Fellowship Features: Alumna incorporates experience onto canvas

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students and graduates are conducting research around the world engaged in fellowships available through the University Fellowships Office. In the Fellowship Features series, these students get to tell their story in their own words.

Miranda Holmes, of State College, Pennsylvania, is a Fulbright Student studying painting at the University of the Arts in Berlin, Germany. Holmes graduated from Penn State in 2017 with a degree in fine arts from the College of Arts and Architecture and a minor in French and Francophone studies from the College of the Liberal Arts. She is also a Schreyer Scholar.

Miranda Holmes:

"Wading into the steaming pool, my toes touch down on the stone steps as my body relaxes into the hot bath. Surrounding me are women: sagging and smooth, hairy, petite, dark and light skinned, half or wholly nude, splashing around or languorously slumping. Tuesday is women’s day at the traditional Turkish bath, Rudas, and we’ve all come to take advantage of the only day of the week that women are allowed into the baths. The bath water laps up to my shoulders as I settle into place along the perimeter of the pool.

"I feel at once relieved to be anonymous and surrounded by locals after a day of exploring Budapest in full tourist mode, while also part of the group, contributing to a collective temporarily released from the scrutinous male gaze. It’s my first day visiting Budapest, and as I idly admire the thousand-year old sapphire tile work sprawling above me, I feel for the first time an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alone.

"When I began my Fulbright journey, I didn’t know how much solitude would play a part in my life. I arrived in Germany in August 2017 to complete a German language course in Marburg before moving to Berlin. Once I set up my studio at the Universität der Künste (University of the Arts), I began establishing a routine of painting every day. My Fulbright project includes taking classes at the university while creating a series of paintings and drawings with which I can apply to graduate school as well as present to residency programs and contemporary art galleries. Berlin, being a major contemporary art hub, supplied me with plenty of fodder for my paintings; from the galleries, to the diverse art and cultural museums, to simply the streets decorated with graffiti and collages, elements drawn from the city practically flooded onto my canvas.

"Initially, I expected to paint a series of works influenced by the social hierarchies I witnessed in the city since that was a major source of interest for me during my time as an undergrad studying in Penn State’s School of Visual Arts. However, as I spent more and more time at the studio, I quickly found myself struggling to make work I deeply cared about. My few classes only met once every two weeks, leaving me with entire days and weeks void of any concrete plans or appointments. This left me with an amount of time to spend in the studio that was both thrilling and daunting. Here I was granted a full year of total personal and creative freedom thanks to the support of the Fulbright grant, and I wasn’t making work that made me look forward to returning to the studio.

"I continued to work through waves of creative highs and lows until after a few months, I met with a painter, Tom Anholt, who lives and makes work in Berlin. He agreed to give me feedback on my work, and the main piece of advice I took away from his studio visit was that I needed to focus in. This meant focusing in on a certain color palette and story in order to create strong, specific work. The feedback seemed obvious, but after the meeting, the direction I wanted my paintings to go in became immediately obvious to me. I needed to make work that I was obsessed with in order to spend long hours in the studio.

"I decided to use a painting I had made of a woman painted chromatically in blue surrounded by Technicolor dancers in a club as a springboard for future works. I became obsessed with the idea of women in solitude: I began to make paintings that pulled from new problems and freedoms I was currently grappling with.

"I use my experiences being alone in the studio and on my travels as fodder for paintings that both elevate and poke fun at female solitude. In my paintings, women stare bored through their multi-dimensional beers across to their flat date. They shield their eyes from a vibrant sun as they adventure through fields. They pose unflinching and dignified in mud-streaked clothes. The most personal series of paintings I’ve worked on, they border on presenting an almost diary-like sequence of (granted, exaggerated and blue-soaked) scenes inspired from my own experiences of learning to appreciate aloneness. Learning how to enjoy being alone also means learning to love yourself, and as I continue my work, I am constantly reminded of a piece of advice the photographer, Michaela Murphy, gave during an artist talk I attended two years ago; she reminded us that everything will eventually change and fade — our bodies, our relationships, our environments — and so she told us to 'build a mind you want to live with.'

"I remember this advice when I need fuel for my artistic practice whether I’m working in the studio or making a mental note to revisit a certain memory later at the easel. I want the paintings to reflect this work: the work of trusting your ability to focus in and dig deep, the work of learning to love your own company, the work of finding humor in uncomfortable situations that so many of us are flung into in our first post-grad year. I want the viewer to soak in the disquiet, drink in the humor, and relax into the kind of pleasure that only looking at paint on a canvas can bring."

Last Updated May 14, 2018