Holly Brigham

Counterbalancing the Objectified Images of Women throughout Art History


Interviewed and edited by Terrill Warrenburg

You use yourself as a model for many of your portraits of other female artists. What is the role of the self portrait, you as an artist, in your work?

I am the model for the majority of my paintings or portraits. I take a secondary role, however, to the subject. I use myself as a model for convenience sake, to create a portrait from life but also as a way of relating to the subject. I choose certain women to paint if I feel a connection to them. Painting myself as them is another way to connect.


You mentioned how you were particularly attracted to Italy as a location and recently have an affinity towards British culture and art. Why these cultures and what else has been an important influence in the development of your art?

I usually start with Italy when I’m looking for subjects. In my first series, the Seven Sisters, I painted Artemisia Gentilleschi and Sophonisba Anquissola. In my Second Sisters II or Sacred Sisters, I painted St. Catherine of Bologna and Plautilla Nelli, who lived in Florence. I also love and admire British art and culture, landscape, architecture and aspects of its history. I grew up reading a great deal about it and watching shows on it. Some of my favorite artists in art history are the Pre-Raphaelites.

Can you talk more about the importance of Art History in your work?

The importance of art history in my work stems from my exchange program in Mantova, Italy in high school, to majoring in Art History at Smith College and then to my graduate-level studies at the University of Pittsburgh. I also studied art history in Italy during my Junior Year Abroad. By referencing art history, I am able to comment on the aspects of art history that I wish to change or the ones that I admire. My favorite painter is Carlo Crivelli but I also like George Tooker and Thomas Hart Benton.


About how long does it take you to create one of your paintings? Do you have a specific process?

I can work on a painting for several months. It usually starts out with art historical and historical research on the subject. I might read a biography, autobiographies, study their imagery or writing, the period’s clothes, or furniture. I start out with a thumbnail sketch to develop the light source and composition. Then I draw it in on Arches watercolor paper. The drawing is the most important part as you cannot easily change elements of watercolor. Then I set up my light source. I start by painting yellow and I allow elements of the white paper to remain as the highlights. I use #0, 00, 000 brushes to do hatch work and larger wash brushes but continually work back and forth between linear work and wash work. The end result is something that resembles egg tempera painting.

You described your gradual acceptance of the "feminist artist" label; can you expand on what you think it means to be a feminist? How has feminism evolved in your own work? What do you think is its current status in the art world?

I have a hard time imagining that any woman artist is not a feminist. I am creating positive images of women in my work to try and counterbalance the objectified imagery throughout art history of women created by male artists. I would like all museums to own and exhibit equal work by women and men…though that is far from the case. I would like galleries to represent equal work by male and female artists. Though I think it is still very important to point out the work by women artists, I hope that one day it will not matter.

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