Born in 1968, Nick Holly grew up in St Thomas, Swansea, what he calls ‘the doorstep of the industrial eastside’.
“When I was young my playground was Kilvey Hill, the banks of the River Tawe, the docks and the ruined copper works. Inspiration lay all around me”
Nick studied at the Swansea School of Art and Design, leaving in 1988, and he secured his first solo show in an art gallery in 1998. He is now widely recognized as of the UK’s most accomplished artists. He regularly shows his work in galleries across Wales and London.
His early work depicted scenes of traditional Welsh life and landscapes such as streets of terrace houses, similar to the area was he was brought up. More recently he has started to incorporate people in his paintings, conveying the life of the communities in which he lives. With his interest in capturing scenes of gritty Welsh life he has become known as a chronicler or urban life in post-industrial Wales. Reviewers have compared his work to artist L. S. Lowry.
His paintings move beyond personal memories to encompass images from the last century and his urban landscapes has extended to include scenes from New York and Paris. He has regular sell-out exhibitions with collector’s queuing before opening to secure specific paintings.
His palette consists mainly of blues and greys with small touches of red that draw the viewers eye, such as a boys red football shirt or the red sail of a boat. Nick says ‘the red colour draws the eye into the painting. I use the technique the help people recall the scene’. Other signal elements that those who have known his work for some years will recognize he says are ‘yellow taxis, fire hydrants, the Chrysler building and the Brooklyn Bridge.’
Nick Holly sees his work as simple and unpretentious. As he says himself: ‘people who are familiar with my paintings will know that they are neither pretentious nor hold some deep hidden meaning. As always the work remains simple: children at play, cats dogs and bustling street scenes or lazy days at the seaside. From South Wales to Amsterdam and North Africa to New York, one thing I always find interesting is that no matter where in our world you go there are children all playing the same games.
The inspiration for some recurring characters
A black cross labrador and black highland terrier feature in every painting I produce. Dogs and Cats have been creeping into my work over some years now. Without realising it two particular dogs stand out, sat side by side and feature in all of my paintings, some simply titled, ‘Friends’. The two dogs have become a well known trademark of my work.
On a visit to New York I stopped in a diner near Brooklyn Bridge. I sat with my food at the back of the room and noticed an old gentleman entering, he picked up a tray and began along the food counters choosing his meal. A tall, slim , African American man with silvery grey hair and a mustache; a shabby brown overcoat , trousers that didn’t reach his battered, well worn brogues and a trilby hat. He shuffled along the line. The staff seemed to know him well, to everyone’s’ joy and amazement the old gent skipped a little soft shoe shuffle and tap dance without dropping a single piece of food from his tray. Staff at the counter clapped.
I watched the man move closer towards me and sit at the table alongside mine, all the while, in a very British way, pretending not to notice him. He leaned across, “Where are you from?”, I said “Wales in the UK”, amazingly he knew Wales and didn’t ask if it was in London! The old man told me all about how he was a shoe shine man for 40 years and that he had polished the shoes of “great Americans”. My chat with the old shoe shine man proved to be one of my most memorable experiences in the Big Apple. Since my encounter every time I hear the song Mr Bojangles by Sammy Davies Jr, I think of the old gentleman and my time in a diner, near the Brooklyn bridge. Mr Bojangles has made his way into many of my paintings.