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  • James Stewart

In Discussion With Holly Frean

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

For the launch of DOG by Holly Frean at The Kennels, Goodwood we presented a 'discussion' with the artist after the forty or so guests had had a chance to view the works (and taste some fizz and canapés kindly provided by the Kennels).

The discussion took place in the Music Room at the Kennels, a room notable because it has the second largest collection of penguin paper back books in Europe (the largest is at Penguin!).

James Stewart, Zimmer Stewart director and curator, lead a discussion with the artist that looked at her artistic techniques and career highlights to date.

A summary of the discussion is given below:


Holly Frean uses three main mediums, although not exclusively.

These are:

  • Mono type on hand made paper, a technique where paper is paced onto a plate (usually glass) which has been inked up. Then the artist draws on the back of the paper. The result is a reversed image created by the ink transferring to the paper where it has been touched by the drawing implement.

  • Gouache on handmade paper, a water based technique which is different from water colour. Holly Frean uses gouache with a brush or as illustrated above with potato cut.

  • Oil on paper or canvas, a traditional painting technique which has its drawbacks (noxious fumes and long drying times), so it is increasingly being replaced by acrylic.

Art History References - Start of the Grids

Soon after graduating Holly Frean lived in Berlin for six months, where she visited many galleries and so started a habit of collecting artist postcards.

As with many artists, these would inevitably end up on her studio wall.

This studio view, combined with reading David Hockney's 2001 book 'Secret Knowledge' started Holly Frean on a journey exploring artist themes in her work.

In 'Secret Knowledge' Hockney proposed that Renaissance painters such as Caravaggio used camera obscura to bring realism to their work. The theory was that painters were trying, and up to that point failing, to replicate three dimensional reality onto a two dimensional surface. At this time (around 1450) depictions of people/animals/things changed from idealised notions of 'angel, 'horse' or 'goblet' to much more lifelike in believable perspective.

Secret Knowledge prompted Holly Frean to start thinking about how artists changed their techniques thanks to technology and then developed/changed their way of working accordingly (e.g. tubes of paint being available in a wide range of colours).

There are two BBC programmes Secret Knowledge I & Secret Knowledge II available on YouTube and they are worth watching to find out more about this ground breaking thesis.

Secret Knowledge by Hockey was the inspiration for Holly Frean's 'Hockney in his Studio', a large oil on canvas painting. This showed Hockney looking at a wall of Renaissance paintings in chronological order, developing his theory about the use of camera obscura to achieve the giant leap in representation in painting that took place in the Renaissance.

Following this Holly Frean started painting on roughly cut cardboard squares/rectangles, often depicting artists or as illustrated above famous portraits.

Frean followed this up buy exploring other ways of using the grid format, see her version of Van Eyck's King Charles I, in the National Gallery.

A Day in the Life

Later Holly Frean would bring a sense of humour and see how she could use the grid format to present an imagined 'Day in the Life' of an artist.

The examples here show:

  • Warhol: at the factory, making screen prints, polaroids and his films.

  • Picasso: with his model, putting on his famous Breton top, at the beach with his grandchildren, looking at some sculptures, picnicking, at a bull fight and relaxing with friends at a bar

  • Lucian Freud painting his portrait of the Queen: Freud puts lunch in the oven, greets the queen, they have tea, she sits while he paints, they have lunch, she reviews the painting, the Queen thinks about her corgis and pets Freud's dog.

This quirky look at everyday life is one of Frean's trademark elements in her work, and one that her collectors love.

Solo Performance - Anthony Gormley's 4th Plinth

In 2009 Holly Frean successfully applied to be one of 2400 people to be placed on the fourth (empty) plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of a living sculpture artwork by Anthony Gormley.

The work was called 'One and Other' and consisted of people spending one hour on the plinth, over 100 days, 24 hours each day.

Gormley's concept was "People coming together to do something extraordinary and unpredictable".

He was not disappointed, there was a wide variety of people and things they did:

  • Promoting a charity or cause

  • let off 60 balloons, one for every minute

  • Artists sketching or making sculpture

  • A town crier, crying

  • Dance in a red cat suit, as from Cats

  • Sing

  • Throw chocolates to the crowd

  • Pose naked

Holly Frean did not know when her date/time would be, and as it happened she was pregnant and a week from giving birth to her daughter. She sent her time sketching and speaking to friends and family on her phone.

