel a connection to this program as an artist.
You’ve also rendered butterflies in your more recent works, do you see the butterfly as a symbol of transcendence or similar?
It’s an omen, in most cases a good omen or a positive sign. I have friends who feel the connection to their path when they see a butterfly pass them by. The life of a butterfly is to live a full and fruitful life in the short time they have. To not take time for granted.
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I also just want to take this moment to congratulate you on being a finalist for the Combat Prize and Mosman Art Prize. How are you finding your rising success and expanding into international audiences?
I feel humbled. The most exciting experience so far was being a finalist in the Mosman Art Prize, when I was at the awards night. Seeing my piece sit amongst so many incredible Artists. I feel gratitude for all the opportunities and experience so far.
Speaking of space, how important is the Australian landscape to your art?
I feel so grateful to have such a beautiful landscape at arm’s reach, it’s a constant flow of motivation for me. The motive in my work is to capture the feeling that a dawn light across a field of green and pink skies would. Pure awe. I look forward to travelling more to source further colour fields in the future.
Lastly, what’s next on the cards for yourself and your artistic career? Do you have any goals for the next few months?
I look forward to submitting my work into prizes, any outcome is a positive one as there is always growth in putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. I’m working on a new body of work that I will be showcasing with The Curators in New York and for Studio Gallery in Australia.
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