Canadian artist Holly MacKinnon has made a lifelong dedication to her craft since she first started painting 9 years ago. Her paintings capture various themes from nostalgia to our connection with the world. Holly chisels a precise composition out of a theme or emotion she wants to convey after putting brush to canvas. We connected with Holly on the members site to talk about her creative inspirations and to show us some pieces from her latest series ‘Visions’.
When did you start your art practice?
I painted for the first time in 2011 and completed my BFA at NSCAD University in 2015. I have been painting ever since, but the last couple of years have been the most active and exciting for me.
What challenges have you found pursuing a creative career? How did you overcome them?
Every day is challenging. The hard part is staying motivated, especially when things seem to be moving slowly. It’s easy to quit. But I made a decision one day that I would paint forever, until I die, so it’s no longer a choice. I just do the work and hope that good things will come.
How do you describe your vision for your work?
Lately, I have been considering it like this: when you recall a memory from long ago, or a dream you once had, sometimes there are certain moments or images that stay with you. It might be the movement or facial expression of a person, it might be the way light hits something. It might be an interaction between two forces. You remember it vividly, or maybe with a layer of fog over it. I have started to think of my paintings this way: like a film still, a Polaroid of something that hovers between reality and fantasy. There is a constant pull between joy and despair in these strange worlds I create. There are other themes at work: emotional health, relationships and human interactions, the environment and our connection to it. Each painting is a whole mess of ideas.
How has your work evolved over time?
The changes have been drastic, especially in the last few years. I was quite lost for a while, unsure of how I wanted to approach painting. I always felt like I needed to have everything figured out. What saved me was a residency abroad which gave me the time and permission to paint like crazy. Now, two years later, I paint in a completely different way and the subject matter is always evolving and becoming more layered. I still don’t claim to have anything figured out, but I’ve made strides in how to paint and have developed my skills.
What are your artistic/creative inspirations?
I get motivated by looking at works of other artists. I also love reading and usually it stirs up some images and ideas. A good story is so powerful. Here are some works of fiction that really inspired me, for any readers in your audience: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, Girl In The Woods by Aspen Matis, and Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut.
Another thing that inspires me is watching Allison Schulnik’s animations, which I’d recommend to everyone. They are such strange and beautiful worlds.
Tell me about your process.
I usually start with an acrylic ground on the canvas or panel, just a solid bright colour. Then I go in with really thin washes of oil. At this point there is no effort to depict anything; the paint is applied randomly with lots of drips. I do this for a while. Eventually, as the layers create more depth, something starts to take shape. When I decide it’s enough, I start to do thicker layers with more intention. These days, I rarely go in with a preconceived idea of what the painting is going to be. I try to be more broad and think of themes or emotions that I want to infuse, instead of specific compositions. I work on both big and small pieces at once, with usually a dozen paintings on the go.
Do you think your work has a message? How is it received?
I’d rather try to evoke a reaction or an emotion. People tend to draw their own message. Two viewers will react so differently to the same painting which is thrilling for me. Someone once referred to my paintings as “horror paintings” which I thought was funny because I see them as being quite soft, but I understood what she meant in the moment. Some people find the work dark, or sweet, or tender, or disturbing. I like to think it’s all of these things, and the viewer’s reaction will say a lot about them.
Where would you like to see your work in 3 years? What goals do you have for your practice?
I’m excited to see what my work will look like in 3 years, since it seems to be evolving quickly. I’d like to be included in some major publications and exhibitions. In 3 years, I want to be selling more paintings and working hard in a beautiful studio.
Are there other emerging artists you can recommend?
Some artists that are really inspiring me right now are: Nichole Rae Klein, Loren Erdrich, Chayanich Muangthai, and Allison Schulnik.
FRONTRUNNER social forum: @holly.mackinnon