Portrait of the Artist

Holly Osborne

Blades of Grass

By Noelani Kirschner | December 16, 2019
Clearcut, oil on wood, 2019
Clearcut, oil on wood, 2019

Holly Osborne’s paintings oscillate between the minutely precise and the colorist abstract—with no middle ground. Her inspiration is in the pine forests and coastline of the Pacific Northwest. “I really love painting trees, but I also hate it in a way,” says Osborne, a native Portlander. “You know when you look at the trees, and then you really look at them? Those dark spots on leaves aren’t just dark spots, they’re incredibly detailed patterns.” When she starts a landscape painting, she first layers the background wood panel (which she buys custom-made from local craftsmen) with warm hues. From there, instead of hiding the substrate, she lets it influence the direction of the composition, often leaving the background colors to mingle with the detailed foreground.

But her diptychs swerve in the opposite direction, with large blocks of color and impressionistic brushstrokes dancing across a monochromatic paneled background. “It’s easier to meditate on the looser abstracts,” she says. “It’s like problem solving: I have to figure out what I do next after making a big mess for myself. It’s kind of a metaphor for life—just figure it out!”

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