Central Questions for Artist Sara Renae Holloway
I am compelled by Sara Renae Holloway. Like all artists I choose for interviews, she offers a refreshing and candid take on what it means to be not only an artist, but also a person responding to the demands of our world. She radiates clarity, strength, and passion in a way that defies my ability to capture it in this introduction. Sara is the real deal.
Sara is also one of the most talented painters I have ever met, responsible for works that are consistently as haunting as they are visually impressive. They have stuck with me since we were in college together; their impact is immediate and consuming, like a burn or a hit to the jaw. Working in themes of the body, mythology, and the occult, her paintings are sure to capture the hearts and minds of Knife Play viewers. I think I'll let her incisive words and visceral images speak for themselves.
Knife Play: What can you share about your creative trajectory? How did you get to your current creative life?
Sara Renae Holloway: My creative trajectory? That's a really weird thing for me to think about actually...I'm not sure of how to even answer that and I love that it makes me uncomfortable. I guess I don’t know what mine is exactly but I know it’s involving a series of setbacks, mistakes and just blind, jumping-off-the-edge bullshit bravery. I've always just kind of been unsatisfied with where I was and what I was doing and that's led to me taking chances. A big criticism of me that I've heard from multiple people in my past is "Why isn’t it enough? Why can't you be ever be just happy and satisfied?" I see their point but it really is just the way I am. I’ve always been this way. I understand that being with someone like that can be frustrating and maybe it comes off like nothing is ever good enough but I believe it’s totally necessary. My dissatisfaction has led to my evolution as an artist and it's also led to me, moving from city to city…trying to find whatever it is that I think might also be looking for me as well.
Fourteen years ago, my dissatisfaction led me to breaking an engagement, quitting a job in Dallas, going back to college and ultimately moving to Chicago and finishing a degree that almost destroyed me but has enabled me to make a real transformative difference in some young lives. So is it that bad? I think an important question for everyone is “What am I building?”. If we asked ourselves that more regularly and started to think of what others are trying to build rather than just taking everything on current value, I think that we might all be more patient and honest with where we’re actually at and less frustrated. And really, if someone isn’t building something (Anything!) then I don’t want to really be around them. I don’t have any more tolerance for dead weight anymore.
I honestly don't think I have just one specific trajectory. I also kind of think of my trajectory as an educator separate than my artistic progression. They have been totally different and have been progressing in completely singular ways. I think of trajectory, rather than stairs or some kind of a path that just keeps advancing and going up and up and up, more like a series of broken orbits…a fucking terrible amusement park ride that definitely soars and then plummets and then flat lines for a bit then hopefully comes back around with all its adrenaline and nausea once again. I think of myself as having many crooked-ass orbits that I can jump on and be thrown off of at any given time. If you were to name the most terrifyingly beautiful, thrilling, awful and dangerous rollercoaster that ever existed it would be called “My Creative Trajectory” and one would probably vomit and get a concussion if surviving it at all.
KP: Who/what are your biggest influences?
SRH: I’ve been influenced by so many things…literature, art, a passing moment, so many relationships, mythology, childhood stories and memories, medical anomalies, sickness, analogies, personal trauma, theories, nightmares, resistance, hate, stillness, the unspoken, beauty, anger…is “being influenced” different than “being inspired”?
I can go anywhere and just be influenced by strange color combinations sometimes. Like, right now, I am looking out my window and seeing these weird vines growing out of the bushes and the sun is coming through them and it’s a shame that someone is going to trim them in order to make the bushes seem more “perfect”. This inspires me. The idea of perfection provokes me. I hate perfection. I do enjoy balance though. Symmetry feels like an enemy sometimes. Everything feels like the enemy sometimes.
I go through these phases where I am so incredibly open to taking from my surroundings, out of nowhere everything gains meaning and magic. You know that weird headspace that happens sometimes when you actually feel open and creatively fertile and everything is magnified in meaning? Like, you notice the moldy water damage on the ceiling and it's not disgusting but poetic? Or a certain way a light looks and it makes you teary and finally able to write and run and you feel like you just might finish something beautiful or important…am I the only one? Then it goes away, like the dial gets knocked and it's nothing but static again and you go back to normality… sleepwalking and feeling angry because your potential is wasting away. Some people don’t go through this, though….they just wake up ready to get busy and they don’t worry about money or working and they are in their nice ass studio at 6am sober and rested with a million ideas. I don’t know any of these people really but it comforts me to think that they exist and that they suck and that sometimes I want to be them.
I have my phases and when I feel my open and productive phase coming on, I just hope I can finish something in the duration of time that it lasts. But you know, everything isn’t about production. The biggest influential moments for me can be when I’m in my absorbment phase. Is absorbment a word? It needs to be. In those quiet, static times I know that I am still watching and hearing mysteries sing even though it may seem like I’m just wasting my time or being lazy. I think we all need to give ourselves permission to exist in those times. We need to give ourselves a pass sometimes if we can. It’s hard though. It’s important to believe that it’s not all for nothing.
