Interview with Laurel Holloman – Part 1 (Laurel about art)
By B&TF (November 7, 2010)
Laurel Holloman became a lesbian icon by playing Randy Dean in “The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love” and Tina Kennard on “The L Word”. She also appeared in dozens of independent movies, which is one of Laurel’s favorite genre and as a guest star in several TV series.
Lately, Laurel embarked on another adventure: pursuing her long-time passion, which is abstract painting. She spent her summer in New York, living in an artist’s studio in Tribeca where she was painting relentlessly (sometimes until wee hours in the morning), creating a series of amazing paintings that she called “The Tribeca Series 2010”. Her art-related website www.laurelhollomanstudio.net is a huge success and just recently Laurel sold all of her “Tribeca Series” paintings. However, anyone can own a piece of Laurel’s art because she had also offered prints and digital canvases of her work to fans and art collectors to purchase.
After returning to Los Angeles, Laurel continues painting and preparing for her first art show next year. Furthermore, she is still attending “L Word” Conventions – much to the delight of her numerous loyal fans – and she is actively pursuing her acting career by appearing in smaller roles and by reading for auditions.
In the last couple of months, Laurel did numerous interviews but there are so much more she can offer. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Laurel. We got together in Los Angeles and spent an hour talking about her passion for art, inspiration for her paintings, her artistic vision, “L Word” Conventions, and TiBette relationship.
Laurel on her art:
B&TF: When did you first get the strongest desire to start painting full-time?
Laurel Holloman: 5th Grade. I wanted to paint all the time in 5th Grade. I painted an Easter Rabbit and I won a contest in 5th Grade and I thought I was going to be an artist. That’s when I knew. When I won the contest I beat out thousands of other fifth-graders so I knew I must have an artistic flair. I must’ve done some abstract version of the Easter Bunny.
B&TF: What about lately as an adult when you started painting full-time after The L Word…what prompted you to do so?
LH: I always painted. I pained after The Two Girls in Love, I painted after every movie. I’ve always painted.
B&TF: What happened to those paintings?
LH: Mostly I gave away to friends and some are still in my house. I mean, I painted for friends and family, I wasn’t painting for a show. I just painted. Leisha painted on the set every other day in her trailer. I think when you are a painter you’re just painting all the time. I mostly just gave it away. I can’t pin-point because I don’t remember when I didn’t paint.
B&TF: You said before that you find inspiration mostly in life. What are your favorite subjects to observe and to paint?
LH: In life? Loneliness, female form, sex. It’s like a photographic image that depicts an emotion that is universal enough to draw people in. I’m interested in painting that.
B&TF: So for you it’s mostly some emotion and not the physical aspects of the objects?
LH: It could be physical. Sometimes you can’t even put a face to it but in a physical design or form that can bring you in on an emotional level. It just depends on what it is. Most of my abstracts start with a more literal photo-authentic image, you know, like a nude woman could be underneath an abstract. You see only the abstract but she could be in there or dialog could be in there, a name. I mean, I mix it all together so it’s just a bunch of layers but I find that if I’m painting something and if it’s not abstract enough for me then I’m not as interested, so I stir it up a little bit.
B&TF: You did say before that you prefer abstract painting. What attracts you so much to abstract painting versus, let’s say, realism or classical?
LH: On a real-life commercial level abstract sells better.
B&TF: But you are not doing it for just the commercial value, right?
LH: No, because I do both. I still do abstract nudes. Then I’ve done some portraits for people, but I don’t find it as personal and most people don’t find it as personal because the photo-authentic quality doesn’t tell you much about the painter. Like with the painters I admire from anyone like Jean-Michel Basquiat to Marlene Dumas. They stretch photo-authentic realism into an emotional state that tells you more about altering and augmenting, something like that. I don’t think I will keep painting only abstract, I think I’ll paint a little bit of everything. It will just be really interesting to see how it unfolds.
