Interview: Holly Rhodes and curator Jerico Tracy on ‘Garden Landing’

Emerging artist Holly Rhodes and curator Jerico Tracy discuss with Bella Chidlow the freedoms and boundaries of femininity in her recent show ‘Garden Landing’ at Jerico Contemporary.

Holly Rhodes, artist

Your figures have a distinctly feminine aura but they deal with the sometimes gritty reality of having a female body. Was it a conscious decision to leave many of them bald?
I think about what is gritty, what is uncomfortable and also what’s easy and beautiful about having the type of female body I have. Hair has been such a gendered and sexualised part of figure painting, leaving it out can be freeing and balancing when the line between nudity and sexuality can be blurry. Baldness in its place touches on ideas about disease and infancy for me; vulnerable human states that are the antithesis of sexy.

How did preparing for this show change you as an artist?
I relaxed into what I found beautiful. I think I have pulled back from making work that would be perceived as pretty in the past. I wanted to create something that was harder or heavier somehow. This show isn’t like that. It’s made me a more honest artist, I like beautiful things.

Holly Rhodes, Diptych Dive, 2019, oil on canvas, 50.5 x 40.5cm

All the women portrayed in Garden Landing seem at ease and free from the male gaze. Is that what the walls around the gardens are for, to keep men out?
If only it were as simple as a wall. The walls are about boundaries, how much of the self can be accessed even when the whole body is exposed. What remains intact is the untouchable, that which is unknowable beyond our inner selves.

The show has a lot of unity and is very consistent. Did you work on several pieces at once or one by one?
I painted this show in my tiny 20sqm apartment in Bondi Beach. To fit them all in, allow each their own space to dry and space to wash my dishes I stacked them one on top of another. Taping the edges to the wall to stop them from falling forward. Working like this created the unity in them; I had to look at them almost as one work for a while. I painted some parts all at once and then toward the end I worked one by one to finish them.

Are the landscapes depicted based on anywhere in particular, from your experience or something from art history?
The rolling green of the Byron Hinterland inspired these gardens. Where I grew up in Western Australia I associated this kind of landscape only with European countries like England and France. The cypress trees place the paintings in Italy for a lot people but to me they equate to that sort of ambiguous 17th century never-land of the romantic painters and early Disney. I’ve never been to Italy.

What’s next for you?
Next up is a bigger studio. More figures, I’m going to paint about connection, non-verbal communion and community.

Holly Rhodes, Deepening, 2019, oil on canvas, 76 x 38cm

Jerico Tracy, curator

Congratulations on a great opening, it was packed! What first drew you to Holly?
Thank you, yes we had a wonderful turnout for the opening of the exhibition. We are lucky in that we have a strong community that come along to our openings and support our artists. I had been aware of Holly’s work for sometime before we started working together, she is an exceptionally skilled painter and has a distinctly unique vision.

You represent more female artists than male currently. Was that a conscious goal when you opened the gallery?
I am proud to work with a number of talented female artists across an array of different mediums. While I have always wanted to support female artists, I wouldn’t say it was a conscious goal to show more female artists than male. The gallery ethos is to exhibit artists based on talent and it just so happens that many of them are female.

Installation view of ‘Garden Landing’ at Jerico Contemporary, August 2019. Photograph: Docqment.

Did you have much input in Garden Landing? How did you know Holly was ready for a debut solo show?
I work closely with all my artists from conception to the curation of the show. For Garden Landing, Holly had a strong vision of what she wanted to express from early on and how she wanted to portray the boundaries and freedoms of femininity. I feel it’s important to trust an artists’ vision and support them in putting a body of work together, as they often take the work to unexpected places that I could never conceive of.

Installation view of ‘Garden Landing’ at Jerico Contemporary, August 2019. Photograph: Docqment

How did you approach curating this exhibition?
As with all my exhibitions, I like to have all the finished works in the space before I curate. Of course, I have an idea of where each of the works will go ahead of install, but I tend to adjust this once in situ. For Garden Landing, there were eight relatively small works, with two larger paintings, which is on the smaller side of one our exhibitions, so it was important to make the space to feel intimate yet balanced.

Jerico Contemporary
29 August to 21 September 2019
Sydney