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Art that moves: Canning artist uses silk, clothing as canvas for pieces

Canning silk artist Holly Carr stands with a silk panel hanging behind her and a rack of clothing – including a wrap she’s wearing – printed with her painted designs.
Canning silk artist Holly Carr stands with a silk panel hanging behind her and a rack of clothing – including a wrap she’s wearing – printed with her painted designs. - Sara Ericsson

CANNING – Holly Carr was once worried painting happy, joyful images on swaths of silk wasn’t cool enough to be considered art.

Trusting her gut, she forged ahead, brush in hand, creating a bold world of strong statements and designs on panels and clothes. It’s now been more than two decades since, and Carr has found a way to make art a full-time gig.

And it seems to be working out better than she’d ever imagined. Whether it’s touring with Stuart McLean or printing her paintings onto clothing for her Etsy shop, Carr cannot believe

“I’ve worked hard to get where I am. Being an artist means not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, and living life a little on the edge – and I’ve had so much fun doing that,” she says.

Trusting her instincts

After throwing her empty canvases out the metaphorical window, Carr continued doing what she loved most – painting on silk, whether it be a panel or piece of clothing.

As a young artist, Carr began creating high end clothing pieces with hand-painted designs on them. But even then, she says she was holding back.

Carr uses vivid colours on silks she approaches like moving, 3D canvases. Her work as a live painter has been showcased internationally and on cross-Canada tours like the one she did with Stuart McLean.
Carr uses vivid colours on silks she approaches like moving, 3D canvases. Her work as a live painter has been showcased internationally and on cross-Canada tours like the one she did with Stuart McLean.

“Being in school can make you wonder whether your art is real art. I was convinced oil paintings on canvas were the way to go, even though I loved making the clothes. So I was doing it, but my designs weren’t what I wanted to be painting, even when I went ahead with silks,” she says.

Carr grew to trust her instincts and began paintings silk backdrops for her clothing shows, and evolved to host shows showcasing these pieces on their own.

Her colours were vivid, and her imagery strong on pieces of silk she approached like canvas – a style she’s carried forward into her art today – and was soon noticed. It wasn’t long after that she’d booked her first showcase at an Annapolis Valley gallery.

“I love creating with silk. It’s not stuck to a wall, and it’s sort of three-dimensional. I thought to myself, ‘why do I have to stick to someone else’s ideals? So I didn’t, and it worked,” she says.

Another layer added

As she embraced the fluidity of her medium, Carr continued thinking of ways to bring movement to her silk pieces.

She began creating live art performances where she’d build a large panel of silk and paint it, live, as she interacted with the audience.

She remembers an occasion where she painted a 16-foot by eight-foot panel in under 10 minutes.

“It’s absolutely thrilling to be able to create something like that in a live setting,” she said.

And again, her innovation was noticed. She began performing to live music played by symphonies, and was noticed at one such show by beloved Canadian storyteller Stuart McLean.

She joined his cross-country tour of artists and creators, making art pieces as McLean performed live readings.

Carr’s artwork has brought her to other places including Peru, Singapore and China, yet some of her fondest memories still come from that tour with McLean.

Carr has carved a path for herself as an artist and has been making art full-time for more than two decades.
Carr has carved a path for herself as an artist and has been making art full-time for more than two decades.

“I remember when we’d take each other’s hands and bow to the audience – I’d stop and think what an amazing moment that was,” she says.

Back to basics

Now, at 53, Carr has come full circle and is back to incorporating her designs to clothing with her online Etsy shop.

In keeping with her silken creations, her clothes are bright and fluid. Each piece is printed with an original painting by Carr, who says these pieces are yet another nontraditional way to bring art to people who may not venture into galleries.

“It’s sort of like the shows I’ve done – these clothes are theatrical and are another way to enjoy art,” she says.

And while selling a dress is hard to compare with selling out a theatre, Carr says she finds all her artistic ventures thrilling in different ways. Whether it’s seeing someone wear a shirt printed with her painting or stumbling across one of her original silk pieces from the 1980s – something that happened to her several years ago – she says seeing her art move with people is an amazing thing.

“How wonderful is that? They want to wear something I made – what a compliment. It makes me feel happy,” she says.

Visit Holly Carr’s Etsy page here: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/hollycarrart, and her website here: https://hollycarr.weebly.com/.

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