I mean, I’m really just searching to paint to release whatever is going on in that moment. If what’s going on in that moment stays abstract then it will stay abstract. If it becomes a little more based in realism then that’s fine too. Obviously you just saw a sketch that was on Twitter. There’s nothing abstract about it.
B&TF: The one from the song “House of Cards”?
LH: Yeah, it’s a complete direct sketch of more like a 1950’s housewife.
B&TF: But you might change it into something else because all of your paintings evolve into something different…
LH: I have a lot of ideas of what I want to do with her but I don’t know. Once I start with these ideas if they are executed in a way that I want them then they’ll stay that way. But I find that sometimes the plan that you have for something is not as interesting as the impulsive result. A lot of people like that sketch so much they don’t want me to paint over it. A lot of times the people are like, “Just leave it, leave it, leave it”, but it’s not finished. For me, it’s not finished.
B&TF: And of course you need to go with your inspiration…
LH: Yeah, at first I was going to call her like “The Good Wife” because she’s so representative of sort of a glamorous 1950’s wife, almost like a character out of Mad Men, but she’s completely void of any kind of happiness. So what I wanted to do is to go in and play with the juxtaposition of…
B&TF: Goodness and loneliness?
LH: Yeah, like I’ve seen it in January Jones in Mad Men, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched that show…
B&TF: Yes, I did.
LH: When she start shooting those f***ing birds with a cigarette dangling from her mouth and a perfect Grace Kelly hair, (January Jones in Mad Men) I just have a very different understanding of that. That’s what is in that painting because it’s somewhat connected to this Radiohead song, which is if you listen to the words of the song there’s this moment when it’s like, “Throw your keys in the bowl, kiss your husband goodnight”, which is like a key party
I guess, in general I have to figure out where this painting’s gonna go because my focus is on the societal expectations for what you suppose to be when you become a wife. That painting is the beginning of that seed. It’s just like if you were to plant a seed and you’re digging the dirt, and plant it in there and then you see what’s going to happen. That’s why I also didn’t finish painting it because I don’t know what I want to say with that painting, I don’t know yet. It’s almost like I’ve got that far with the sketch and now I’m not sure where I want her to go.
Sometimes I feel like when I don’t finish something I don’t emotionally know what the answer is yet so I just come back to it later. And then some stuff I start and then after 24 hours of complete painting I just immerse myself in it and it’s done. Like “And, I love You” is the painting that went really, really fast but then “Swan Dive” took months…
B&TF: Yeah, I remember how it started, it was so different.
LH: Yeah, and “Enlightened” took months. Some of it takes longer and some of it goes very fast. It’s like catching the train or something, you either jump on and you’re in and that’s it but sometimes you don’t know yet.
B&TF: While we on a subject of music, you mentioned that you listen to a lot of music when you paint. Do the words inspire you to create certain images or does it serves as a background for your inspiration?
LH: It influences the painting for sure but it’s probably unconscious, I’m not sure. But I’ve gone so that I have trouble painting without music now. I used to feel like I needed the silence but I need more music now.
B&TF: I totally understand. When I write I sometimes need music to set the mood for whatever I’m writing about.
B&TF: You also mentioned that your paintings often have hidden images and abstract expressions. Some of them you can’t see because you paint over them, like in the case of “Loss of Identity”, which began as something completely different. What is the purpose of so many layers if only the top one can be seen? How do you want them to recognize that there’s something hidden beneath?
LH: I don’t mean to, it’s just my process. I’m just painting for myself. I’m just expressing whatever’s going on in my head.
B&TF: When we had our last interview you mentioned that you’re interested in bones as images. Is it their structure and geometry or the philosophical aspect of it?
LH: It’s philosophical.
B&TF: Is it because of your series “Cycle of Life”? Are you still working on it?
B&TF: How do bones figures into it?
