Artist Interview :: Neil Hollingsworth
Thanks to a random Facebook post by a fellow artist, I had the pleasure of learning about artist Neil Hollingsworth and his inspiring paintings. It’s a treat to receive his posts of works in progress and completed paintings from time to time on my FB wall. His technique and palettes take my breath away!
Last month, my hubby and I finally found time to drop by our all time favorite gallery, Arcadia Contemporary to catch the last Sunday of Brad Kunkle‘s show. (Over-the-moon spectacular!) Owner Steve Diamont shared with us that his December exhibit was going to be a collection of works measuring 12″ x 12″ in honor of the 12th month of the year. He graciously took us back to his storage room for a sneak preview of just some of the most breathtaking small format works I have ever seen • techniques and palettes in the category of the classic European and American master painters whose works adorn the walls of our great museums. Seeing these paintings up close and personal, and knowing they were painted by artists of our era made me giddy with delight. I immediately locked down a Sunday on our calendar to see the show.
Meanwhile back on Facebook, I stumbled upon a post by Neil Hollingsworth announcing that not one, not two but six of his works were going to be included in Arcadia Contemporary’s “12 x 12 in 12” exhibit! I just about plotzed with excitement.
I took the liberty of reaching out to the artist, inquiring if he would be up for an interview in celebration of this show. Lucky for me, he graciously agreed. Such a nice, personable man, too. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
Q1. What is your style of painting referred to? For my art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
A1. I’ve heard others refer to my “style” of painting as, realistic, photorealistic and hyperrealistic. If I had to choose, I’d probably select “realistic”. Photorealistic and Hyperrealistic are styles that push the level of realism to a point where it is nearly impossible to determine whether the image is a painting or a photograph. My work portrays the subject realistically, but it’s easily recognized as a painting.
Q2. Your recent work features or focuses on industrial design ranging from household appliances to motorcycles to airplanes. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter?
A2. I have an affinity for those subjects. They’re really beautiful to me. I’m amazed by the complexity of their design. I’m especially drawn to items created between the thirties and the seventies. That was a time when design and function both held weight. I also used to be an aircraft mechanic and pilot. Airplanes have held a soft spot in my heart since childhood.
Q3. My students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire your preference for paints, brushes and surfaces? Is your work on wood or canvas? What brands and types of paints and brushes work best for you? Do you ever make your own paint or have custom pigments made to order for any of your projects? Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is?
A3. I’m entirely self taught so I don’t know a lot about the specifics of materials. I’ve just found what I like through trial and error.
1. Paints: I use them all. I love going to the art supply store and twisting off the caps of the paints, looking for new colors. I’ve heard from a few art school graduates that you should only use 8 or 9 colors but I have a hundred and am always on the lookout for that new great color. I have to stay away from the series 4 and above simply because of the cost. They’re beautiful but out of my price range.
2. Brushes: As with the colors, I avoid the high end brushes because of their cost. The brushes I use the most are the student grade brushes from Blick. I have some Princeton, Winsor & Newton and others, but the bulk of my paint is applied with inexpensive Blick brushes.
3. Surface: I’ve painted on MDF, Masonite, Wood, and Canvas over the years. I always wanted to try Linen but again it’s out of my price range. One day I’ll give it a try and see what it’s like. These days I’m using the Fredrix® Pro Gallery Wrap canvas, Ampersand Gessoboard and Blick Cradled Hardboard Panels. For larger paintings with less detail I’ll use canvas and for highly detailed compositions I’ll use the panels.
4. Varnish: I varnish all of my paintings, but it has been a source of fear and torment. Over the years I’ve tried numerous materials with varying success. I’m still on the lookout for that perfect finish. Currently I use a 2 to 1 mixture of Soluvar Matte and Gloss brushed onto my canvas paintings. I place the container holding the varnish in another container partially filled with very hot water. This lowers the viscosity of the varnish so I can apply it very thinly. This works pretty well. On hardboard panels the varnish process has been much more problematic. Most recently I’ve been using a combination of two products. Gamblin Gamvar brush on varnish. I apply a couple of very thin coats and when they are dry I spray a light coat of Winsor & Newton® Satin Aerosol varnish.
Q4. At what age did you realize you were an art spirit?
A4. Like a lot of artists, it begins very early. My mother told me that even before kindergarten I would take scraps of fabric left over from some garment she was sewing put them together and say, “airplane”. I guess the aviation thing began early as well. When I got to kindergarten anything art related was like a drug. This continued throughout school with more time drawing in my notes than taking notes. This continued into my later years when I would illuminate letters to friends. I guess I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an art spirit.
