Playing with the colour purple

Painter Frank Holliday and his oil on canvas titled Trailing A Violet Haze (2013), which is shown in an exhibition here.
Painter Frank Holliday and his oil on canvas titled Trailing A Violet Haze (2013), which is shown in an exhibition here.PHOTO: RAFAEL SALGADO

American painter Frank Holliday is keen to explore the magic the purple hue can work on canvas

Playing with texture, colour and layers, American abstract painter Frank Holliday creates stunning canvases which are on show for the first time in Asia.

His solo exhibition at Partners & Mucciaccia in Gillman Barracks, which runs till Dec 13, presents several of his large-scale works that have a deeply calming effect.

It comes as no surprise that the artist, who trained as a dancer, is into meditation and yoga, which he says have helped centre his art practice. The abstract paintings exude a quiet energy, achieved to a large extent by the use of the colour purple which dominates in several works.

You see it in the large oil on canvas titled Trailing A Violet Haze (2013) and the equally impressive oil painting Heart And Soul (2014) which uses layers, light and shadows to evoke a seascape.

When asked about his current colour palette, the contemporary of pop artist Keith Haring and street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat says: "I am going through a purple phase."


  • WHERE: Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery, 02-10 Gillman Barracks, 6 Lock Road

    WHEN: Till Dec 13, noon to 7pm (Tuesday to Friday), 11am to 7pm (Saturday), 11am to 6pm (Sunday). Closed on Monday and public holiday


    INFO: Call 6694-3777 or go to www.partnersandmucciaccia. com

Holliday, 60, likens purple to "perfume".

"It can be too sweet, too dangerous. Purple can be lavender and, if not mixed right, it can be too confectionary. It is a colour that challenges me at the moment and I am curious to see what more magic it can create on a canvas."

He trained as a dancer while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute and calls his transition to the world of art "a wonderful stroke of luck".

He started painting on the side while working as a dancer, finding it "a creative release", and became famous in New York during the 1970s and 1980s, working with eminent artists of his generation such as Haring and Basquiat.

From his first solo exhibition in New York in 1987 to today, Holliday's art has acquired more depth.

Writing about his art now, American writer and curator Anney Bonney notes that looking at a Holliday painting is "like Odysseus strapped to the mast. We hear the sirens singing. We feel the rush".

Editor and publisher David Cohen calls "the unabashed loveliness of Holliday's paintings something unusual in the current artistic climate".

"When contemporary artists do reference such beauty, they tend to do so ironically."

Having seen his art evolve, Cohen adds that his "voluptuous palette" helps him create "suggestive depths" on canvas.

That palette has changed over the years. It is more muted with purple dominating, compared with the yellows and reds seen in some of his earlier canvases.

Today, his art is in several institutional collections, including that of the Weatherspoon Art Museum in North Carolina, a university art museum known for its collection of 20th- and 21st-century American art.

This year, he was appointed fellow of the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which only supports scholars, writers and artists and is often called a "midcareer" award. Noted writers Akhil Sharma and Annie Proulx and painter and print-maker Janet Abramowicz are past fellows.

Holliday's current exhibition comprises 41 artworks, some more than 10 years in the making, priced between US$23,000 (S$32,785) and US$240,000.

He says he tossed out several unfinished paintings that did not pass the exacting standards he sets for himself.

In no uncertain terms, he tells Life: "No one needs an okay Frank Holliday."

He says he will take as much time as he needs to finish a work until he is satisfied.

"My paintings have countless layers of paint and it takes time to get the effect I have in mind. I have to always take it to the very edge of failure to see what is possible."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Playing with the colour purple'. Print Edition | Subscribe