LH: Well, when we’re born we’re kind of rubbery and our bones are not fully formed and then we die and they become more brittle, and then if we’re trying to find out who somebody is then the only way we can really find out is through DNA or teeth. And then we turn to dust. To me that’s the cycle of life.
B&TF: Will those paintings appear in the L.A. show?
LH: I don’t know. If you look at “Untitled Blue”, which is part of it, it’s hard because since I went to Tribeca some of the ideas I had for that series changed so that whole aspect is not as interesting to me now.
B&TF: Yes, things are always changing in life.
LH: Yeah, I think for each painting that’s been sort of successful in the series, you probably see the off-shoot of that style.
B&TF: I think it’s hard for an artist to let go of their creations especially if they put so much energy and soul into them. How hard is it for you to part with your paintings?
LH: If someone really falls in love with a painting, it’s very easy. I’m just really confident I’ll be able to paint whatever I want for myself again. And also I just feel like art is meant to be shared.
B&TF: I agree, and it brings me to commissioned paintings. Is it as inspiring as to paint your own because you are painting other people’s visions?
LH: I’ve never had a commission that was other people’s vision. It was just suggestions of styles and color, but they pretty much gave me free reign.
B&TF: But is it more draining for you because for your own paintings you don’t have a deadline.
LH: No, I like the challenge. It’s more challenging. It’s just like a scene with acting where a scene is shot a certain way and they direct you and you kind of like the challenge of hitting those notes and you’re going to hit the notes in the painting too.
B&TF: I read this quote from Picasso who said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth”. Is there truth to that statement for you and do you find it in your own art?
LH: I think he’s saying that art is a visual medium that produces an emotional response, whether it’s a lie or truth or whatever. I mean, in a way it’s a lie because it’s actually just like a two-dimensional image, so it’s just an illusion of some sort. It’s never really real because what’s real is flesh and blood. In a way I guess it is a lie but what it produces is emotional truth.
B&TF: I also read in another interview where you quoted Julian Schnabel who said that when you feel lost, paint large and paint red.
LH: Yeah, paint large and red (laughing).
B&TF: I’ve seen a few of your paintings with a lot of red in it…
LH: I don’t do it a lot but yeah, if you get lost.
B&TF: But you also use an amazing palette of colors in your paintings. Does each color represent a certain mood or emotion? Like in psychology where red means anger, blue means calm…
LH: Well, red also means passion, it’s not just anger. It also means love. For me, I found blues and yellows to be really calming. Not that they would be really calming in the picture or how it manifests but painting them. Darker colors, like blacks and purples are harder. They are dominant and they tend to take over canvas so you have to be really careful with them. I’ve been better with yellows, reds, and oranges. They’re closer to my personality. But green is probably my favorite color.
B&TF: I remember you posted one of your paintings in progress where green was merging with blue. Is that what became “Untitled Green” later?
LH: No, it’s a different painting. That’s on wood, that’s a panel. “Untitled Green” is on a canvas, it’s very, very different. It has lots of glaze and some red tones on it and there’s writing underneath.
B&TF: I love green too, it makes me feel alive and go outside.
LH: I think it’s because I’m also pretty outdoorsy so that’s why maybe green has a big influence.
B&TF: I recently watched a documentary on Louise Bourgeois and someone said that “fusion of her life and art” was what attracted him to her work and “the whole body of her work really is like a self-portrait.” How would you describe your art and how much of yourself do you put in your paintings?
LH: I’ve never taken a photograph of myself and done a direct self-portrait. I’m sure I will. I mean, I may do a whole series that way. I don’t pick a subject that I don’t feel emotionally connected to so the only thing I can comment on is that when I pick a subject there must be something of myself I’ve seen within the subject.
B&TF: When you are working on a painting do you realize that you made it more personal when you finish?
LH: I used to make it more personal in the end. I always make it more personal in the end. I mean, “Swan Dive” is so abstract but it’s the most personal paintings I’ve ever painted. Liza (Morgan) saw the whole process of it. The whole painting wasn’t abstract at all. It was almost like I could’ve called it “The Lovely Bones”. It was a skeleton, her hands were bound, her wrists are coming out at the top…
B&TF: I didn’t see any of it in the painting.
