Julia Holden opens City Gallery exhibition to the art of painting, about an artist


Julia Holden finds a soothing intimacy in painting about people.

The Christchurch-based artist will visit Wellington’s City Gallery on Saturday for a live performance, where she will paint a hybrid of Liz Maw Self-portrait and Blue girl paintings directly on artist Emily Hartley-Skudder, effectively treating the latter as a living canvas before photographing it.

The performance is part of Holden’s pursuit I am your fan series, which sees her transform people into their favorite paintings and explore the ways artists connect across time – Maw’s Blue girl is a nod to Thomas Gainsborough The blue boy.

“It’s a really good crossover of work,” Holden said, adding that artists always seek inspiration, influence and camaraderie from other artists.


“Leo” by Julia Holden (Sam Clague, after Rita Angus), 2016.

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“It’s this dynamic conversation that artists have all the time. Even when you are working alone, you are referring to things that are already in the world.

In his work, Holden refers to artist Boo Ritson, who also paints directly on people.

Holden’s performance will mark the start of a new exhibition at the City Gallery titled Each artist, which presents artists who rethink and redefine the history of art.

Holden transforms Wellington artist Sam Clague.


Holden transforms Wellington artist Sam Clague.

Much like Holden’s work, the exhibit is “a bit of a meta,” said senior curator Aaron Lister.

“It includes 12 artists, and at least 20 artist-collaborators. Hundreds of other artists are represented, listed, invoked, performed or interpreted. Obviously, no exhibition can contain all the artists, but this one contains more than normal, ”he said.

Perhaps this is why Holden, whose work is also featured in the exhibition, is so relevant to have next to its opening.

She said doing her job was an intimate process, with a close communication bubble often forming between her and her subject. “Especially when I work on their face, most artists say it’s quite soothing to be stroked by a strong brush,” she said.

Holden's 'Lady With Hermine' (Miranda Parkes, after Elizabeth Peyton).


Holden’s ‘Lady With Hermine’ (Miranda Parkes, after Elizabeth Peyton).

“I can’t do it without them … the idea is inescapable.”

Like the exhibition, Holden’s work challenges the idea of ​​the artist as a “genius,” or one who “appeared out of nowhere … [in a] wonderful and fully formed way ”.

Holden said the artists were of their time and shaped by their environments, experiences, and encounters with other artists. “The reality is that we are in conversation all the time.”

Meanwhile, the performative aspect of his work compels viewers to consider how their own presence can inform or shape what emerges before their eyes.


Holden’s “Odalisque” (Audrey Baldwin, after Guerrilla Girls), 2016.

At the end of the process, and as his subject transforms into an almost three-dimensional sculpture, Holden photographs them in a “totally suspended moment” before they are allowed to come back to reality.

“It’s very rewarding in a number of ways. We each bring our own practice. There’s a different conversation, and it’s pretty sweet – a nice exchange occurs. We learn from each other. It’s a delightful experience for me as an artist.

  • Holden performs from 3pm Saturday at the City Gallery, book spaces online, koha, Every Artist runs until July 25, admission free.

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