Q&A with Abigail Ogilvy

Abigail Ogilvy: In your artist statement, you discuss the collage elements, but don't explain how/when you decide to put them into the work. If would be helpful to know why do you choose certain collage elements? 

Holly Harrison: This is an interesting question. There are probably a few different things happening.  

I think a lot about how much paper garbage there is in the world and all the postcards, flyers, junk mail, etc. that come into the house. So many resources go into creating this “stuff”, and I mostly just throw it into the recycling bin without looking at it. I decided to bring some of it into my studio practice by incorporating it into the painted/altered collage surfaces I’ve been creating.  

Along with meaningless paper junk, there’s also a lot of meaningful paper around. My daughter’s old drawings that I can’t bear to throw out (even though I have SO many of them), postcards from art shows, maps from places I’ve been, beautiful printed papers I’ve collected or that people have given me, vintage books and some old comic books (Jim and Mira both love old comic books and sometimes damaged or “not valuable” ones make their way into my collage stash), that sort of thing. 

And then there are random paper scraps that seem to proliferate everywhere, especially in my purse and on the dining room table—shopping or to do lists, Mira’s homework (lots of math equations), my husband’s notes for his gym workouts, etc. The other day I found a piece of paper on which I had written “retro futurism”. Why did I do that? I can’t even remember. I’m drawn to these random scraps and decided they would be interesting in the mix of papers I’m using.  

Because I’m washing most of the collage elements with white paint (sometimes other colors), I can use pretty much anything since it’s just there as a hint. The paint unifies everything, making it possible to join together lots of random things. It’s like a pool of memories–some things are more visible, others are pretty deeply hidden. I’ve always been curious about how memory works. Your brain can hold so many things; it’s interesting to me that along with remembering important or moving experiences, our brains also hold onto random, even meaningless things. 

When I’m composing the white collage fields, I’m working pretty intuitively. Generally I’m choosing from painted papers that I have previously created, so I’m just thinking about what looks interesting and finding relationships between the elements. Sometimes the layouts sort of present themselves to me and other times it takes a long while for me to get everything to a place where it feels like it’s working. I try not to have an agenda when I’m moving the papers around and instead am responding to the materials and to the hints of narratives that start to come together. 

AO: Why did you move away from imagery? In the artist statement you ask, " How do you create meaning when you are not working with images? " What made you interested in this topic? What caused this transition?

HH: I wanted to stretch myself. I had been working with bird imagery for a lot of years, and I wanted to do something different. When I’ve been working in a certain vein for a while, I can get into habits: I’ll know that certain colors will look good together or adding a particular collage element will be visually successful. But I feel kind of lazy when that happens, like I’m relying on easy solutions. Maybe it’s because I got a late start as a visual artist, but I don’t want to be complacent, I always want to be learning and moving things forward or going deeper. 

I tried out a few different things and have some ideas on the back burner, but there wasn’t a subject per se that felt as compelling to me as the birds had. But I did find that I was really interested in the idea of structure and how it relates to meaning, which is something that comes out of my background in poetry. Even though I’m not a conceptual artist (at least not yet), I enjoy the thinking that goes into creating a piece or a new body of work. Setting aside image allowed me to focus on the conceptual part of making a painting. And thinking more deeply about how I build a composition led me to questions of meaning and abstraction. Even though finding my way into the process took a long time, I feel the work that I am making now is both an extension of previous bodies of work (it’s still recognizable as mine) and also references poetic structure and process. 

AO: In terms of the color fields, did you ultimately decide they are empty, or are they full? You ask the question, but then how do you ultimately feel it impacts the work?

HH: To me, this body of work is more about asking questions than it is about answering them. I hope (maybe even am counting on) that the viewer will have their own thoughts and questions as they engage with the work. In my earlier paintings, I liked using visual elements that could be read as multiple things—a long horizontal line with tabs of vertical collage might read as a fence, a zipper, birds on a wire, etc. The brain likes to find meaning even where there is no one intended meaning. This is similar to how poets use language, where meaning is relative and the role of the reader is to interpret and interact with what is there. So that’s something I’m aware of when I’m working, and it’s something I like to play with, this idea that meaning can and will change, depending on what the viewer is bringing to a piece.  

