Holly Frean

Our August Artist of the Month is Holly Frean, a London-based artist who studied Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, as well as Fine Art at Camberwell Art School and City & Guilds of London School of Art. In 2012 she won the National Open Art Competition Painting Prize awarded by Grayson Perry, and she now exhibits internationally with the Rebecca Hossack Gallery.

Frean has received a wide range of media coverage, including appearing on BBC Radio 4 and a short BBC Arts film. She also has work in the private collections of notable figures such as the Duchess of Northumberland, fashion designer Paul Smith and comedians Russell Howard and Lee Evans.

We talked to the Bridgeman Studio artist about her amazing creative projects and upcoming workshop at Wilderness Festival.




What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?

It’s impossible to say. I grew up in a house of textile and graphic designers, my parents’ studios were at home so the house was always full of their work. I remember scouring through art and design source books from a very young age, I think I absorbed a lot of art that way.


Talk us through a day in your studio. What does a day in your life look like?

It’s a juggle. On a good day I will get in at 10 and work through till 7 or 8pm. Interruptions include a trip to my suppliers or framers or to get lunch if I haven’t brought it in with me. I try to stick to some sort of routine but I’ve found that is usually optimistic and in any case my best work happens when I’m pushed for time. My work takes several strands at the moment – I’m painting in oil, in gouache and recently ceramics too - and it helps to have one big space to jump about between these mediums.


holly-frean-dogs-pattern-tiles-painting   holly-frean-spaniel-dog-art-painting
90 Dogs, 2010 / Holly Frean / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images   Spaniel, 2015 / Holly Frean / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

How would you sum up your practice in 5 words?

Necessary. Joyful. Demanding. Rewarding. Sanctuary.


You have a background in fine art portraiture. How has your current practice developed from this beginning?

Drawing underpins everything I do. I still find life drawing a valuable discipline, it’s a way of tightening up hand-eye coordination, but I tend to work much more from my imagination now. I still do my thinking with a piece of chalk or a pencil or brush; I just have different intentions. After a long time copying faces and bodies at art school I began to realise that wasn’t as engaging in the long term as translating visual information into my own language; since then I’ve been developing a way of understanding the world as I see it.


Over the last year, you’ve been involved in some really interesting projects. From a product line with Anthropologie and the window-decoration of an east-London chicken shop, to a solo show in New York with your gallery in Rebecca Hossack! What drives your different projects?

One of the best things about being an artist is that you get to choose whom to work with. I have good instincts about people and I follow my nose.


picasso-face-card-queen-art   prince-charles-joker-card-art-frean
 Weeping Woman, After Picasso, 2015 / Holly Frean / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images   Prince Charles, 2015 / Holly Frean / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images


What has been your most exciting commission or award to date?

Winning the National Open Art Prize was great as I got to chat to Grayson Perry at the awards night. He is a true orginal and I love what he does.


How do you find working to commission? Do you find it pushes your work in new directions?

Every time. Each piece of work informs the next one, commission or not.


How are you feeling about your Hat Tricks workshop at Wilderness Festival? The Bridgeman Studio team obviously hope you have a lot of fun – but perhaps this could inspire some new work too?

I am delighted to be in the Bridgeman Studio tent. I am not a hat maker by any stretch but I love designing and constructing things. I want people to have some fun re-inventing them selves and making something zoological to wear on their heads. It will be a welcome break in my summer schedule and a great excuse to dust off my beloved glue gun!


holly-frean-tiles-pattern-dogs-colour   holly-frean-tile-blue-pattern-dancers
49 Dogs, 2012 / Holly Frean / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images   A Pack of Blue Dancers No. 2, 2015 / Holly Frean / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images


You reference other artists heavily in your work. Which other artists, dead or alive would you choose to have dinner with?

I have thought many times who I’d like to have one-to-ones with and where we’d go to eat but in my daydreams I never picture us actually leaving their studio, we always end up having a picnic there and talking about work stuff. My number one today would be the current Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools, Eileen Cooper RA, so we could discuss, among other things, gender inequality in the art world and the stress of being committed to motherhood and art. It’s that old chestnut ‘the greatest enemy of good art is a pram in the hall’ again…


What convinced you to join Bridgeman Studio for licensing, and what are your hopes for working as a Bridgeman Studio artist?

The Bridgeman Studio strikes me as having an exemplary selection of art and design – if the shoe was on the other foot and I was scouting for imagery it would be my first port of call. It’s a nice feeling for a piece of work to live on after it sold. Also an appealing way to make some pocket money!

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