LH: You should see the original.
B&TF: Well, I was waiting to see them at the studio but you sold them all, which is great for you.
LH: It’s probably the reason it was the first painting I sold and the person who bought it saw it first and she knows and can see what was there. I’ve worked with a series of turpentines and resins and once I painted the original skeleton, I strip it all. But there’s a lot of texture where rope is on her hands, her hands are still there, and her body, her hip joint and her teeth but you have to really, really look for it.
B&TF: Yeah, the picture on the Internet doesn’t show it.
LH: The reason you can see it on the original is because it was so thick, the texture is still there, that’s the only way you can see it. That’s where the dimensions come in. That’s actually a very three-dimensional painting. “She Burns My Eyes” is also a painting that’s very different in person.
B&TF: That’s one of my favorite, what’s the difference?
LH: It’s brighter. The pencil marks are still there, the original trace of the subject touching herself and all that. When you’re close to it you see it all, it’s much more out there. It’s more provocative. You saw it, the original painting is very yellow and then I glazed it until I felt it was more abstract. And what’s interesting is that I might not shy away from that subject matter, like I may do something that is not as abstract and just let it be there, but for me, in the beginning, I felt like the series I was trying to do was mostly abstract.
I felt like that painting was a little bit too photo-authentic, a woman masturbating, and I didn’t want that. I wanted something a little bit different. I kept the yellow on her neck and face because I just wanted her to be liberated of some sort, like free her or something, because that’s what I was looking for. Everyone was saying, “It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful”, but for me there was nothing going on here. It was just provocative but where is it really going? And that’s what I’m trying to do. I mean, I’m still learning but that’s what I’m most interested in, where is it really going.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. The thing is, the subject matter doesn’t bother me. If you’re painting something and you’re pushing the limit but artistically and aesthetically it’s just not working, there’s no reason to keep painting. I’m very much like if it’s not working, I’m done. I walk away.
B&TF: Yes, you did say before that sometimes your paintings don’t work. What do you do with those paintings?
LH: Sometimes I paint over it or sometimes I just move to a different canvas. That’s why I paint three or four things at the same time. I paint in oil so you have to let certain things dry before you keep going. It’s timing. There’s the whole series I was painting in acrylics but I’ve never finished it and I don’t even know if I will finish it. I don’t even know if I like that medium.
B&TF: You like to paint large. What really attracts you to that? What’s the most important?
LH: Why large?
B&TF: Yes, why large?
LH: The power that it has. I haven’t really been able to express myself with the smaller medium. I mean, I have a couple of small paintings that I like but it’s not the same thing. To me they just look like everything else. The larger ones feel like it sets them apart a bit.
B&TF: Do you think that with the larger ones you have more canvas to explore?
LH: No, I think abstracts serve better large, in general. To me, abstracts are stronger when they are large.
B&TF: People also have to have room for larger paintings. Like the “Unconditional Blonde” that I’ve got is smaller and fits perfectly in my small room.
LH: But it’s also not as abstract as others. I would call it a figurative abstract.
B&TF: What about the “Untitled Red”?
LH: There’s a nude woman in it, it’s not an abstract. It’s a figurative nude, really. “Untitled Blue” is a true abstract. “She Burns My Eyes” is a figurative nude. “It’s Hard to Get to the Center of Things” is a figurative nude.
B&TF: What about “On Fertile Ground”, another favorite of mine?
LH: It’s a landscape. It’s an abstract landscape, because there’s a horizon line. “I Walk Alone” is a landscape still. Another abstract landscape. As soon as you draw the line in the center you’re looking at the landscape.
B&TF: Wow, there’re all these different forms of abstract, I didn’t know. So much to learn about painting.
LH: Yeah (laughing).