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Collected Stories

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be in a two-person show with a wonderful photographer, Kristina McComb, at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery from December 19th to February 17th. Kristina is showing new work from a series that she has been creating at the Boston Athenaeum and I’ll be showing new paintings I’ve been working on in the studio. The opening is during SoWa’s First Friday on January 4, 2019, from 6-9pm.

The paintings in Collected Stories are a new direction for me. My previous work was image-based: stacks of recognizable places and objects rendered in loosely striped formations, allowing for narrative connections to resonate across and between them. Later, I focused more on a single dominant image, often bird-related, with painted and collaged stripes adding energy and rhythm. My new work is a return to using stripes as structure, only now I’m stacking and relating fields of color and collage. The collage is a mix of things both random and meaningful that have been obscured with layers of paint: old shopping lists, vintage comics, book and magazine pages, printed papers, junk mail, my daughter’s early doodles, pieces of my husband’s works on paper, etc. (In the studio, nothing is safe.) Pulled from many different places, these elements bring with them a sense of story. The wash of paint acts to join the disparate pieces and also to obscure their content, so that what remains is more of an impression or hint, asking the viewer to look more closely.

Art for Good

One of the nice things about being an artist is that you can hide away in your studio working on art but still be a part of something bigger by donating your artwork to a good cause. A few times a year, I get asked to either donate a painting or to make something (painted furniture, birdhouses, kid crafts) to support a cause. Last year I renovated a friend’s old dollhouse (from her childhood) and filled it with tiny painted furniture and original artwork. It was really fun to bring the dollhouse back to life, and I ended up donating it to an auction fundraiser for Household Goods in Acton, MA. They are a terrific organization with a simple mission: they collect furniture and household donations from people who don’t need them and distribute them to individuals or families that do.

I’ve also donated to a number of art non-profits like Concord Art, Attleboro Arts Museum and the Zullo Gallery. I’m a big fan of these organizations for the educational work they do and for the opportunities they offer artists of all levels to share their work. Studio art is a solitary pursuit, so connecting with a non-profit (or several) can be a great way for artists to be part of a larger art community.

My piece “Something Blue” was accepted into the Artcetera Boston auction this year. This was an early Strata painting, and it was one of those pieces that never fully worked. So a couple of years after thinking it was finished, I went back into it and totally reworked it. And then recently, a poet named Matthew Goff wrote a poem about it and posted it on Instagram. How cool is that? It feels great to know that if this work sells at the auction, not only will it be going to a new home, but it will support the work of the AIDS Action Committee.

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Better late than never...

My new series got a mention in the Improper Bostonian a couple of weeks ago! Just back from traveling, so posting it now.  

By George

I've been working out some ideas for a new series on extinction/endangerment. The first completed piece will be part of the summer show at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery. I'll be sharing the walls with some incredible artwork by Ola Aksan, Adria Arch, Kate Holcomb Hale, Michael Gordon, Kristina McComb, Marie Najera and Julia S. Powell. 

The title of my new piece references George, the last male passenger pigeon, who died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1910. 

By George, 18" x 18", mixed media on wood panel

By George, 18" x 18", mixed media on wood panel

Inhabiting Words

Finally got the new show I'm co-curating installed this week. It's a big show, ten artists in four galleries at Concord Art. Amazingly everything came together despite a super tight installation window. Wonderful opening reception last night, lots of great comments, people milling around, jazz in the garden, happy artists. Very satisfying. 

The upstairs gallery at Concord Art. From left: Julia Csekö, Leslie Jackson, Lesley Dill, Deb Todd Wheeler, Squeak Carnwath and Andrew Witkin. 

