Foul Play by Holly Frean >>> The Gallery at Anthropologie, Kings Road, London
The wonderfully talented Holly Frean. An artist full of playful, imaginative spirit. I’ve known Holly for a few years now and have longed to see the works that I know she works so intensely on. If you can get yourself to Anthropologie on London’s Kings Road, you’ll be able to view Holly’s most recent exhibition, Foul Play. Holly began her career as a portrait painter, and it is this background that now allows her to suggest so much with so little. The shape of a head, the line of a chin, the weight of a stance are enough to give a full account of a face or figure.
“Chickens are spectacular, theatrical creatures,” says Holly. “Consider their extraordinary faces and baggy accessories – all ostentation and swank!
I paint the same subject many times over to see how many differences I can generate. Formal shifts, subtle – and not so subtle – shifts in colour, the angle of a beak, the placement of eyes, even pupil dilation, the arrangement of expressive plumage, all these combine to describe – or invent – a chicken’s personality. After that I am interested in the ordering, flocking if you like, and displaying my subject; these chickens must work on their own and also complement each other as a group.”
Chickens are so different from my usual work, I really only started painting them after being invited to design the plates for the Anthropologie homeware department! One thing lead to another and suddenly I had masses of the things littering the studio floor and an exhibition of them seemed the right thing to do!”
From the Anthropologie Gallery entrance, Matthew Sturgis offers this testimonial…
Over the last five years Frean has explored the possibilities of building up pictures from multiple images arranged in formal grid. It has proved a rich seam. Amongst the first paintings in the series were arrangements transcribed from old master portraits – and self-portraits: men in beards, men with hats – seen from the front, imagined from behind. They were images that both celebrated individual genius and dissolved it into pattern.
That series has now evolved into the current sequence, which – as its starting point – imagines the working lives of Frean’s painter-heroes. It is an inspired conceit. The pictures – for all their visual wit and sly humour – acknowledge the fragility of art, and celebrate its triumph. Through her imaginative projections Frean shows how great art is created amidst the mundane cares and daily routines of an artist’s life.
Despite their hints of narrative these multi-image works have little in common with strip cartoons. In their approach to story-telling they resemble more the predellas created to run beneath Renaissance altarpieces, neatly summarizing the achievements of a particular saint in a series of individual scenes.
By choosing to work on such a small scale – often using little squares of cardboard or gessoed panel – Frean has been obliged to evolve a succinct and abbreviated style. It is a brilliant technical achievement, at once highly personal and highly effective. It has been born out of long years of close observation as well as a rigorous training in draughtsmanship. Frean began her career as a relatively conventional portrait painter, and it is this background that now allows her to suggest so much with so little: the shape of a head, the line of a chin, the set of a neck, the weight of a stance are enough to give a full account of a bust or figure.
Frean has exhibited extensively in the UK and America. This year she won the National Open Art Competition prize awarded by Grayson Perry, as well has having her work selected by the critic Skye Sherwin for the ING Discerning Eye exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London.’