(Surrealism) STUART HOLLAND
Boise-based visual artist Stuart Holland's work is infused with an otherworldly ambiguity. Characters are shown in surreal settings of tall monoliths, orbs of light, pools of water, and colossal geometric architecture. His images are filled with provocative symbolism and an atmosphere of reverent transformation.
What sort of principles do your characters embody? Such as surrender, acceptance, patience, etc.
My work is really an exploration of transcendence in several ways. In my opinion, the most powerful pieces of art dance delicately between contradicting emotions and my work seeks to do the same by delving into themes of vulnerability and fortitude, doubt and affirmation, humility and Ego, entropy and order. In exploring these themes, I want to illustrate a kind of alchemical journey that my figures undergo as they become a greater and more enlightened version of themselves.
Many of your characters are often pierced with spears or arrow-like protrusions. Could you speak about what that represents?
There are really a couple different intentions at work there. The spear-like protrusions are symbolic of those things which embed themselves in our sense of Self like traumas, attachments, and wounds that seek to immobilize us and our aspirations to become something greater. I also have several pieces where there are gold leaf forms radiating out or penetrating into the figures, which has a different intention altogether. The gold in my work symbolizes a kind of divine light, an energy that is a catalyst of transcendental change and growth. In the same way that European religious art used golden halos to indicate divinity. I use them to allude to a spiritual transfiguration that also has ties to the energy shells that electrons jump between in an atom as energy is gained or lost. In these instances, the piercing rays of gold serve an inverse purpose to the spears and represent liberation, inspiration, or growth.
Your work depicts subjective realms that seem to exist in-between a waking state and a dream state. There’s also an atmosphere of transformation occurring that is simultaneously reverent and uneasy. What would you call the places your characters reside in?
That’s a pretty accurate representation of it. I’m fascinated by the concept of liminality - where something exists between two distinctly opposite ideas or places. So much of Western industrialized culture has been dominated by stark, binary constructs and demands to put everything in a neat and tidy categorical system. I believe this desire for easy answers to incredibly complicated puzzles has been a huge detriment to our world. My work all exists within a single, liminal realm where there is increased freedom to explore the bounds of contradiction, identity, and more fully embrace creativity, authenticity, and complexity. It is neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’, both familiar and strange, and challenges our notions of what is and what could be.
Is Brutalism an influence on the monolithic architecture seen in your work? What do these architectural forms represent to you?
Brutalism is a huge influence on my implementation of architecture. There’s something so powerful and humbling about finding oneself dwarfed by a monolithic structure as it looms over you. This fascination has also come from my experiences traveling and experiencing architectural wonders like Machu Picchu, European cathedrals, and other sacred sites. The mastery of cutting and stacking massive stones, especially by earlier civilizations is something that we don’t often see in the steel structures of our modern day. Something about monolithic stone architecture retains a kind of spiritual resonance and a greater monumental presence for me. When you find yourself in the midst of one of these constructions, it really feels like a true triumph of the human spirit.
What thinkers and philosophical concepts have had a direct influence on your work?
Inspiration for my work comes from a wide variety of sources, from my experience growing up rebellious in a religious household, to quantum physics, to Buddhism. I strive to connect the realms of science and spirituality in way that is honest and informs and empowers one another. I’m a big fan of contemporary thinkers like Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, and Terrence McKenna in exploring more spiritual and psychedelic aspects to what it means to be a conscious human being and the power of perception and narrative in structuring our lives. And on the more empirical science side, I like to supplement my creative research with work on AI, particle physics, neuroscience, and anthropology. I would highly recommend people reading ‘Life 3.0’ by Max Tegmark along with ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari. All three of these books were really impactful on my current understanding of humanity in the current technological age.
When working with charcoal and other messy and unpredictable mediums and tools, how do you get such clean precision?
While both are very detail oriented, I essentially have two distinct approaches to reigning in the chaos in my drawing and painting. With charcoal, I slowly build up base values until I reach a place where I begin to work reductively, almost in a sculptural sense and begin to remove the pigment like a sculptor chisels away at a block of marble. It all comes down to knowing how much you can withdraw at any given moment, removing darkness to illuminate the ever-present light. This is definitely my more constrained process. However, my watercolor work relies more heavily on chaos. There are such beautiful chaotic moments that can be achieved with watercolor that really lend themselves to the surreal atmosphere I create in so many of my works. In my painting, the entropy comes first and usually establishes the backdrop for the scene, before I go in with more precision and render the rest of the components. Learning to control watercolor really comes down to learning how to manage how wet to have the paper and brush to allow the degree of chaos to shift as you intend.
Are there any other mediums you're interested in trying that could potentially expand your vision?
This year I bought an Oculus Rift and started to play around with designing environments in Unreal Engine. I think that VR technology is going to be a huge turning point in the arena of creating and experiencing art, and really lends itself to many of the conceptual themes that I’m currently exploring. It’s absolutely astonishing how much control and vast array of options that program puts in your hands to design an incredibly immersive world. I’m eager to further explore how this technology could inform and transform my art and make it accessible to people on a whole new stage.
When it comes to submitting work, what's that process like? Could you walk us through it?
Submitting work is a tedious process, honestly. It’s a constant search for opportunities, both locally and in the larger art world, but it’s vital to building a diverse resume that will hopefully open doors of opportunity for you to share your art with the world. There’s also an important balance between submitting to as many opportunities as possible, while also being discerning with which ones you choose to invest in as most will cost money for you to submit. Always do your research on the show or organization that you are applying to and be honest with whether your work fits their aesthetic and clientele base - for example, if you are an abstract painter, don’t submit to a gallery that specializes in representational work. Every submission opportunity will have different guidelines from the number of entries you get, fees, to specific sizes for your images, and it is crucial to follow them. If a gallery feels like you are wasting their time by not following their instructions, you will certainly not get selected. Start looking for group shows where you can get opportunities to prove yourself making one or two great pieces before jumping to expect ambitious solo shows at galleries where you have no reputation. And lastly, remember to not take rejection personally. If you do it right, you will likely have far more rejections than opportunities where your work is accepted. This happens to almost all artists, especially at the beginning of their careers, but will shift over time as you grow and make more and better work. Keep with it.
What’s next for you? What do you see for your artistic career?
As an emerging artist, I’m still in an early stage of my art career and have lots of work ahead of me. This year I’ve been participating in several group shows in galleries like Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia and Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati and really building up working relationships with them. Hopefully next year will give me the chance to have a smaller solo feature and allow me to show a larger body of work and really prove that I can take it to the next level.
You might also like our interviews with these artists:
Photo by Heethe Ellsworth
Special thanks to William Walker, Jr. for assistance with this interview