STORY ABOUT HER ART
Patti Holden has been active as an artist since childhood. In kindergarten Patti's teacher encouraged her to draw the fairies she fantasised about and by fourth grade she was aware that she drew very differently from her classmates. At home, in a 'quiet place' away from her family, she would spend hours in a world of her own. It was here that she created rag-dolls from old stockings and made their clothes. In high school Patti continued to improve her skills and was encouraged by her teachers. She became an observer of people and their behaviour.
Patti was born in 1926 at Beaufort, in the western district of Victoria. Because her father was posted to various banking positions she lived in many country towns and attended a total of nine Catholic and State schools.
With her mother and sister, she moved to Melbourne and worked for an accounting firm. She attended evening classes for a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne and was a member of the students' association. Because of this, Patti became interested in social matters, as expressed and voiced by the students. She met her future husband at the Flinders Street Railway Station on a university hike to the Dandenong Mountains.
After her marriage in 1948, Patti attended Adult Education Classes run by the Victorian Government in drawing and painting. These were taught by Ian Bow. She continued attending these classes, experimenting with different techniques and honing her unique vision of the world. After viewing "The Modernist and Impressionists Exhibition", promoted by Keith Murdock of the Herald and Weekly Times, she became intensely interested in painting, and from 1955 until 1959 she attended classes at George Bell's painting studio in Toorak.
In 1958 she became an exhibiting member of the Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne.
From 1961 to 1963 Patti studied with Wesley Pemberthy at his Painting Studio in Carrum. Here in particular, her years of hard work were recognized and she was encouraged by her peers to continue painting using her individual creative outlook.
For fourteen years until her move to Canberra in 1964, Patti was also passionately involved with the Victorian Ballet Guild in Melbourne where she designed costumes, backdrops and made masks, spending hours of unpaid time working at these numerous jobs that needed to be done for performances.
The move to Canberra with her husband Terry and their children was a very difficult time for Patti. They left behind their spacious contemporary house that she and Terry had designed and built together in the early 1950's, (one of the first passive solar houses in Victoria) and moved into a new, small four-bedroom government house in Canberra with no furnishings or garden. They were the first family of occupants in the street, in a very barren landscape.
Canberra's cultural environment felt very limited after Melbourne. There was little in the way of artistic societies or groups and Canberra lacked Melbourne's rich cosmopolitan atmosphere. Canberra's multicultural population had not integrated in the way that the Melbourne population had after World War Two.
As a result of this move, for some time Patti lost her way with her art. Her immediate environment was not conducive to creating and although she kept painting, her role as mother and wife dominated her time as well as her part and then full time employment.
From 1966 Patti exhibited her paintings several times in local art exhibitions but was misunderstood. Her work was non-conventional compared to the mainly realistic landscapes and portraits of the other exhibitors. This was frustrating after her more avant-garde Melbourne peer group and hindered her creative output. Her artwork at this time reflects this in her strong and passionate and even defiant portrayal of images, and skillful use of the paint medium.
It was in 1971 that Patti's style of work took on a more introspective, but flamboyant tone and this is well represented in her painting, "Pampas Grass Invaders". This painting and two others produced in the same year, show a growing confidence about her work, being comfortable with her unorthodox style and with the feelings of self-consciousness with which she had previously battled.
Also, Patti's 1971 the watercolour - finger painted "I am Safe in my House" and 1976 watercolour "Leda" represent an artistic breakthrough in her work where she was able to really unleash her innermost feelings onto the two dimensional surface.
From here Patti continued in a similar style, using acrylic paints rather than the oils she had used extensively prior to this change. Her paintings of 1972 "Abbey Wedding" and "Gardener Blokes and the Magpies" are larger than before but have the similar strong colours of her painting of 1960 "Espresso Boy", 1962 "Out Patients", and 1964 "Boat Harbour".
In 1981 Patti obtained a Bachelor of Education from the University of Canberra; secondary degree with double majors in Art, and then pursued further studies in psychology in the following two years. She had always seen a strong connection between art and human behaviour and continued this theme of investigation as the main focus of her art.
With her renewed confidence and deeper understanding in her work, Patti exhibited with the Crafts Council of the ACT in 1984, but shied away again from painting for another eight years because she felt that her art still did not fit into the "mould". It was perhaps this that gave rise to her renewing her interest in textiles.
From 1988 Patti became fascinated with printmaking as another way in which she could express herself and attended many workshops and experimented with different printing mediums.
Finally in 1992 Patti began exhibiting on a yearly basis until present day, mainly as a printmaker. Patti's primary focus from 1988 until recently has been on the various methods of expression available to her in the printing medium.
To gain more expertise in printmaking from a Master Print Maker she enrolled in an art course at the Illawarra TAFE Goulburn Campus in 1998. This environment gave her vast amounts of stimulus and was very supportive to Patti with her individual outlook on art.
In a talk she gave to fellow students in May 2003, Patti said that she had been reflecting on her most recent work, realizing that most of her art expression was concerned with the elements of shape and texture. She said also that from the early days, she had been obsessed with colour. Her early behaviour in confrontations with her mother illustrate this; "she wanted to dress me in pastel colours, I wanted bright red and green." As she continued, she said "Shape was also an obsession, perhaps from my inquisitive spying and eavesdropping through the keyhole after her parents had told me to go and play" and "The gestures and the shapes through the keyhole created a fascination to me about how people behave and relate to one another".
Patti was trying to understand human behaviour. Coupled with her passion for painting, drawing and printmaking she became an art therapist and is a professional honorary life member of the Australian National Art Therapy Association and professional member of the American Art Therapy Association. In her professional life she worked as a tutor, lecturer, teacher and counsellor at the secondary and tertiary levels in Australia and overseas.
She always has a reason for the way in which she has constructed her paintings and prints. With a great insight she is continually experimenting with new ideas and techniques, revising old themes such as the rag dolls she first made as a young girl. This can been seen in her later prints, "Unclad Street Figures" (1996), "Running, Hopping, Skipping, Jumping" (series in 2000 and 2003) and in the painting "Spirits of the Forest" (2003).
In 2004 Patti's life-long partner, husband Terry died suddenly, and she returned with renewed vigour, to her easel to paint producing what is believed to be her best painting yet, "She Left Home in her Car with her Chooks and her Dog". In this she shows enormous strength through her abstraction of the figure, animals and background. However the smile on the subject strongly demonstrates that she is at peace with herself.
Patti works best in solitude but appreciates a positive audience after the piece is completed. While taking people's comments on board, she does not allow this to compromise her purpose.
In her studio there are several rather large canvasses, awaiting their subject matter. They are calling her to get on with the next image and keep on doing what she does best, to paint her environment, people, and her feelings about life.
Patti has produced over 240 paintings and prints with an extensive collection of hats, woven scarves and rugs, ceramic sculptures, shoes, leather crafts and jewellery.
Marcia J. Holden