Q5. Did anyone try to talk you out of fulfilling your dream as an artist? If so, how did you handle it?
A5. I was really lucky in that my parents were supportive of any direction I chose to take. When I was in aircraft mechanics school quite a few of my fellow students, when they saw my notes covered in drawings, would say, “What are you doing here? You should be an artist!”
My wife, when we first met, was drawn to me because of my artwork. I think the only person who tried to talk me out of it was me. I couldn’t see anyway I would be able to make a living at it. Eventually, I quit my job as an aircraft mechanic to work as a graphic designer. That lasted nearly ten years, and the skills I developed in that position have influenced my work as a painter.
Q6. How did Arcadia Contemporary and you become acquainted? Did you seek them out or did they find you?
A6. My wife Karen, also a professional painter, was in a gallery here in Atlanta and she suggested that the owner look at my work. She took me on. That was my first gallery, and since that time every gallery I’ve shown in has contacted me. Really lucky. Steve from Arcadia said that he had seen my work at C.K. Contemporary in San Francisco and asked if I’d like to show at his gallery. I’d dreamed of showing at Arcadia for about ten years and couldn’t believe it when he wrote.
Q7. What tasks does a gallery like Arcadia Contemporary handle on your behalf?
A7. First of all they show your work. If you’re lucky and you sell well enough to be in the gallery for a significant amount of time they develop a list of your collectors who they will contact whenever they receive new work. They will promote your work in local and national publications (on occasion – it’s expensive). They will give you a show dedicated to your work (if you can work quickly enough to provide a substantial number of paintings).
Q8. Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my art school partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A8. It’s not really a charity, but I’ve been providing micro loans to people throughout the world via an organization called Kiva for years.
In closing, Neil shared some personal stories that I think you will find insightful and interesting. I was delighted to learn of our mutual passion for graphic design and typography, and my hubby’s mutual passion for aviation.
“I enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school at eighteen. It was 1972, I had no interest in going to college at that time, my draft number was 9, and I was most likely headed to Vietnam. I had loved air planes since childhood, so joining the Air Force seemed a logical next move. I spent most of my service in California, and after my discharge returned to Atlanta where I worked a variety of day jobs while attending college at night.
It was during this time that I discovered Soaring. One introductory flight and I was hooked. For the better part of the following year I spent nearly all of my weekends, weather permitting, flying sailplanes. Over time the lure of aviation became so strong that I decided to put the academic world on hold, and entered technical school. In two years I was a licensed aircraft mechanic working at a local airport. Aviation, at that time, was an all consuming passion for me, yet between working on aircraft, flying and a short lived affair with skydiving, I still found time to paint the occasional watercolor, or illuminate a letter to a friend.
At the end of a particularly cold winter spent working in an unheated hangar, I found myself tempted to change careers when the father of a friend, who owned a graphic design company, offered me a job as a paste up artist. The idea of working in any sort of art related business was impossible to resist, so I made the decision to mothball my tools, and accept his offer. Two weeks later I was sitting at a drafting table working as an “artist”.
A chance reunion a couple of years later with my high school friend Michel Valin led to employment and eventually a partnership in his typesetting/graphic design business. It was a great job but sadly, towards the end of our sixth year of operation, the growing popularity of desktop publishing had taken such a heavy toll on our business that we reluctantly agreed to close our shop. In the months that followed I worked for a number of design firms on a salaried, and freelance basis. In time I found myself ready to give up the freelance life for a “stable” job with a regular paycheck. I made the decision to follow in the footsteps of my wife Karen, who at the time, was working as a registered nurse. Two, very tough, years of nursing school later, I was an RN!
My nursing career began in the ER, but I eventually moved to the operating room. I had worked there nearly ten years when our friends Jeff and Leslie Cohen told Karen and I how they had begun to sell their artwork over the internet. Excited by the prospect, Karen and I decided to give it a try ourselves, and quickly discovered it was possible. I spent the following year working days in the OR, and painting nights and weekends. At the close of that year, income from my art had reached a point that I felt confident to take the leap, leave nursing, and begin to paint full-time.
At present I am represented by four fine art galleries in the United States, and my work is housed in numerous private and corporate collections domestically and internationally.”
To learn more about this remarkable artist, please enjoy visiting his website and blog, or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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