Natalie Holland . Realist Artist
Natalie Holland is a Norwegian realist artist best known for her portraiture and vivid depiction of the female figure. She applies her technical skill and storytelling ability to bring forth an extraordinary dimension in ordinary situations and encounters with people. Her paintings open up a personal dialogue with the viewer with whom she aims to establish a unique, emotional connection.
She received her education at the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts, Russia, and started her career as an artist in Norway. After attending the studio of Odd Nerdrum in Oslo, she proceeded to exhibit internationally, with gallery shows in Norway,
Italy, the USA, UK, and Spain. She recently left her studio in London where she spent twelve years and relocated to Oslo, Norway. While in London, she exhibited at BP Portrait Award, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, and the Society of Women Artists. Her work can be seen in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MEAM) in Barcelona. This year, she won first prize and first place in ModPortrait, the international contest of figurative painting dedicated exclusively to portraiture in Barcelona, Spain.
The power of a Great Story has always triggered my imagination. Fascinating narratives and alluring anecdotes come my way through multiple sources—books, films, individual accounts, and life itself. Most of all I enjoy creating stories of my own. My main characters are always people who attract and interest me visually, often leading me to invent a story about them. As a result, my curiosity gets piqued, prompting me to try to discover the real story behind my living and breathing leading characters, which is usually the driving force behind my work as a visual artist.
My preferred painting tools are oils and brushes and I work as much from life models as possible unless practical reasons don’t allow it. On both the technical and stylistic level my work is defined as realism. I’m passionate about my art and thoroughly enjoy the slow, precise methods needed to achieve realistic results. Focusing on minute details is an important part of the process that helps me understand my subject matter. Especially when I’m painting a portrait, this attention to detail is a means towards understanding the person sitting for me. My aim is to invite the viewer to discover deeper emotions beyond the first visual impression.
The ultimate focus of my work is the human character—whether it’s a close-up of one individual in a portrait or a wider narrative based on contemporary themes such as feminism, religion, and today’s sociopolitical challenges. Whatever the subject matter is, what is important to me is to tell the visual story in such a way that it connects to the viewer emotionally. The world we live in may be the same for all of us, but our experiences, decisions, and feelings are unique to each individual. While my art is understandable at first glance, my ultimate goal is to make the viewer think in ways they never expected to.
Ms. Holland, when did you first start to think outside of the canvas as an artist?
All creative expression comes from our imagination. However, imagination without action doesn’t make you creative; it only makes you imaginative. What brings ideas to life is action – and that is the difference between an imaginative personality and an artist. When I stand before my blank canvas, I am thinking ahead like a chess player, planning my next action.
Natalie, what makes you choose a personality for your work: admiration or fascination? What captures your interest?
Majority of my work is created out of curiosity. My focus is female figure: either straight forward portraits or the issues concerning women’s lives in our society that either attract me or provoke me. As an example, one of those issues is the attitude towards female nudity. Recently I was asked why I don’t paint female nudes. Indeed, the last nude I’ve painted was in 2006 – and it came as a result of my bemusement with the fact that the flesh of women causes trouble whenever and however it is revealed. While the parade of beautiful naked or semi-naked bodies is accepted in today’s consumer-driven society, it still offends the values and sensitivities of many communities. We accept those differences as a part of living in a modern world. However, the real issue behind the public debate on nudity is the female body itself. Personally, I am baffled that in 21st century that takes precedence over contributions of women to the society. In my opinion, the most important part of the human body, male or female, nude or not, is the head – the human mind.
What materials and techniques do you use?
As a part of classical academic education, I made myself familiar with a variety of painting techniques and styles. Personally, I like working exclusively in oils – and with a high degree of realism. Today it is most commonly addressed as hyper or photorealism. However, this type of realism had existed long before the invention of photography – as seen in the works of Netherlandish painter Gerard David in early 1500. Naturally, that kind of realism can be achieved through different means. My preferred Personally, I like working exclusively in oils – and with a high degree of realism method to create my paintings is The Flemish Technique – a method of oil painting that has been around for a long time and is still widely used today. It is multi-layered, indirect approach that breaks a complicated process down to manageable and reliable tasks.
All my paintings require more than one session, developing in layers over several days or weeks, allowing for the oil paint to dry for a given layer. The first layer is a background, followed by an underdrawing in outline, then comes the second layer of underpainting. Overpainting might involve several layers with some finishing glazes when needed. I do change the method from time to time, mainly to try out what is out there – but I always come back to the Flemish technique simply because it works better for me. Sometimes all it takes is to change the size and quality of the brushes – and the same method will yield a broad variety of results.
