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Artist of the Month - May 2003

Sunnie Holland: Spirit in the Landscape
by Sydney Francis

Sunnie Holland is a native Moabite, who recently finished her BFA in the visual arts at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She is now back in Moab, actively creating a career in the arts through a variety of projects and media. Her current work at Moab Outback, as a tipi painter, focuses primarily on large-scale painting and graphic design.

If you have not seen the tipis at Moab Outback, as Mill Creek Drive rounds into Spanish Valley, I encourage you to take a drive out there. The tipi is an alluring three-dimensional, conical structure to which designs and colors can be painted. The word tipi comes from Sioux meaning “for living in”. Moab Outback specializes in hand painted tipis “for living in” or for a variety of other purposes. Holland painted the wheat tipi, which stands proudly in the parking lot, showing the traditional colors of yellow and brown and traditional motifs, such as the wheat and the petroglyph figures. The wheat tipi, like the other tipis at Moab Outback, was painted with acrylic exterior house paint, which is durable, long lasting and comes in a variety of colors. Holland struck me as satisfied and stimulated by the creative process of tipi painting and the way in which it allows her to be both a graphic designer and a mural painter.

When I interviewed Holland she was painting the night sky of a 20-foot tipi for the Red Cliffs Lodge. She explained to me that there are several steps to the creative process of painting a finished tipi. First, if it is a custom tipi, she asks the client a variety of questions about his/her likes, interests, and uses for the tipi. Then she creates a custom design, using a computer graphics program, out of the information she gathered from the client. For the Red Cliffs tipi, the client was interested in horses for a set of three tipis. Holland created a series designs that showed galloping horses in a set of compositions, all unified by the horse theme and the colors.

The next step is stretching the 20 feet tall by 40 feet wide canvas tipi in the studio. The cotton duck canvas is not usually primed before the acrylic paint is applied to it, which means that laying in the paint must be decisive and final. Acrylic paint is an unforgiving and unpredictable medium, like watercolor, when laid into raw canvas. It takes a lot of technical skill for Holland to know how to lay out her design on such a large scale, as well as paint directly onto the canvas in bold bright colors. Holland credited her mother, Page Holland, who painted tipis for Moab Outback in the past. Page taught her technical skills and techniques particular to tipi painting on canvas, such as the sponge painting technique, which allows Holland to paint the night sky uniformly and with subtle gradations of dark blue tones.

Although we did not talk much about Holland’s personal fine art painting, she submitted some prints to me showing a collection of paintings, which combined the local landscape with the human figure. Some of the paintings show people in active relationship to the land through hiking, rapelling, and river rafting. The other paintings show scenes depicting slot canyons, caves, and rock art panels. The collection of paintings seems to express Holland’s love for her home in the Canyonlands. One painting in particular struck me as expressing Holland’s interior relationship to the Canyonlands, - a painting entitled Archive. Archive shows a lighted pictograph panel as seen through a densely shadowed foreground. In this painting Holland expresses emotion through a contrast of warm and cool colors. The foreground expresses a sense of loneliness and isolation in the human condition through the portrayal of the dilapidated barbed wire fence and clusters of dry weeds painted in cool blue tones. In contrast, the background is a lit wall panel painted in strong golden, orange and red hues. The pictograph figures are like warm shadows, silhouettes of an everlasting spiritual presence in the canyons. The arced lines of the panel and the sharp verticals in the foreground lead the eye upwards, adding to the illusion that the pictograph figures are ascending. This painting seems to best express Holland’s intimate relationship with the Canyonlands, both its haunting isolation and its comforting spiritual presence.

Holland’s personal work and her tipi painting both appear to be in harmony with one another. They both reflect her love for her native home and for its cultural, historical, and geological heritage. Her paintings, in any medium, give creative voice to her personal, intimate relationship to the land and to the earth - a relationship that speaks of the life cycles, nurturing, growth and spirituality.

Sunnie Holland’s custom tipi design can be seen at Moab Outback at 259-2667. She will also be facilitating a mural for kids at the Moab Arts Festival, sponsored by the Moab Arts and Recreation Center. Call the MARC at 259-6272 for more details.


 
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