Recently, I’ve been looking at French and German Expressionists…all that smeary great ugliness, beauty and color. So many patterns, it’s crazy. Munch gets me going. Modigliani. Belkis Ayón. Milt Kobayashi. Kehinde Wiley. Gustavo Ortiz. Nolde. Mossa. I recently discovered this guy, Will Barnet and his stuff is amazing. Kerry James Marshall’s show at the MCA left me speechless, overjoyed and stupid. Oh my god, Christina Bothwell.
KP: Can you talk about time you were afraid to fail (with regard to creative efforts) and/or a time that you did? How did you bounce back?
SRH: Oh boy, I think I have always been afraid to fail. I totally still am on so many fronts. Constantly. It sucks to fail and it’s embarrassing. That fear can be paralyzing, can’t it?
Years can go by and then you’re 30 and look around and try to tell yourself that all the while, you were actually afraid to succeed, huh? Bull. Anyone that legitimately believes that they don’t do shit because they are afraid to succeed has probably never failed or succeeded in anything. Haha.
I realized the other day as I was looking over about 10 pieces of mine that I was prepping for a show, that everything that I legit loved about each one was something that I did in order to cover up a “mistake” I thought that I had made. Disjointed figures, nonsensical backgrounds, smeary shades, blended colors or something else entirely different that I would have NEVER done had I not messed up on something that I had planned to do. What is failure though? I’ve had so many setbacks that have cost me years and I think it’s important to distinguish a set back or “mistake” from a “failure”, you know?
Not being able to even TRY to do or achieve something that I have my sights set on…that’s my definition of real failure. Trying and giving up. Not trying at all. I have failed so many fucking times that I don’t even think of it as failing anymore. I think of it as progress.
KP: What motivates you?
SRH: If I am honest? At its core…probably my jealousy. My terrible ego. Failure and fear fuel me too. Other people being shitty and sucking motivates me. I want to be better than all that drama and ego. I want to be better than I was. I’m constantly striving for something more, something great and important. Whatever that is.
KP: What terrifies you or inspires vulnerability?
SRH: Terrifies? Damn, I’m trying not to go straight to the “a naked dude on PCP climbing through my window at night with a chainsaw” type of response. I’ll pick one thing…I think that when people are really honest with me…and I can tell that they are being totally translucent and genuine, that checks me and definitely scares me a bit. Honesty causes me to pause. Talk about vulnerability…when someone is unapologetically themselves and beautifully forward and unselfconscious? It stops me cold. I think it’s so unsettling to me because I don’t actually know how to navigate that sometimes. Like, I can’t read that. I am both terrified and attracted to it and it leaves me feeling unbalanced and pretty much on-guard. I want to know motivation and the any given angle of most things and when something is out in the open, I guess that I just can’t help but feel there’s a tiger in the bushes or arsenic in the tea. Good thing it doesn’t happen that often.
KP: What is the last thing that really made you say, "What the actual fuck is going on here?"
SRH: SO many things. Probably the big stupid one thing that I can articulate most clearly was when Trump won the Presidency and just..the whole entire thing. I was down and not in a normal down kinda way. I was in the Bell Jar for real. I remember the next morning, I had to go to work and I caught myself in the mirror…my face looked like every muscle was relaxed and I didn’t give a fuck. I didn’t give anything for a while. I realize now that this shitstorm was necessary for us to get to the point that we are at now and for any real change to happen in the future. I have to believe that. Rock bottom is both static and relative and things can always get worse. There’s a comfort in reminding oneself of that I think.
KP: What are your goals for the upcoming year?
SRH: Aside from doing more, not putting things off and chilling out on my control issues? There’s actually a few things I’d like to start thinking even more seriously about and focusing on. I already teach a handful of personal clients around Chicago but I’d like to expand my own studio and business. I’m also getting married this summer for the second time in 7 years and I’d like not to fuck that up. Small steps and big strides and tiny jumps, right? I’m hopeful. Wow, did I just say that?
What about front and center artistic endeavor goals? Last summer, a friend of mine and I started an art collective (Secret Tricks) out of pretty much nowhere. It just happened and we have been fine-tuning our ways and hammering things out. We’ve curated a handful of shows and are feeling it out as we go. We are quickly gaining momentum and it’s becoming pretty dynamic. I think that’s where most of my creative energy is going to be directed toward this coming year. I remember one night my friend and I were like, “Why haven’t we done this before?” and naturally came the conclusion that we were terribly solitary people before and just weren’t in the frame of mind to do it yet. So now we are and we know some seriously talented, ingenious, resourceful, and bad-ass ladies that are bringing so many things to so many tables. It’s pretty exciting and important. To have multiple shows lined up in a row and have to be actively making new work for each one as well as inspiring others to hustle really lights a fire under me. I need that fire now and I’m ready for it.
Compiled in November 2017
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