Where does your inspiration come from? What are you trying to convey in your portraits?
I draw my inspiration from people – what I hear, what I observe, what I learn from my surroundings. My mind works like a powerful transformer where my impressions from life turn into visual stories. It can be a particular situation or a portrait, but to me my interpretation is a bridge I am establishing between myself and my subject matter. By trying to understand my subject-matter, I am connecting to the world – and my hope as an artist is that the connection works both ways. As an example of how that connection works, I would like to bring up one of my paintings, ‘Polish Girl’. It is a portrait of a young waitress in a local coffee shop in Hampstead, London.
She attracted my attention with her all white demure outfit, her childlike face, her very polite behaviour – and the fact that being Polish, she had clearly changed her religion. The longer I watched her on my coffee breaks, the more curious I became about her, and then I asked her to pose for me. Through the hours of painting and conversations I learned that she had a combination of depth and innocence to her character that is quite rare. When the painting was completed, it was exhibited and sold at London Art Fair. What made it special to me was the fact that it went to a couple who never bought an original artwork in their life. My art dealer told me that the couple said that although they enjoyed art, they agreed to not spend more than a small amount, perhaps a print or two. Until they saw this portrait that they couldn’t take their eyes off, and that changed everything.
However, with commissioned portraits it is interesting in a different way. Although I am not choosing my models myself, I find the process even more rewarding. As an artist, I will have to make a path that wasn’t initially there, and I always start with the conversation with my sitter.It opens up a dialogue with the client that gives me invaluable insight in their story. My task is to capture the essence of that story and transform it to the image that will express exactly that. Besides from actually painting, this is my favourite part of commissions.
Define what art is for you. What does it represent, how does it echo in yourself?
I believe that art is the mirror of the world we live in. Just as a mirror, it offers either precise or a distorted image, but it is a reflection. And as such, art is intertwined with everyday life in countless ways, sometimes even when we are not aware of it.
For me, art is the food of my soul and art-making is an active meditation. Art nourishes my craving for beauty and making meaning of the reality around me. I seek clarity and harmony, and art helps me to discover the profound simplicity on the other side of complexity.
I have one last question for you, which is do you have any advice for young painters who are working today? Whether it is career-wise or working through problems in the studio. What is your insight?
As a professional artist, I do devote some of my time to teaching via ‘life’ art courses and private mentorship for students of art. When it comes to aspiring professional artists, I would say use at least half of your working time on developing your skill in whatever art form appeals to you.
To become the best artists we can, we need the right balance of skill and challenge. If a task is too challenging we experience fear, and if it’s not challenging enough, we experience boredom.
Find what is the most important thing you would like to improve at and focus on that. It will turn your weaknesses into your strengths. As for the career tips – I can only use the ones I wish I have received myself much earlier in life. If you decided to become an artist, you will need to make a living from your art – unless you are lucky to have someone who pays your bills while you are busy creating at your studio. It is great to think big and believe that once people will understand how great you art is, all the galleries and big collectors will want it and you will become fabulously rich and famous. It is like a Hollywood dream – it might be real, but it is for the few. Meanwhile, you don’t want live up to the stereotype of a struggling artist, so therefore you will need to learn how to run your business. Some basic education in that regard won’t hurt either, but if you lack it, learn from other successful artists. Pick the one that you like that’s doing well and learn how by example. Ask them for an advice, but remember: when you ask for someone’s knowledge or time, think about something you can offer in return that can be useful for them.
Once you are finished with your masterpiece, it becomes a product – however harsh you might think that name is for the expression of your soul, it is what it is for the rest of the world. You will have to answer those questions for yourself:
– what kind of art are you making
– who are the people that might be interested in the type of art you make – where you would sell it
– at what price
Maybe you decide that if you are represented by a gallery, then the gallery will decide those answers for you. Then your task will be to find a gallery that is right for you. But don’t be happy just because a gallery picked you up; ask yourself if you are happy with the work they are doing in exchange for half of your income you are giving up to them. And as the world changes, there will be new opportunities and challenges. In a decade or less, the majority of the physical galleries might simply not be there – so it is good to have a back up plan just in case. A career as an artist is not a straight forward line. It might take you on all kinds of unexpected journeys, just like it took you to where you are right now. Wherever it takes you, I believe that we are always where we need to be at this moment.
Natalie Holland . Contact
OFFICIAL SITE | natalie-holland.com
INSTAGRAM | instagram.com/hollandnat
FACEBOOK | facebook.com/NatHollandStudio