I asked Marlene Holdsworth to come chat with me here because she is one of those artists whose work always makes me stop in my tracks and just stare. Her colors are almost acid-bright and her flowers have a flickering vibrancy that captivates attention. I wasn’t surprised to find out her thoughts were just as interesting as her art.
Q: Tell me a tiny bit about yourself so I know how to introduce you – where you’re from, when you started making art, anything interesting you’d like to share about yourself.
A: I cannot remember a time when I did not enjoy making art – it was always my favourite thing to do at school and at home! Originally born in England, I spent the first part of my life travelling and living in different countries, mostly around the Mediterranean. Later I traveled through Asia, spending time in India and Indonesia. Eventually I settled in Australia and raised my children whilst working in the publishing industry. My work involved laying out pages and making up advertising for magazines and newspapers. During this period I always pursued my love of art and craft – sewing, painting, drawing, potting, taking evening classes in different subjects – experimenting with mediums and encouraging my children to also be creative.
Q: The first time I saw your images on Society 6 they immediately grabbed me with their powerful colors and distinctive style. Since so many artists struggle for a long time before they achieve that level of instant recognition, is it something you worked on for a long time, or did it just naturally emerge?
A: Well I think my love of colour has been heavily influenced by all of my travels – I have subconsciously absorbed all the wonderful colours and cultures of so many places, which somehow comes out in my artwork. My style has evolved gradually over the years, not changing, but becoming more distinct. Probably more stylised. Sometimes I try to do some different style, but it always ends up looking the same, so I guess I have my style and that’s it! I have always had a love of gardens and flowers, they are always at hand, right outside the door and so are a natural choice of subject matter for me. A never ending source of inspiration. I can paint the same flower may times, using different mediums and still find it interesting and absorbing. Be it an expensive orchid or a wildflower makes no difference as there is beauty to be found in all of nature. There is pattern and colour everywhere you look if you choose to see it.
Q: A lot of your pieces contrast flowers or fruit with patterned surfaces. Have you ever worked in pattern design? Patterns are my personal passion so I’m always interested in other artists’ relationships with them.
A: I have never actually worked in pattern design, although I often wish I had chosen textile design as a career path! I collect interesting fabrics and vintage pottery and glass to use in my still life paintings, and I find that one will inspire the other as far as colour choice and pattern is concerned. So if I have some complimentary colour combinations and shapes, it is a starting point for me. Having said that, I often change things as I go, working purely from instinct. I start out with reference material and then put it away once the painting is underway, so that I can use my artistic judgement to make an interesting image, working with my intuition. Sometimes I work purely from imagination, or from a sketch I may have done years ago. The patterns start to emerge and become stronger once the work is well underway and often will dictate which colour becomes dominant. I find that the most enjoyable part of the painting is the patterning, as it can become a kind of meditation. The final icing on the cake!
Q: Your work makes me imagine you as a very vibrant person. Would you say your vivid palette reflects your personality?
A: No, I would not describe myself that way. In fact I think that side of my personality only emerges in my art! I am actually quiet and considered in my manner. Although people always say my work makes them feel happy, so it must do the same for me when I’m painting.
Q: Is there anything about the art making process that frustrates you? What’s the hardest thing?
A: Well for me (as with a lot of women) it has always been about prioritising my time. Being a working mother and an artist at the same time is a hard juggling act. Now that my children are grown it is easier to find the time, but of course then there is the self-discipline needed to keep going. I find that it helps to switch mediums and materials to keep it interesting and challenging. For instance I have just attended a print workshop, etching and lino printing, so am keen to pursue that at the moment. I also enjoy working with fabrics, embroidery being my current joy! I work the same way with embroidery threads as I do with paint, not planning, just instinct and being delighted by the pleasing colour combinations and patterns achieved. I also sometimes create art by manipulating my photography in Photoshop, but I do prefer traditional methods of art-making. I always prefer to work from real life and not use photographs for reference material.
Q: Do you have one specific favorite piece out of your own art collection? What makes it special for you?
A: All artists know that each painting is special in it’s own way (like children!), we remember where we were and how we felt when we painted this or that, so I have a few favourites, not necessarily my best work. This one (above) gives me pleasure because I know it hangs in the home of a very good friend and she loves it!
Q: Introduce us to one artist you always turn to for inspiration
A: One artist I have always admired since I came to Australia is a lady by the name of Margaret Olley. A feisty, wonderful woman with a gift for still life, in fact turning her home into one huge still life, she surrounded herself with flowers, jugs, artifacts and all that she needed to dedicate herself to her art. She was also a wonderful patron to emerging artists and so a great example to us all. Sadly no longer with us, her wonderful artworks will always be treasured by those who admired her.
I hope I can leave a little pleasure behind when I leave!
I’m pretty sure Marlene’s work is already delighting her many fans, and if you want to see more of it, check out her Society 6 store! Did you find yourself nodding along to Marlene’s replies like I did, or do you have a different take on some of these questions? Let me know in the comments! Also tell me if there’s an artist you’d want to know more about, and I’ll ask them if they’re game to do an interview!