Portraits of a City

The CEISMIC team is excited to announce the addition of a substantial collection of artwork to the archive. Local artist Julia Holden has gifted digital copies and documentation of several large bodies of work that have been created since her move to Christchurch in 2012. The projects are all inspired by the unique city Holden discovered amidst the devastation, and her desire to contribute towards its restoration. Digital Content Analyst Rosalee Jenkin talks about the artist and her work:

Given that so many people up and left Christchurch as a result of the earthquakes, it’s always nice to learn of people who have not only chosen to move here, but have a number of positive things to say about their experience of our post-quake city.

Julia Holden is one of these people. After completing a BFA at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, she then went on to receive a Masters of Fine Arts from Monash University, Melbourne, in 2011. The following year Holden moved to Christchurch, where she was struck by the amount of creative activity taking place and the warmth and inclusivity of the people she met. She felt compelled to use her painting practice as a way to contribute towards the healing and restoration process, and set about working on a series of oil paintings which depicted scenes of Christchurch as she found it.

Ten paintings from Julia Holden's series Wish You Were Here (2013)

The series was titled ‘Wish You Were Here’ – a gentle, compassionate message to the people we lost, and to the Christchurch that no longer stands.  It also communicated the reality of living in Christchurch at the time. In Holden’s words, this body of work was, “a way to show that Christchurch is still beautiful, in the most surprising and unexpected ways.”

The original ‘Wish You Were Here’ series was exhibited at a pop-up gallery in Sumner. Interested in how paintings can have a life outside of the gallery, Holden extended the series, creating ten larger paintings which were displayed at Gap Filler’s Inconvenience Store during April 2014. The public were encouraged to vote for their favourite, and a Boosted crowd-funding campaign made it possible to get the top five paintings displayed on billboards in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Meanwhile, all ten paintings were reproduced as postcards, which were printed by Phantom Billstickers and distributed through cafes around the country.

Julia Holden's painting 'Containers' from the series Wish You Were Here (2014) on a billboard on Cook Street, Auckland

As if this wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Holden also found time to contribute a painted egg, one of the 100 eggs decorated by artists and designers from around the country as part of Whittaker’s Big Egg Hunt, with funds raised to support Starship Children’s Hospital. Holden’s egg, titled ‘A Shell of Her Former Self’ featured a post-quake panoramic view of Christchurch’s High Street, and was a feature egg at the black tie auction held at Auckland Museum.

Julia Holden next to her painted egg 'A Shell of her Former Self', on display in Cathedral Square during the Whittaker's Big Egg Hunt, 2014.

Her next undertaking was to pay homage to the Christchurch arts community through a series of portraits. Although she identifies as a painter, Holden’s practice derives from her previous career as a storyboard and concept artist in film and television. The disciplines of film and photography have shaped her painting practice, and came into play for the latest series, titled ‘its like now’.

An invitation to submit a thirty-second video ‘selfie’ was sent out to artists, writers, curators, museum directors and gallery workers, both paid and volunteer. The only criteria were that people had to be living in Christchurch and contributing in some way to the creative community. Fifty responses were received and Holden spent the next seven weeks translating the films into a total of 450 paintings, which she then used to produce a stop-motion ‘animated painting’. The film, along with 150 of the paintings, were exhibited at Art Box Gallery late last year.

An installation view of Julia Holden's exhibition 'its like now' at Art Box Gallery, 2014

Holden points out that these are not your average stand-alone portraits, but that they are intended to be viewed collectively. The project was an attempt at a “self-selecting, non-hierarchical, and entirely democratic portrait” of (some of) the Christchurch arts community – those who have given both time and energy to enliven the recovery of their city.

The image used for invitations to Julia Holden's exhibition 'its like now' at Art Box Gallery, 2014

I think Christchurch is pretty fortunate to have dedicated, passionate people such as Julia - and those she has so beautifully depicted – using their talents to make it a more vibrant and interesting place.

All of the works mentioned above can be viewed in Julia Holden’s collection in QuakeStudies, together with a large collection of her personal photographs of Christchurch. We’re looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!