Mark Holden is a landscape artist who has long been inspired by both the built and natural beauty of St Andrews. Here in the third blog of featuring some of the products from our Museum Shop Caitlin Meldrum, Visitor Services Supervisor for the University of St Andrews Museums asks Mark to tell us more about what inspires him in his artworks:
CM: The prints that we have of yours are well known areas around St Andrews. What is the personal significance of this town?
MH: My Professional Art career was started here in St Andrews in 2002 from challenging beginnings. I was using painting therapeutically to develop back my self-esteem after a period of ill health. My renewed passion for the town was discovered then having been away from it many years. Painting it was the next obvious challenge for me.
CM: What are the reasons for the areas you select to depict in your artworks around St Andrews?
MH: The composition locational choices result from what I see as the places that best reflect the character and charm of the town.
CM: You’ve produced a lot of work which features St Andrews, and some of these in particular, depict some of the university buildings. Why did you select these, and what do you think the University means to the town?
MH: Being the Oldest University in Scotland and it having celebrated its 400th Anniversary in recent years, and having known many students who studied here over many years, it was a good topic of interest for my work to compliment the general landscapes of the town I was working on. The “Town and Gown” relationship is an important link between town folk and University staff and students, given the close interaction physically both feed off and benefit from each other. Having come to know many folk who have taught and learned here it has enriched my life in many ways over many a dinner at my parents.
CM: Are you able to talk us through some your process or mediums that you use?
MH: My main medium to paint with is Oils. It’s the traditional means to paint and conveys texture and colour well. More recently I have been working in watercolours, and these allow for a more delicate interpretation and style of work. Watercolours can be mixed with pen, (pen and wash) to create a nice illustrative style that is good for portraying buildings and townscapes.
CM: How did you get into making art and do you have any inspirations?
MH: It was always a childhood passion, drawing and designing. It was only after many years in a Marketing working environment and subsequent health scare ,that I was able to return to painting and drawing ,and as my passion for this was re-ignited and my work began to be appreciated and purchased, I then turned it into my new career.
CM: Do you have a spot in St Andrews that is your personal favourite?
MH: Probably the most frequently painted view and commission request I receive are for the view of the West Sands looking back towards town, an iconic view in my opinion and one that best conveys the essence of St Andrews at all times and seasons.
CM: You kindly agreed to give us one of your original artworks for the museum shop. Can you tell us more about this piece?
MH: Given my answer to the last question, that is why the painting you have is of the West Sands. It is a smaller scale work in Oils, but usually they are in larger formats, ranging from 300x300mm to 600x600mm. Every painting captures a different atmosphere, as is the actual view itself, ever changing with the Fife weather. It is in my Impressionistic style (not representational like a photograph) hence I aim to capture the mood suing this style of painting.
CM: We are aware you have been asked to do some commission pieces for the University of St Andrews. Are you able to tell us anything about these?
MH: The main University painting was commissioned by the University Court, as a gift when Professor Louise Richardson, completed her time at the University before heading to her new role at Oxford University. It was of the West Sands iconic view once again. Interestingly, she also commissioned me personally to produce another view of the town for herself from the Pier looking back to the Cathedral and harbour, as she liked my style of Scottish Impressionism. Both were in Oils. She has written to me after that to say how they feature in her main living space at the University there.
CM: The University Museums are currently involved in a campaign that is part of a call to action to protect our oceans. Other pieces that you do are also based on coastal images, have you noticed a change in this environment, or try to depict this in your art?
MH: This final question is an interesting one, as over lockdown last year I was based at my parents in St. Andrews and photographed and painted a lot of fresh material in that new unexpected time in our lives.. I was drawn to the East Sands more in the early mornings and hence have used that in new work, and in fact have had fresh commissions of that beach view too. I love the interaction of sea and sky, and hence depicting skies is important to me in it many representations as it continually changes and is ever inspiring and a challenge to capture on canvas.
MH: I haven’t notice any specific changes to the coastline, apart from many more people using it for swimming in. Maybe this is a consequence of lockdown with folk having more time to enjoy the sea/coast environment. I am not sure, but I became aware of it. The beauty and quiet of early sunny mornings make it a special experience, hence my appreciation of it too.
I have done Poppies on the coast themes in paintings and the depiction of the coast and fishing villages too. A topic that appeals to many and as you say to be cherished and respected more.
I have a collection of Photo art from this time that may be of interest for you to see in due course, as it was like a photo diary/blog of that challenging and unique time.