Behind the Art: An Interview with Holly Zandbergen

Holly Zandbergen is a young artist from New Zealand who recently showed her exquisite mountainscape paintings at a solo exhibition, "I Sit In The Blue Of The Hills" at Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London. She was shortlisted for the New Zealand Art Show Emerging Artist Award in 2013 and won the Prudential Best Young Artists Award, The National Open Art Competition in 2015.  Her vivid use of colour and textured approach to painting transports the viewer to the sublime natural surroundings of her native country and we were delighted to learn about the inspiration and influences behind this talented artist's work. 


1. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Early bird.


2. Are you a tea or coffee person?

Both- I always start my day with plunger coffee and drink a mix of teas throughout the day.


3. When did you first feel your calling to create art?

I remember discovering a real passion for painting in high school. Learning about the French Impressionists’ use of brushwork to convey air, light and colour strongly impacted the way I expressed myself at the time.


4. Can you remember the first piece of art that you ever created?

I remember taking great pride in a drawing I did around the age of 8. It was of the hands of a maori god Tane reaching down from the sky and planting trees into the earth. I really enjoyed figuring out the structure and form of the hands. I remember my teacher being quite impressed!


5. Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from everyday life - emotions, interactions with people and my surroundings, nature, music, seeing good art in the flesh. Before I start a painting, I like to feel “topped up” in energy which includes physical, mental and spiritual. There’s a need to withdraw into one’s self and be in silence in the studio.


6. Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who or what kind of music do you listen to most?

I’ve had periods where I can’t listen to music at all and then I’ve had times where music has generated a tone or energy for an entire painting. Cat Power was someone I use to listen to on repeat at art school which generated a lot of raw emotion. Joanna Newson’s rhythmic harp playing and dynamic storytelling has always been a catalyst for creating landscapes. Recently, I’ve just started playing Nina Simone’s Baltimore album which also takes me into another time and place.


7. What is your favourite colour and why?

I like deep madders, prussian blues and crimsons that create coloured ‘blacks’ and can lighten into vivid hues.


8. What is your most creative time of day (or night)?

The morning when I am fresh and most alert. I find as the day goes on, my energy to paint in an instinctive way diminishes and I become a bit laborious. Its always a challenge to stay present and purely in the moment.


9. Do you have a muse or role model?

Frank Auerbach is a huge role model for me in mainly his commitment and joy for his practice. He’s now 86 years old and still paints everyday. I recently saw him in London crossing the street which was very humbling to know he's still out there doing his thing. I also love the openness with which Joan Mitchell approached a painting like they were internal landscapes.


10. What is your most important work tool?

At the moment, it is my palette knife which I’ve transitioned to from my old faithful brush this year.


11. Is there a specific place where feel most productive?

It would have to be in my studio as this is the only place I can paint due to the mess I make!


12. What piece of work are you most proud of?

A painting I did in my second year of art school called “Figures by the River.” It was the largest painting I had attempted at 1.2 x 2m and I treated it as an experiment to really enjoy the process and used a large amount of acrylic paint very fluidly. It was a difficult time personally with the loss of my brother so I had to draw all of the energy resources I could gather to make that painting. It then went onto be nominated for the NZ Emerging Artist Award where I made the top 9 in NZ and was bought by an art collector at the NZ Art Show before opening night.


13. What are you currently working on? 

I’m lucky enough to always be working on private commissions, which generates most of my income. My main focus is creating new work that continues to explore the mountain series, with which I had a show called “I Sit In The Blue Of The Hills” with the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London recently this year. I will be exhibiting in the Auckland Art Fair 2018 with Black Asterisk Gallery and I will continue to send the mountain works to Rebecca Hossack to be shown in future art fairs and exhibitions next year.


14. Do you look at the work of other artists?

Yes, mostly before I start a new series of work and I am absorbing all of the information I can gather. During painting, I don't look at a lot of other artists apart from on instagram, as I like to have my own organic experience when painting.


15 What do you think makes art good?

A thorough examination of the subject where the artist hasn't stopped as soon as something looks “good” but is incomplete. I think you must be willing to go deeply into uncertainty and grapple with not knowing if it is going to work. This is when most learning and growth takes place.


16. What other contemporary artists do you currently admire most?

The work of Cecily Brown, Peter Doig, Su Dong Ping and Antony Micallef fascinates me.


17. Do you have a favourite city to visit?

Paris will always be one of my favourite cities because of its classic charm, romantic qualities and also my love for the French Impressionists. It was the first place I travelled to when departing on my solo trip through Europe.


18. Name your top 3 holiday destinations:

Indonesia, India and the deep south of America.


19. What is your favourite gallery or museum in the world?

There are so many. I always loved visiting the Royal Academy while I lived in London. Musée de l'Orangerie containing Monet’s large water lilies is very special. The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and the Picasso museum in Barcelona I thoroughly enjoyed.


20. How would you describe your fashion style?

Quirky, feminine and relaxed.


21. What is your most treasured possession?

My phone!


22. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

I would be working in the visual production of film/cinema. Not sure which area, it could be costume, set design or cinematography.


23. What advice would you give those wishing to pursue a creative path?

Be true to who you are.


More work by Holly Zandbergen may be viewed on her website here.