Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Christine Holton. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Christine, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on?
Corpus Chromatic- The Anatomy of the Human Body Paintings, Drawings and Mixed Media 2021-present day
In the Fall of 2021, I received a call to exhibit my paintings at the Brown Gallery at Duke University. Somebody had seen my paintings of human anatomy in bright, bold colors and recommended them.
I was working on portraits of individual organs, living systems within the human body, as a means of healing and curiosity for the inner landscapes of our bodies and the aesthetic beauty of it all. Within 10 days, I finished 9 more paintings and hung a show that I was so proud of, and felt my vulnerability in sharing my recovery from health challenges through artistic expression. I received so many personal accounts of others’ healing journeys and how my art opened a connection for them with their bodies and health. It felt like my purpose in life was to share my own healing to help free others. This show gained recognition, and helped me to get selected for several podcast interviews and a companion to a humanities conference exhibition, and a wonderful residency opportunity several months later. In the summer of 2022, I moved halfway across the United States from Durham, North Carolina to Navasota, Texas for the Navasota Artist in Residence Program. I missed my home and partner, friends and animals, and though I understood this was temporary grief, my tense shoulders and clenched jaw didn’t know the difference. My body continued keeping tabs on my feelings. By definition, grief is experienced as acute pain from a loss. Honoring these feelings feels honest, and sharing about them through words or imagery feels necessary. All human beings experience physical and emotional losses, and grieving gives us a collective expanded societal belonging. Sometimes painting the physical body part helps me to feel my emotions more fully; it would be easy to avoid them.
More temporary losses have occurred. Just after arriving at this residency I injured my hip flexor while running and had to stop running for 6 weeks, which felt difficult. I painted my thigh muscles and exhibited that while in residency, too. The connection between emotion and the physical body is an important one, and my work is an exploration of personal narrative and the curiosity and joy of the body’s healing processes.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a native of Durham, North Carolina and grew up in a family of musical people. There was a lot of energy devoted to learning and curiosity about the natural world, crafts, and music. I have always been a highly sensitive person and very visually oriented. I love hiking and exploring woods and observing plants and animals in their natural habitats, including people existing in their environments. I am interested in branch-like forms, patterns, and symmetry found in the human anatomy, symbols of nature such as the tree, and animals. I’m fascinated by and in awe of these living systems, their functions and their energies, my own human organs included.
I design and create custom pet portraits on commission for clients including personalized pet photo shoots and additional consultation.
I also do anatomical commission work, depicting a part of the body in custom colors for gifts or home. Many medical professionals find my work appealing and reach out for a one-of-a-kind custom painting. I have exhibited across the US and have written about my work, which has been published this year in 2022.
My paintings and drawings explore the symbology, purpose, and functions of living things. They are portraits meant to celebrate and venerate living systems for their beauty, unique traits, characteristics, ancient designs, and meaning. I celebrate my subjects using bright colors to bring attention to them and to add fantasy. Lively, painterly brushstrokes exaggerate their movement and vitality, while up-close views, intentional compositions, and abstracted or fantasy-like environments help viewers to find enchantment and draw their attention to the beauty of the living object itself. My work comes from my own healing. Painting anatomical subjects is a way of connecting to myself; it is a search for a deeper connection to the earth and every other living being. By painting the physical subject, I am honoring it and elevating its’ humble function to royalty, sometimes creating a botanical space within the composition for it to exist. I adore humorous requests and fun contrasts within art as well.
The sharing of personal stories is a large part of my connection with clients and something that really matters to me. When a client requests a custom made anatomy painting as a gift for someone, for example, and shares that they want me to paint a large intestine for their friend who is in remission from colon cancer, I feel honored to create that for them. I am proud to be painting this work, because it’s not just for my own joy and healing; it is for others, too.
I take pride in working with a wide range of requests to create unique and one-of-a-kind art for the client’s particular need or occasion. My mission is to create work from a place of authentic love, healing and celebration of the natural world and the connectedness of the living world.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
As a child, growing up in a very religious family, I developed feelings of self-consciousness early on about my identity and my own female body. I recall being told that physical desire was a choice, not a natural feeling. The world beyond my family seemed unpredictable and destabilizing, and I craved a sense of control over that fear. Focusing on being very thin and being hungry became sensations that felt safe. The societal pressures to look thin were in my gaze as well; watching other girls and women (my mother included) in daily battles with their own bodies. I sought to control and suppress these feelings by developing an eating disorder, and felt emotionally and physically numb for most of those years. I began drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. The constant crisis from disconnection with myself and others was part of everyday living. While I went to extreme measures to escape my pain, I understand that these feelings are experienced to some degree by many.
I did not visit any health practitioners for over ten years. I remember feeling constantly achy and tired; my limbs heavy and my chest tight with anxiety and fear of being “found out”. My own body was as foreign to me as someone else’s, a chasm between my outside appearance and my inside feelings.
Many people have experienced an inability to process traumatic experiences verbally, yet find a voice through artistic expression. With sobriety, ideas bloomed as my body and mind began to heal. That process of discovering new physical sensations, after a time, led to healing from other “less-seen” wounds. My fascination with painting the body is rooted in learning to take care of myself.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
The most rewarding aspect of being a creative person is that I get to work through struggles visually and by making things. This is like creating something that didn’t exist before, in order to replace what was lost. That lost thing might be joy, or something health-related, or a pet or a friend.
I once started painting and drawing every day a few years ago, in a small, square sketchbook. I have a friend who did this for a month once; her unique designs looked like a kind of unfolding written language, and it intrigued me how her ongoing work seemed to build on these daily sketches. Designs, symbols and ideas emerged and grew as I painted, drew, collaged and printed in that sketchbook. The physical act of sitting, breathing and making felt grounding and nourishing; a daily meditation, a time of connection with myself through some hard days.
I began sharing these daily works on Instagram and with a dear artist friend, Dalia, who was recovering from cancer. Over that year and the next, her cancer returned, and I walked beside her through treatment. Her sketchbooks were filled with ink drawings about suffering and painful therapies, love of friends and nature, skeletons with flowers for eyes. In her work I first saw lymph nodes drawn, cracking open like melons with hearts inside.
Later that year, Dalia passed away from T-cell Lymphoma. I had no idea at that time that my own work would one day include human anatomy. I had a new diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. Developing a curiosity about the thyroid, I began painting its textured butterfly shape. I started to notice more sensation in parts of my body, while also making art about my inability to talk about losing Dalia. I studied anatomy diagrams and learned about the systems of the human body. It felt like I was seeing myself as a human for the first time, not a ghost of one. I mourned that lost self, yet the anatomy studies and artwork blossomed from that grieving place, and my creative life continues to expand!
- Website: https://christineholtonfineart.com/
- Instagram: @christineholtonstudioart https://www.instagram.com/christineholtonstudioart/
- Facebook: Christine Holton Fine Art https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005126206439
- Youtube: Christine Holton Studio Art https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChMEvIaFQcoAY6XTDoaVTrA