EXHIBITED AT THE SAATCHI GALLERY
Old Woman Hugging A Goat
Fluorescent lemon yellow, fluorescent flame red, lead white, cochineal, ultramarine, green earth, Spanish red ochre in egg tempera and oils on board
122 x 153 cm
Sigrid Holmwood strives to get to the absolute heart of painting: not just as an activity, but as a material substance, entrenched with history, inherited knowledge and innate meaning. Holmwoodâs Technicolor canvases seem oddly contemporary, especially considering how theyâre made. With anorak enthusiasm, Holmwood trawls centuries-old archives and internet forums and consults conservationists, chemists, and herbalists to revive the lost recipes of paint-making. Her pigments and glazes are concocted entirely from scratch and include all manner of ingredients both common and exotic, from precious stones to ground up bugs. âI use these traditions playfully, and expand upon them,â Holmwood explains. âIâm less interested in actual recreations than their modern possibilities. In Hugging A Goat, for example, I mixed fluorescent pigment in egg tempera.â
The Last Peasant-Painters Peeling Potatoes (Old Woman Mill)
Fluorescent orange egg tempera; lead white, Prussian blue, Chrome yellow light, lead antimonate, Bohemian green earth, Spanish glazing ochre; iron oxide in soured milk; birch leaf lake in pine resin on board
122 x 142 cm
âI use things made by hand by other people,â Holmwood adds, âsuch as paint brushes, reproduction period pottery, wooden bowls, hand blown glass, all mixed in with modern things. I like the idea that Iâm partaking in other peoplesâ crafts and skills.â Holmwoodâs historical investigation is carried through in her chosen subjects and aesthetics. Half Swedish, Holmwood is inspired by the 19th-century peasant painters of the Darlarna province, whose folk art is a national symbol of Sweden. Based on an archive photo of the actual last peasant painter, the figures in The Last Peasant Painters Peeling Potatoes (Old Woman Mill) are sat in front of a typical Dalecarlian composition. The image seen on the wall is based on a folk legend of old women who are ground up in a mill and emerge rejuvenated. âI painted the woodwork using a technique which these artists used to represent mahogany,â Holmwood reveals. âItâs paint glazed with a sour milk and pigment mixture and sealed with oil. It gives a psychedelic effect.â
Fluorescent egg tempera; lead white, iron oxide, raw sienna, Spanish glazing ochre, red lead, French ultramarine in oils; birch leaf lake in pine resin on board
137 x 122 cm
Church Boats depicts an enactment of a midsummer festival from RĂ€ttvik, in the region of Dalarna, where villagers cross a lake to attend church in boats adorned with wreaths made from birch. The yellow paint used in the scene is made from birch leaves. Its style and hues are reminiscent of impressionism. âI am interested in 19thc themes,â Holmwood says of her nostalgic aesthetics. âThatâs the period when they started to feel rural culture was being lost, and artists made a real political gesture against the city. Van Gogh went to Provence to live with peasants, and likened the act of painting to the peasants ploughing their fields. I like the idea that there is a history of artists doing that, artists trying to rough it. The psychedelic colours refer to the hippie movement, going back to the land, living in communes, which is a similar sentiment. I think these âhippie ideasâ are having a resurgence today with people growing their own vegetables in allotments and the âslow food movementâ... I think of my work as being a âslow painting movementâ.â
Mother and Child
Fluorescent brick red egg tempera; Cobalt turquoise, lead antimonate, red lead, lead white, Prussian blue in oils; iron oxide in soured milk on board
91 x 74 cm
Holmwoodâs Swedish scenes were often developed from sketches she made of the interpreters at the Skansen Museum on the island DjurgĂ„rden in Stockholm. The island houses actual historic buildings transported from all over the country. The museumâs gallery guides wear traditional dress and demonstrate antique tools and olden-day skills. Mother and Child is a portrait of a woman taking part in a live diorama in a house representing the area of Darlarna. Holmwood was interested in this sceneâs suggestion of heritage, the knowledge and experience passed from one generation to the next, giving formation and grounding to contemporary identity.
Fluorescent yellow orange, fluorescent flame red egg tempera, Chrome yellow, lead white, Cochineal, madder, French ultramarine, Prussian blue, lead antimonate, Viridian in oils on board
61 x 75 cm
SĂĄmi Couple features museum invigilators portraying the indigenous people of the northern Nordic areas in a nomadic tepee setting. Holmwood considers her work in relation to an increasing trend to âintegrate history into representing everyday life,â and cites interactive museum displays and television documentaries as examples of this movement. She describes her intensive processes as an âexperimental archaeology, discovering the nature of materials by really using them.â Despite her ongoing research, Holmwoodâs days in her studio are mainly spent painting; extracting pigments is a long process that doesnât require constant attention. As she often works with organic materials such as milk and eggs, she mixes her paints at the beginning of each day, but never makes notes. Her paintings often incorporate very pure pigments as composite colours canât be exactly reproduced.
Fluorescent egg tempera, bohemian green earth egg tempera; verdigris, cochineal, lead white, lead antimonate, raw umber,bohemian green earth, Spanish red ochre in oils on board
110 x 122 cm
In England Holmwood is a member of a Tudor re-enactment group; at their meetings, held at historical preservation sites around the country, they live an authentic 16th c lifestyle and re-learn the life-skills of the past. âWe donât pretend to be in the olden days,â Holmwood makes clear. âWe are modern people discovering how things work through doing it.â The group collaborates in historical research and shares their knowledge. In the club, which includes ironmongers, leatherworkers, clothes weavers, Holmwood is, of course, an Early Modern artist. Holmwood explains: âThe 16th-century is technically Early Modern rather than Medieval. Itâs the beginnings of contemporary art. The art market and the first stock market emerged in Antwerp, and genre painting such as peasants and landscapes started to develop. The development of artists painting peasants through art history is a reflection of increasing urbanism.â Frying Fish was completed during an excursion to Avoncroft in Bromsgrove, and pictures a friend cooking kippers. Reminiscent of Gauguinâs rustic exotica, the ceramic-like painting technique replicates the actual glaze effect of the jar seen on the counter.
Fluorescent egg tempera, lead antimonate, raw sienna, raw umber, bohemian green earth, lead white in oils on board
130 x 110 cm
âMaking Lye is based on a re-enactment we did in London.â Holmwood recalls. âLye was used for soap, and is made by pouring water through wood ash. We were making it to show how people did laundry; however, lye was also used in making pigments.â In depicting this ritual, Holmwood draws from both the chemical and creative traditions of her craft. The composition, subject, and ephemeral tones of this piece can be compared to Barbizon painters such as Jean-FranĂ§ois Millet, whose canvases championed the modest life of the countryside, and the value of nature and labour. Holmwoodâs classical scene harks back to a time when life seemed a lot less complicated; its simple, unassuming beauty derived from the time-honoured virtue of taking pride in oneâs work.