a) Good morning, Claudio. I’m Maura Holden. If you like short names, you can call me Mo.
q) Where do you live and work?
a) I live in the U.S., in Madison, Wisconsin. My apartment contains my office and studio, but, weather permitting, I like to work outside, preferably under a shady tree.
q) How did you started? How have you realized you wanted to become an artist?
a) I’ve always know that art was my calling, though “getting started” was no easy task. My father wanted me to be a molecular bio-physicist. He also wanted me to be a Republican, and male -- so I figured there was no sense in making concessions. At eighteen, I dropped out of college and started a never-ending journey of creativity and exploration. I hitch-hiked, took the bus cross-country and squatted in abandoned buildings. While squatting, I was relatively free of mind-imploding jobs, so I spent more time on art. Whenever the police evicted me, however, I’d lose my artwork. Finally, at age 21, I auditioned for a job as an exotic dancer. That was the real beginning of my artistic progress. For ten years, I danced a few nights per week, rented apartments, and made lots of paintings and drawings. By the time I retired from dancing I had a good body of work, for a young person. Eventually I connected with the right gallery, and started selling it.
q) What materials do you use and why?
a) My favourite medium is oil paint. Personally, I consider it the royal jelly of art media… Aside from oils, I also use egg tempera, for its lovely brushing quality; graphite pencil, for delicate control; India ink, for velvety blackness…
q) Who is your biggest influence, both art and non-art related
a) Ever since I first saw the art of Ernst Fuchs, I have been in an almost frightened state of awe. I try not to copy, but I love his work so much that its magic has changed me.
My greatest non-art influence is my wonderful companion, Jessica. She has brains in all the areas where I lack them: history, sociology, cooking… She prevents me from drifting off into the Great Whatever -- where I would surely forget to feed and bathe myself.
q) How do you dream up with your wacky ideas? What is your creation process?
a) Generally, I start with a vision. I’ve always dreamt of surreal archetypal figures and scenes. Even as a child, I drew them, to the best of my ability. Later, psychedelics opened new doors: I began seeing new colours; forms became more mutable; I also became interested in geometry.
When I begin a painting, the first thing I do is lay out the geometry. I imagine the three-dimensional vision in two-dimensional geometric terms. For example: a goddess becomes a pentagram, the symbol of Venus (an extreme simplification, for clarity). Next, I draw the image of the original vision over the geometry, placing key points in the composition over corresponding points in the diagram. After I have a complete drawing, with all the problems worked out, I make a monochrome under-painting of it, on a primed wooden panel. The rest is semi-transparent oil colour glazes. Colours, light and shadows all develop organically, in the moment. After many layers of paint build up -- assuming I haven’t made any dreadful mistakes -- the painting finally goes “shwink!” – and it’s finished.
q) What haven’t you done yet that you definitely want to try someday?
a) I’d like to have my personal art collection permanently installed in a museum. I’d also like to publish a coffee table book. But first, I’d like to have a nice little print and postcard shop on my website – actually, I’m in the process of setting that up now.
q) Are there any contemporary artists that you love?
a) So many, my heart (and this page) can hardly contain them.
q) How long does it take for you to finish a piece?
a) I work on multiple pieces at the same time, so most of them get dragged along for a number of years. If the process is straightforward, a painting can take anywhere from one to five years to complete. Some paintings, however, become laboratories for rash experiments, and I keep them locked away in my dungeon of unfinished horrors. Only when I die will they be completed.
q) What music, if any, do you like to have on while you're working?
a) It varies a great deal. I can find albums I love in every genre of music. As long as the compositions are interesting, and they have that certain hard-to-define marriage of mathematical beauty and human expression. I go through periods, though, when I can only listen to audio books.
q) Do you do many art shows?
a) No. I’m pretty picky.
http://www.mauraholdenartworks.com/workinprogress.html -- I update the photos periodically. I’ll need a number of years to finish the paintings.
q) Tell us about a recent dream you had.
a) I was the only passenger on a bus in India. The driver was an old man with kindly crow’s feet around his eyes. Since we were alone, I stood at the front, listening to him talk. Would I like to see his hometown? Yes, I would… The bus hurtled along at a reckless speed, considering the rocky narrowness of the dirt road. The old man was perfectly at ease, however. He talked of the special location of his hometown, in a deep valley between unknown mountains. Spoken of, the mountains conjured themselves. To our left, ranks of smoke-coloured cliffs rose out of the earth. In their walls, temples perched, carved in the shape of skulls.
Soon the road began to wind downhill into the valley. The lower we descended, the more temples appeared, and the more elaborate and refined they became. With open skull mouths as their doorways, they now grew prognathous porticos, beardlike stairways and ornately carved crowns. Red brick inlays framed the whitewashed face bones, and set off the carvings.
Our conversation turned to metaphysics and mystery teachings. I exclaimed that I had never seen such architecture as these skull temples; the old man answered my wonder with enigmatic smiles and nods.
As the bus descended into the valley, the dirt road reformed into a neatly cobbled brick avenue, flanked by ever more delicately carved skull temples. The skulls huddled close to the road, incense smoking on their porticoes. No people appeared, though every place seemed well maintained by an unseen hand. Where the avenue curved around a circular park, we stopped. The old man knelt at the entrance of a temple, tidying its altar. He began to speak: “I was raised in the valley of the dreaming dead… schooled in the ways of eternity…” He said things like this. He seemed on the verge of revealing great secrets when I woke.
q) What are you doing when you are not creating?
a) Enjoying reality with Jessica. We have a pretty simple life: talking, walking, reading, eating and finding new depraved ways to make each other laugh.
q) Do you get emotionally attached to your work and do you miss your work when it is sold?
a) It’s like putting my children up for adoption. If I had the means, I’d keep everything, buy a building, and turn it into a museum.
q) What new projects or exhibits are in your future?
a) I’ve got a group of paintings and drawings under construction right now -- a dense little show. Its working title is “Divisions of Neptune and Unions of an Earthly Heaven”. Details of the pictures appear on the “work in progress” page of my website –
q) What is your favourite art related web site?
a) beinArt International Surreal Art Collective:
q) What is the strangest thing you have ever seen?
a) I was in the attic of a house. The roof disappeared, and I looked up at the stars. A space ship, which had been crossing the sky, decelerated and began to fly closer. It hovered directly overhead. Unfolding its landing gear, it slid down into the attic, like a nesting doll. Suddenly I was standing in the ship’s interior, surrounded by all manner of control panels and inscrutable devices. There were aliens slinking about too -- giant iridescent purple lizards – quite beautiful, if you like reptiles.
q) What is the strangest thing you have ever done?
a) Acting in other people’s art movies was very strange: hanging by my feet from a drain pipe; getting hypothermia from wearing only a bikini on a winter beach; pretending to be killed by plastic baby dolls; playing young Mrs. Santa Claus, who commits suicide, and is brought back from the dead by surgeon elves; trying on hundreds of prom dresses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania malls, and being nearly arrested for shooting film in the dressing rooms.
q) any advice you can pass onto aspiring artists/designers?
a) Work like a maniac, but only do what you enjoy. When you have no money in the bank, remember that you are wealthier than most millionaires. Thank your brain for its fecundity. If a critic ever insults your work, take it as a compliment: you have successfully threatened the security of the Death Star.
a) My website: www.mauraholdenartworks.com