Holly Zandbergen

Holly Zandbergen: Summer's Last Day.
Holly Zandbergen: The Olivine Range.

“Zandbergen paints fluently with an intense pleasure in her task that helps give a perfect match between subject matter and technique. … It all seems effortless, as if she creates her works like a bird singing its song - something joyous and spontaneous”.

- Michael Dunn, Art New Zealand, Spring edition 2018.

When Holly Zandbergen paints she wears headphones, crowding out the busy and over analytical part of her brain with music as she works. Applying oil to canvas using the impasto method is for Zandbergen a complete sensory and physical experience that is meditative though charged with great energy.

“As an artist,” Zandbergen says, “I use oil paint as a medium to explore this kindred connection that exists between the mark and intention. Although my practice remains figurative, it must be stressed that the majority of my inspiration stems from an internal source, something that is not driven by the literal subject. This has resulted in an impasto application of oil paint where variables such as speed, force and motion activate endless possibilities within each mark. Painting has come to be about capturing what occurs within the present moment. Whether this is from within the time to mentally prepare and ‘enter into’ the painting, to the physical contact made of brush onto canvas. The artwork itself is a result of a conducted spiritual process, where varying brushwork reflects the subtle layers of an authentic human response.”

The result of this incredibly intense engagement with both the subject and the medium produces canvases that are heavy and richly textured by Zandbergen’s thick application of paint. In many ways the works are abstracts, though it’s landscapes, and landscapes that are recognisable as such, that Zandbergen is painting – seen from above, as if from an aero plane, hot air balloon or drone, a bird’s eye view. Zandbergen’s mountains are iced with snow glacial and blue in the cold winter light, tumbling, murky bodies of water glint distantly in deep dark valleys, and the eye travels over verdant tracts of native bush.

However, it isn’t just the mountains and valleys, which have been a mainstay of New Zealand painting for over 150 years, and featured heavily in the suite of paintings for Auckland Art Fair 2019, that have been the subject of Zandbergen’s practice. The recent Compositions of Nature series at Black Asterisk in mid 2018 had, as its starting point, a homage of sorts to Zandbergen’s mother and her garden. The frame may be so much tighter in these images, but the process is exactly the same. So rather than a mountain range, it’s snow painted with the fiery colours of the setting sun, it’s a plant in a domestic garden. The colours and layers capturing the cycle of new growth and subsequent decay in close detail. For all of their abstraction, the Compositions of Nature works are intensely naturalistic.

Zandbergen quite often uses photographs as her starting point. However, her paintings aren’t about capturing a moment in time preserved in its actuality, but a consolidation of the wholeness of her subjects, across the day and the seasons, capturing the ever-changing light and shadow, be it on a mountain or a corner of a domestic garden with its cacophony of colour. Abstract her paintings may be but the subject matter is always instantly recognisable, both visually and viscerally. Lush, richly textured and full of movement, her paintings capture and reveal the essence of her subject matter rather than its specificity allowing the viewer to bring their own experience to the act of seeing

London, New York, Toronto, Seattle and Timaru are just some of the places Holly Zandbergen paintings have been shown since she graduated from the Dunedin School of Art in 2013 and immediately headed for the United Kingdom. And she’s worked hard for her international success. While based in London, working as an au pair the 27-year-old, who is originally from Timaru, continued to paint, entering her work into various competitions, winning awards – notably the Best Young Artist award at the National Open Art Competition in London in 2015 – and being shown at various galleries including a solo show for the River Series at the Graham Hunter Gallery in London. Crucial exposure which bought her to the attention of Rebecca Hossack.

Hossack has two galleries in London and one in New York, in addition to being a regular on the international art fair circuit. Signing with Hossack in 2016 has meant that Zandbergen has gained an impressive amount of off-shore exposure for such a young artist, with a new solo show confirmed for London in November this year – proving that talent and tenacity really are a winning formula. Zandbergen, who returned to New Zealand in 2016, is now based in Christchurch where she continues to paint and exhibit.

"I wish to use paint as a medium to explore the connection between the mark and the idea."- Holly Zandbergen

“Holly employs her technique with skill and intent, each stroke, rhythmic and self informing. She has the ability to pull you deep into the story but to then bring you up from the depths of paint, so you and your eyes rested upon a scene, serene and of the moment. You will be forever captured by its simplicity.”

Graham A. Hunter, Graham Hunter Gallery, London, 2016