Discovering the paintings of Scott Holloway is akin to uncovering a gold leaf-encrusted medieval book on alchemy in your favorite oddities shop. Most of his artwork is brimming in gold leaf, portraying religious and contemporary memento mori, artfully combined with nods to anatomical illustration. Symbolism of the brevity of life runs rampant in Scott’s work, combining the concept of time and decay, but also a sense of hopefulness of rebirth.
His work is intended to be contemplative, and the viewer is encouraged to meditate on its hidden subtext – narratives about the search for the divine soul through anatomical dissection. The final images of anatomy are presented as traditional icons to convey the sacred nature of the human body. Holloway’s work is about honoring the beauty and complexity of the human form even after death.
Dear Darkling: Your influences include religious dogma and the scientific enlightenment of the Renaissance – how are you putting your own personal spin on a subject matter that has been covered by artists for centuries?
Scott Holloway: I take the theme of saints and martyrs and the practice of Holy Relic veneration and merge that with scientific enlightenment as a subject. Mix that together, and sprinkle in some symbolism of various cultures, and you’ve created an icon.
How long have you been an artist? How did you get your start?
I have been drawing actively my whole life, and eventually went to art school in the early 90s. I had taken a few classes at a local museum and really liked it, and about four years out of high school I decided to take the plunge. I think I might have been reluctant because all I knew about being an artist was that you had to show in galleries, but I thought you had to hope to be “discovered.”
After college, I started showing locally here and there, but it wasn’t until social media sites like MySpace came around that I was able to reach a wider audience. I just shared my work on all the groups that I thought might like what I was doing, and eventually, a German gallerist invited me to a show in NYC. That show got me talking to another gallery and it just snowballed from there. It happened pretty fast – soon after, I found myself exhibiting in Berlin, NYC, and London. I feel lucky, but I honestly owe it to MySpace. Now Facebook plays a similar networking role.
What process do you go through to produce one of your pieces, start to finish?
Once I figure out my idea of what I want to paint I often do mock-ups on a photo shop-like program. I create my compositions using the Divine Proportion. I have several ways of doing that. I have a Divine Proportion caliper that I can open and close and it keeps the same proportion. I frequently also use a transparency with a pentagram printed on it. (Pentagrams are a series of repeated Divine Proportions.) I look through the transparency to line things up.
After that, I either transfer it from a drawing or lay it out freehand, seal it, and then tone the panel with a burnt umber and do the “grisaille” (a term which means to paint the entire image in black and white to build up the value in shades of gray). Once the monochromatic painting is finished, I then use oils to glaze transparent colors over the grisaille. The final layer is some opaque highlights.
What was the most powerful work of art you recall viewing? Where was it? How did it make you feel?
I was fortunate to be able to go to the National Gallery of Art in DC and see the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the US – the “Ginevra de’ Benci.” It was amazing – I was awestruck. After seeing that work I could not look at anything else in the museum and I just had to walk out.
The subject matter of Memento Mori reoccurs frequently within your work – can you elaborate on why the topic of mortality holds a special significance to you?
I think my attraction to the subject started as a kid in high school. I used to find it a pet peeve to see people walking around with shirts with logos on them. I always saw it as advertising, but no one wearing the logo was getting paid to advertise. So being the artist that I am, I always wore black, and I started collecting skull t-shirts.
“If I was going to advertise something, I would advertise Death.”
Also, living in New England, we have a lot of very old cemeteries. I was always attracted to the older slate gravestones with the winged skull on the top or the hourglass iconography. I eventually learned what all the symbols meant and have adopted them into my lexicon.
Your painting Reaper of Love and Discord has always intrigued me – can you talk about the meaning behind the painting and the symbolism used?
The Reaper of Love and Discord is based on Cupid, actually. Cupid has two types of arrows: one is gold and when you are shot by it you fall in love; the other is a dull arrow made of lead. When you are hit with that one you feel discord towards a person. I believe there should be a Reaper that comes along at some point and collects the arrows. Love and Discord don’t always last forever. So perhaps this Reaper has caused the loss of these feelings.
Do you have a dream project you’d like to work on?
Actually, my resolution for this year was to start a podcast. It’s called the “PaintingLoft Podcast.” My co-host Jessica Perner and I talk about the art world we participate in. We’re learning as we go, but I’ve decided to just dive in head first. It’s both challenging and really fun. The podcast is still in its inception, but we talk about the “Dark Art” world that we both participate in, and also discuss issues that affect us and our peers, upcoming artwork, shows, and all other things art.
All images are courtesy of Scott Holloway and are not to be used without his permission.