Since the beginning of 2022, Lonnie Holley has been preparing for three solo shows: two currently on view at Dallas Contemporary and Edel Assanti in London, and one opening next month at Blum and Poe in Los Angeles.
Holley also spent several weeks in February in rural England composing a new song cycle, “The Edge of What,” for Artangel. Timed to the Edel Assanti opening, Holley staged a one-night performance of the music at London’s Stone Nest last month. (Artangel also made a 25-minute film of the artist at work at the Orford Ness nature reserve, a former military testing site on the Suffolk coast.)
It’s been a busy spring by any measure, but that suits the 72-year-old artist and musician just fine. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, as the seventh of 27 children, Holley is self-taught, and started out building sculptures in his front yard. He rose to prominence after appearing in a 1996 show organized by Atlanta’s Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting African American artists from the southern United States.
Success in the music world came later; since beginning his professional recording career in 2006, Holley has played and recorded with the likes of Bon Iver, Deerhunter, the Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, and Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. To this day, he continues to expand his practice, making his first works in ceramics for the Dallas Contemporary show.
In a rare free moment, Holley was kind enough to open up to Artnet News about his Atlanta studio and his creative process.
Can you send us a snap of the most indispensable item in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it?
I don’t sit down much when I’m in the studio. But I have a rocking camp chair that I have to have with me when I’m working. Because when I sit, I like to sit and think and rock back and forth.
What is a studio task on your agenda this week that you are most looking forward to?
I just moved a lot of canvases I’d been painting out of my studio. So, the space is open and I can’t wait to get back in there and put up some more canvas and stretched quilts to paint. I like walking in when there is room to spread out stuff and be inspired.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
I work wherever I am. I listen to music sometimes and other times I work in the natural sounds around me. I like all kinds of music. Oftentimes I’ll listen to oldies or maybe Bob Dylan’s gospel records, or Stevie Wonder. Sometimes I’ll listen to my own music and let it transport me back to the feeling I had when I made it. I have a studio, I’ve recently moved to a new one, but I mostly work out in the world.
Who are your favorite artists, curators or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
I tend to post a lot of pictures and art on social media, but I’m not great at following people. Mostly I follow artists I know or artists I’ve played with.
Is there a picture you can send of your current work in progress at the studio?
Here are images of me at work in a studio in Guadalajara, Mexico. I started working with clay for the first time in preparation for my exhibition at Dallas Contemporary, which includes framed ceramic tiles as well as ceramic objects.
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get “unstuck”?
I’ve never really made art for a show, exactly. I’m always busy making something. I don’t think I’ve ever found myself stuck. Between drawing and painting and putting things together and carving stone and making music and taking pictures, there’s usually something to keep me occupied if I get stuck in one of those areas.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?
Honestly, if someone took the time and energy to make something, I admire it. Too many times people don’t do something, and I suppose that’s what I despise. When someone says they didn’t have the time or an idea, I can’t understand that. There’s always time and ideas.
What images or objects do you look at while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or your desktop, wherever you spend the most time.
I tend to be too focused on the things I’m making to spend time looking at other stuff. At my old studio, I had material all around me that I’d pick up and use in my work, but once I start working, I’m pretty focused on the work at hand. The same is true for my music. If I’m in the studio making music, I don’t need to hear anything else that might distract me from being creative.