Books have always figured in my life. I think my earliest most favourite memories are of Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and Hans Brinker – oh, and the Bobbsey Twins. I also loved fairy tales, especially fairy tale books that included colour illustrations – which would later on influence the overall look of my paintings. Reading was always an escape for me. Growing up in a household with seven children, an alcoholic father, and more than a few relocations – books grounded me in a necessary ‘unreality’. Reading, for me, was a tool for coping. I loved my mother, had set relationships with my siblings…each played a very specific role in dealing with the onslaught of my father’s alcoholism – but books were my true balm.
Painting books are my way of honouring the past, and honouring the written word. I like the feel of books, I like how they smell – they seem organic. In my collecting of books, for paintings, I look for the familiar. And I look for titles that, for good reason, have become classics. I already mentioned a few early titles, but as a teen and on up I came to love Jane Eyre, Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, The Catcher In The Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Razors Edge…so many more. All of these shaped my past, helped me to get where I am. I love when little notes fall out of books. Books contain secrets, long kept, old valentines hidden away, grocery lists, dried flowers, dedications to loved ones, quiet little memories tucked between the pages. Favourite recipes are spattered with aged grease or bits of old dough. Almost always I can lay a cookbook down and it will open to a classic biscuit recipe.
In the late 1960s my parents owned a roadside diner/gas station. When it came to sleeping arrangements, it was a small affair, with us all tucked into various parts of the buildings . My brother and two eldest sisters slept in rooms behind the garage, me and the remaining three sisters shared one room behind the restaurant – and my parents converted the office into a bedroom. This office was central to everything. It was where everyone had to pass on the way to anywhere. It was where my books were kept…on a shelf behind the bed – it was the way out, the way in – it was where we had to tiptoe past when my father was sleeping off the night before. I can picture still my Hans Brinker, my Anne Of Green Gables series, my Hiedi, and Bobbsey Twins…still on the shelf. Vivid memories of this time, mostly because of the trauma of living with my father. I think my child’s mind somehow magnified the peace I found in reading, the escape was true and complete when I read.
Many of my associations with books come from this time. My mother cooking constantly to keep the restaurant stocked – always baking pies and roasting beef. Rows and rows of Cornflakes and over-large cans for refilling condiments, and bags of this that and the other thing sat waiting on shelves in our multi-purpose dining/laundry/storage room. We had a woman, Kay, who often helped in the restaurant. For a time her and her husband lived in a trailer behind the restaurant. I used to love to watch Kay cook, my mother make pies, busy, normal things – I looked to Kay when my mom was working out front – she bandaged my knees, spoke softly and reassuringly when I needed it most. So cookbooks are a favourite for me to paint – a nod mostly to my mother, but also to smaller important memories, memories of Kay. I might add that she had lost a couple of fingers when she was a young woman, I think an accident while working in a hunting camp – this was a constant source of fascination for me.
I always choose things that seem familiar to me…whether it be the title, or the type of book, it has to connect with me in some way. There are some books that I keep collecting, different bindings, different editions, or even sometimes the same book in every way except that it was read by someone who either kept better care, or someone who’s attention dog-eared most pages and who’s handling made scotch taping the binding a necessity. The pulp series is a bit different…as a young girl I had a friend whose parents had a rather large collection of pulp fiction ranging from murder mystery to erotica. During sleepovers we would sneak some of the books to our room and hide under an old wool blanket with a flashlight, reading stuff we didn’t understand, stuff we weren’t supposed to be reading – dirty books!
The publishing industry is taking quite a knock these days, and to think of a future without actual books saddens me. There is no way to measure the experience of something read on a computer, none that I know of. No life, no bits of ‘stuff’ falling out or stuck on – no way to connect that screen to one’s past, one’s mother, father, sister, friend. Every bit of wear on a book, every tear, are evidence of a life – lives – something tangible that connects us to the people, times, places we have known.
All Images Are © Holly Farrell
Holly Farrell Artist Bio
Holly Farrell was born in 1961 in North Bay, Ontario. She began drawing and painting at 29 as an outlet to her work counselling teens with developmental challenges. Farrell’s interest in still life painting developed over a few years out of a desire to hone her drawing skills. In 1992 she exhibited her paintings for the first time at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Farrell has since exhibited her work throughout Canada, the US, and Japan. She lives and works in Toronto.
Currently Holly Farrell is working towards a solo exhibition in October 2015 at Clark Gallery, Lincoln, MA. Also in October she will exhibit work in ‘A Female Voice’, a group show at the Cornell Museum of Art in Delray Beach, Fl.
Blog / Website: HollyFarrell.com
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