The upstairs gallery at Concord Art. From left: Julia Csekö, Leslie Jackson, Lesley Dill, Deb Todd Wheeler, Squeak Carnwath and Andrew Witkin. 

Mass Art Auction Opening Reception

My husband and I stopped by the Mass Art Auction opening reception last night. It was amazing to see the walls covered from top to bottom with so much terrific artwork. And there's an impressive array of wonderful art in the Live Auction - big beautiful pieces by Shepard Fairey, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, Rachel Perry, Mark Dion, Bill Thompson (to name a few) as well as two local friends, Jane Maxwell and Barbara Bosworth. Barbara teaches at Mass Art and was in the bird show I curated last year at Concord Art. And I met Jane many years ago when I was still writing books about collage and mixed media for Rockport Publishers. She shows with the wonderful Susan Lanoue

We walked around the show with Abigail Ogilvy, who then had to rush off to a meeting at the MFA. We decided to grab dinner in Central Square and I even managed to squeeze in a quick art supply run just before the store closed while Jim searched for parking. I lugged my giant bucket of gesso to Central Kitchen, where we had dinner at the bar. A perfect evening! 

True North on the walls at MassArt's Bakalar & Paine Galleries

True North Is Heading to Mass Art

True North was accepted into the upcoming Mass Art auction! It's a great event in Boston and provides financial support for scholarships and academic programs. A lot of wonderful artists have come out of Mass Art, including lots of friends, so I'm really happy to be part of this event. 

True North 20" x 16" mixed media on wood panel

True North 20" x 16" mixed media on wood panel

The Salon Show

The Salon Show at Abigail Ogilvy Gallery is up till the end of January. Jim and I are planning to go to tomorrow's First Friday to see what's new at the different galleries. We'll be sure to stop in at AOG as well. 

My new piece is called Beyond the Sea

Two Shows + a Magazine Page

Into the Green is hanging at Concord Art as part of the 17th Frances N. Roddy exhibition, which is up until October 20. 

I also just found out that I got a piece accepted into the second annual Fay Chandler Emerging Artist Exhibition at the Scollay Gallery at Boston City Hall from September 28 to October 28. I'll be dropping off Harlem Birds today and hoping that the parking gods smile on me. 

Lastly, Abigail was interviewed for a piece in the Sept/Oct issue of Art New England about the new gallery scene in SoWa. I was thrilled to see my work included! 

Wasabi

I was contacted a couple of months ago by Meural, a startup company in NYC that has created a decorative frame for displaying artwork digitally in your home. The unit looks like a nicely framed artwork (instead of like a piece of technology) and can be used to show a single image or a rotation of many. The company invited me to contribute to their artist blog, the Meural Sketchbook, so I wrote about the color wasabi.  

The Pantone mugs I mention in my piece were a gift from a friend, Laura McFadden, who is a wonderful designer, author and artist. Check out her newest book, Knitless

In the studio 

In the studio 

Summer Party at the MFA

My piece, The Language of Lines, was accepted to the juried auction at this year's Summer Party at the MFA in Boston. I dropped it off at the museum yesterday. Kind of fun to be able to drive right into the loading dock with all the trucks. One of the guys at the loading dock saw my piece and said, "Wow, you've made pigeons beautiful. Usually they're the rats of the sky." 

Birds in Concord

Just finalizing the details for the show I am curating at Concord Art. I found some wonderful artists doing work around the theme of birds. It's really coming together. 

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Birds in Boston

Well, after a crazy week that included my daughter's emergency appendix surgery Monday night - while my husband was out of town on business - my show is up on the walls of the gallery and ready for the opening night! Once Mira was home and Jim was back, I headed into Boston. Abigail and I scrambled to get the main walls painted gray, composed the show on Wednesday, and the installer took care of the rest. I stopped by the gallery last night and couldn't be happier with the result. 

And after all this, there's SNOW! Boston and Concord schools are closed but I'm hoping the storm won't keep too many people away from the opening. I'll be no matter what. 

Here's a sneak peak. The snow is up all month.