“Holly Savas is a contemporary collage artist with modernist sensibilities. Coming from a design background that is evidenced in the orderliness of her compositions, she creates abstracted urban landscapes. She speaks about the optimism in her work, and it is here that the modernist qualities manifest. The forms are simple, colours bright and warm, and patterns and textures lively, all of this speaking to a portion of the modernist aesthetic.” — Ariane Fairlie, Kolaj Magazine (January 2015)
Editor’s note: We were given the opportunity to get an insider’s view into the life and work of artist Holly Savas at her residence and studio in San Francisco. The interview features Holly both as an artist and as a collector.
How would you describe your work?
I would describe my current style of working with mixed media as a study in harmonious contrasts. I strive to use bold, vibrant colors, but not in a way that causes the work to clash or produce a feeling of unease. I love to position areas of vertical movement immediately above and below horizontal lines, but only when I feel it causes one direction to anchor and support the other. I will definitely mix unconventional materials and debris with more traditional mediums — such as combining found cigarette wrappers with delicate pink acrylic paint — as long as it works for me aesthetically. And although my work contains a high degree of geometric abstraction, there are often recognizable elements such as buildings and trees to lend a representational feel.
I think my background as a designer informs my work quite a bit. I like the work to feel balanced and complimentary to the visual story I am trying to tell, whether it’s my impression of the north coast during a winter storm or how the sun bakes the sand at Ocean Beach. For this reason, I often create pieces in series of two or three very similar collages at a a time — it allows me to repeat a color, style or theme that creates a fully-explored feeling of connectedness to something bigger than just a single canvas. This concept is obvious in my newest body of work, Along the Coast.
What is your favorite part of being an artist? What do you find most rewarding?
My favorite part of being an artist is finding a way to distill everything I absorb from my environment — the shapes of buildings I see downtown, the light and shadows of trees in Golden Gate Park or the colors of the beach — into a small, concentrated dose of my experiences. It’s very satisfying to look at a collection of my completed collages and revisit the sensory memories contained in them, all through a filter that exaggerates the best of what I experienced or that perhaps even replaces what I actually saw, with what I wish I had seen. On canvas, I can make the ocean as blue as I want it to be or I can make it nearly white. I can make skyscrapers out of flower patterned wallpaper or from debris I find on the street. Through art, can I convert reality into a slightly more optimistic version of itself, which I find makes most people pretty happy.
What do you hope your art provides to viewers and to prospective buyers?
Above all, I want my art to be uplifting. There is quite a bit of room for interpretation in my work; from afar it may look like a bright, fairly monochromatic square that brightens someone’s wall (and hopefully, their day). Up close, there is a world of tiny embedded paint and paper detail in each of my collages that can become, with just a drop of imagination, just about anything. While I like to think that most collectors of my work appreciate it on that level, many tell me that simply having my art in their home or office puts those who see it into a cheerful mood, which is incredibly satisfying for me. If beyond that it inspires people to head to the beach, take a hike through the park or simply walk through their neighborhood, then that’s pretty big icing on the cake.
As a collector, what is your favorite piece of original art that you own?
My favorite piece of original art is a black and white oil stick on paper abstract drawing given to me by Oakland artist Stephanie Dennis. I have been a close friend of hers for almost fifteen years and have watched her career as she has evolved as an artist. She’s amazing.
Why is it your favorite and what made you excited to have it in your home?
We live in a 1924 Craftsman/Edwardian style home, and have preserved its many warm wood finishes and intricate details, such as crown moulding and arts and crafts tiled fireplace. Stephanie Dennis’ work is very mid-century modern-inspired which provides a nice contrast to our older home; however her work, while being modern, does not feel stark. The marks she makes on paper evoke a certain comfort for me, a closeness and compatibility that perfectly complement the warm interior paint colors we’ve chosen. And my interior design style is very eclectic. I love pairing old and new as long as the elements are sympathetic, and make me feel joyful. Stephanie’s black and white drawing in our living room pairs well with a set of mid-century upholstered wooden chairs we own — both are simple, yet incredibly substantial.
Why is art important to you?
I see art as a key delivery device of color into my home. There have been so many studies of how color affects moods, relationships and health and I know that without color, my life would be incredibly lackluster. Art for me is also about connection — how I feel about the person who made it, or where I was when I bought it. It brings back wonderful memories and essentially, reminds me of who I truly am when I’m having a crazy day (or a very mundane day for that matter.)
What makes your home feel like “home”?
I think there’s a balance for me, as both an artist and a mother, between order and chaos. I love it when our home feels like ‘life is happening here’. To me that means that there are children’s art projects in progress on the dining room table, maybe my husband is downstairs playing guitar, and I have a work in progress in my studio space (which means pieces of paper, tubes of paint and glue pretty much all over the place). Home to me is a place where there is space for everyone to create, to be an artist, in whatever form that takes for the individual whether it’s cooking or music or visual art. But I am very careful that we don’t cross the line into absolute mess everywhere. When we’re nearing the tipping point my designer/space planner brain takes over and brings everything back into balance by putting things back in their places. For me, creation is impossible in the midst of too much visual disorder. So I guess that my home feels like “home” when there is harmony between the freedom to create within a larger container of order.