Fascinated by the female form and enamored by the silhouettes of nature, Zahra Holm creates paintings that beautifully weave together the two subjects. Originally from Sweden and Tunisia, the Paris-based artist Zahra Holm paints abstract forms that delineate female figures. Her bold use of colour and curvaceous lines create striking compositions that reflect the beauty and power of women. Reshaping the way female bodies have been portrayed in art history, Holm uses abstraction to invite viewers to interpret the artist’s oeuvre through their own lens. Holm created a new body of work for our show, The Nature of Women, inspired by her desire to reconnect with nature during the pandemic. In the show’s paintings Femme Nature, Femme Rose, and Ô Soleil, Mother Nature is omnipresent: one can feel the golden hues of a sunset, the shimmering light fluttering across rippling waves, and the sun-kissed skin of a woman. The hedonism of Holm’s warm colour palette floods the picture plane with light. Gestural brushstrokes reveal the artist’s hand, accentuating the vibrant layers in her works. Tinged with joie de vivre, Holm’s paintings present a beautiful fusion between abstract landscapes and bodies—where landscapes fuse into bodies, bodies into landscapes.
Tell us about this series of work?
Although I made these artworks at different times—one in 2020 and two freshly made in 2021—they still share the same theme. The works’ link to nature is omnipresent. I believe that nature is part of our body and soul. So for me, it’s only natural to represent the female body through that connection. The female form has always been an obvious subject for me—I find the human body fascinating. It appeals to me for its beauty, its complexity, and its fascinating body language.
For Ô soleil (2020), I wanted to represent a female figure—a symbolic goddess of Mother Nature, symbolizing the sun. At the same time, like in all of my other works, I wanted to have a modern female focus. Through stylized shapes, I want to bring forth questions of beauty ideals, body shapes, and gender. This painting is a beautiful contradiction, a source of empowerment and symbolism.
Now more than ever, I feel the need to reconnect with nature. In my latest works, I feel the need to express my emotions. So this body of work is an introspective series, where abstraction is more present than ever. Abstraction not only gives me the ability to guide the viewer to what I want to show, but also lets the viewer see and feel what they want to. You can feel the sun, the sunset, the sea, and sunkissed skin…The result is a fusion between abstract landscapes and bodies, where landscapes turned into bodies, bodies into landscapes. They represent the body in motion, as well as what’s happening inside the body and the mind.
Where do you source your materials?
Usually from a specialized art store in Paris, but I do experiment more and more with natural pigments that I found in the South of France.
What motivates you to create?
Honestly I’m lucky because I rarely don’t want to create or struggle with inspiration. It’s one of the things I love most in life: to create. It’s a need for me. I can’t live without it and I don’t know how to explain that. It’s just a part of me.
During the days when I feel a bit down or sad, I try to motivate myself by going out and taking a walk to observe all the things around me that inspire me. It can be a movie, a song, an exhibition…and travelling of course, is always a wonderful source of inspiration. Literally creating anything is also very motivating: like cooking a great meal, dancing, singing…
What is your philosophy on life?
I try to have fun with it and not be too hard with myself. Embrace all the beauty in life.
What is one artist living or dead you feel a great connection to? Someone whose work has inspired your own practice and what you’re creating these days?
That’s a hard question but I would say Sonia Delaunay is definitely one of them. She had a very inspiring life and practice. What speaks to me the most is that she was a true multidisciplinary artist.
What’s something you will not be doing in 10 years?
I like to think that everything is possible, but I guess I will probably not be flying to Mars.
Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?
I have experimented with ceramics and worked on fabrics. I will definitely go more into that direction this year, as well as make more sculptural works in addition to paintings. I would also love to paint giant murals!
Silence or sound while creating? If sound, what are you listening to right now?
It really depends. Sometimes it’s very nice to paint when it’s very quiet. I feel like I’m living in the moment—I hear the brushes on the canvas, the birds outside…But I paint for hours a day so it’s great to rhythm my sessions with some music or podcasts too.
If you could have a drink with one artist, who would it be?
So hard…I have a long list of so many artists whom I admire and would love to meet. If I had to pick a painter: Henri Matisse.
What makes you laugh no matter what?
Name your favorite female artist.
Again I have many, but I’d say Helen Frankenthaler.
What is your creative process?
I work in my studio in Paris almost every day. Once I get there, I look at my previous artworks, the work in progress, and take a moment to think about what I want to do.
I mainly work with oil paints, which I love. The smooth feeling is so satisfying and reassuring. It allows me to experiment in different layers, shades, and colors.
I never paint on a white canvas. I always apply a layer of very diluted oil on the surface, which sets the tone for the future painting. Then I wait until the color dries before I really start painting.
I usually make a quick sketch to think about composition before starting a new painting. It’s only a raw drawing with curvaceous lines without any intention of color yet. It rarely ends up the same on the canvas but I quite like that. My use of color is very intuitive; I listen to my feelings, my mood of the day. I don’t plan, I like to just go for it and play with the color palette.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Everything can inspire me. But mostly the human body, women I know, women I see, sunsets, light, and nature in general.
Describe your work in three words…
Free, colorful and feminine.
What makes you excited about the future?
I have both personal and professional projects in the making that I can’t wait to share, to live. I’m very grateful.
What is your approach to color?
Oh color is life! A big part in my life and of course in my work. I deeply love colors. I like all of them in their own way and I feel more connected with some of them, like the oranges, the yellows, the ocres, the pinks, the blues… For me, some colors bring back a memory, a feeling. My artworks are the colors of my emotions.
In my practice, it’s intuitive—I play with colors by layering. When you look at my works closely, you can see different shades in one color, and you always see the layers of colors underneath. I want them to be alive, to be vibrant. In a way, they’re like the different layers of skin that make up the unique, vibrant color of each human.
What influence does modern culture have on your work?
I have to say that most of my influences are not from contemporary artists today. However, they still reflect the society of today because their works are timeless.
This is how I see art: a universal language that speaks to everyone at different levels.
Who are some contemporaries or figures in art history who have influenced you?
Throughout my life, I think I will feel close to certain artists depending on the period of my life I am in. The older I become and the more experienced I get in my practice, the more I understand the thought and meaning behind the work of an artist.
The figures who have influenced, shaped, and nourished my art for years are: Le Corbusier, Helen Frankenthaler, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Sonia Delaunay, Hilma Af Klint and Mark Rothko.
These works are currently on view in the The Nature of Women exhibition: Femme Nature (2021), Femme Rose (2021), Ô Soleil (2020).