Faberge Big Egg Hunt for Action for Children

In 2012 Holly Frean took part in the Faberge Big Egg Hunt, she was selected as one of only 200 worldwide artists to paint an egg for this event.

This involved painting a 75 cm high resin egg, which would then be hidden in secret locations around London. Then people were invited to find them and note the unique reference number for a chance to win a £100,000 Diamond Jubilee Faberge Egg!

Finally, all then painted eggs were displayed in Covent Garden before being auctioned off, raising close to £2m for Action for Children.

Other artists taking part were Peter Blake, Vivienne Westwood, the Chapman Brothers and film director Ridley Scott.

The first Faberge Big Egg Hunt in 2011 was launched with Tom Parker Bowles serving his new creation 'Eggs Faberge' to the invited celebrity guests!

Fowl Play at Anthropologie

In 2014 Holly Frean embarked on what would be the start of many collaborations, this time with the retail store Anthropologie.

Holly Frean has a solo exhibition of chicken paintings on paper plates at the Anthropologie Kings Road store, she also decorated the window with further plates behind real chicken wire.

On the night of the Fowl Play private view, Anthropologie also launched a series of real chicken plates with Holly Frean paintings decorating the surface. Then a range of farm themed plates by Holly Frean followed two years later.

Poker Face

In 2015 for her solo exhibition at Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Holly Frean created a series of grids, this time using the concept of a pack of cards.

See 'A Pack of Comedians' featuring a selection of the UK's most popular comedians, including Tommy Cooper, Kenny Everett, Russell Brand and Jo Brand, amongst many others.

The 'Pack of' format suited Holly Frean well because it allowed a format to produce 54 to 56 images, four suits plus jokers, on hand made paper sheets.

See below 'A Pack of Cycling Jerseys' based on the ones in the collection of Paul Smith.

Holly Frean has also produced 'A Pack of Artists', which is in the collection of Designer and founder of Firmdale Hotels, Kit Kemp. The work is hung at Kemp's Ham Yard Hotel in the Terrace Suite.

Kit Kemp says "I admire the way Holly Frean brings animal portraits to life without adding too much detail and yet her work is far from simplistic"

Kit Kemp introduced Holly Frean to her next collaboration:

Andrew Martin Collaboration 2016

For her first collaboration with Walton Street based designer, Andrew Martin, Holly Frean painted a series of animals which would then be used on a successful range of wall papers and fabrics.

Burberry's Maker's House, London Fashion Week, 2016

A new collaboration in 2016 for Burberry saw Holly Frean as 'artist in residence' in a tent studio, in the Makers House, painting portraits for visitors during London Fashion Week.

People and at least one dog would sit for about an hour for their portraits.

Paul Smith, Albermarle Street, 2016

In 2016 Holly Frean presented a solo show with a difference at Paul Smith's flagship store on Albermarle St, London.

The exhibition included artist palette, similar to Frean's 'Day in the Life' works but painted on a real wooden artist palette. One palette featuring Hockney's 'A Bigger Splash' painting would later be exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Other works included a series of animal assembly works and sculptural masks hanging as an installation in the three window bays.

Holly's Ark 2018 at Zimmer Stewart Gallery

For her solo exhibition with Zimmer Stewart, in Arundel, Holly Frean exhibited the single animal paintings (oil on hand made paper) used for the Andrew Martin collaboration as well as several large 'Ark' grids and for the first time a series of animal 'Ark' ceramic sculptures.

Andrew Martin Holly Frean Dog Collection 2021

In 2021 Holly Frean was invited back to Andrew Martin for a second collaboration, this time the textiles would feature her recent subject - Dogs.

This gave rise to a stunning set of cushions and a fabric design.

Holly Frean DOG at the Kennels, 2022

This quick look at Holly Frean's full, creative and varied career to date, brings us to her latest solo exhibition DOG at The Kennels, Goodwood in May 2022.

The exhibition coincides with the inaugural Goodwoof, a new event in the Goodwood calendar devoted to all things dog!


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