Artist Profile: Holly Aitchison
What Lies Beneath: Scratching the surface with Holly Aitchison
Written by Annabel Wilson.
Following a rural upbringing in Mataura and Invercargill, Holly Aitchison escaped the “apathy, deeply embedded prejudices and backwards thinking” of turn-of-the-century Southland for the (somewhat) sunnier climes of Dunedin where she now lives and works. A fascination with skeletons, beasts of the wild and images from old books and magazines makes its way into her work, which riffs on themes of death, anatomy, feminism and isolation.
“I am an autodidact who specializes in drawing with ink, graphite and charcoal and painting in oil and water colour. My work is primarily representational and touches on themes of death, osteology, anatomy, feminism and isolation. I work during the day teaching art to adults with intellectual disabilities at an IDEA Services funded daybase, my aim being the mainstreaming of capable artists that I work with and fostering their own unique art practices.” – Holly Aitchinson
She’s inspired by her crew of contemporaries in the Dunedin art scene. “I am so lucky to be part of an incredible community down here; I adore the work of painters Sharon Singer and Tony Bishop and photographer Esta De Jong. They are all artists who lift the grotty carpet of life to give you a peek at what may lie underneath.” Aitchison also lists other ‘famous’ influences: “I adore Paula Rego. Her vision captures the dark horror of everyday life, it rewards inspection and contemplation and I find myself really drawn into her pieces.
“I adore Paula Rego. Her vision captures the dark horror of everyday life”
I love portraiture; one of my favourite series was by a Scottish artist called Joan Eardly who painted street kids in Glasgow; grubby, bug-eyed and full of life, I get a lot of joy from these paintings. Other famous artists I enjoy are Edward Hopper, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Joe Coleman, Goya…”
With its intimate honesty, her self-taught style embraces experimentation. Her recent collages are populated with animals which, for Aitchison “feel like a more pure representation of humanity, not clogged with the trappings of society or defined by strange, abstract concepts such as religion or politics or capitalism.” Sourced from a bunch of books scored at the infamous Regent 24 Hour Book Sale, the collages were borne of a time of upheaval for the artist, when “I was in the process of leaving my marriage and turning my world upside down. I longed for nature to stage an uprising, to obliterate humanity so that we could start over, fresh… so I ended up creating it!”
Artist: Holly Aitchinson
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