When I asked Holly Ballard Martz, a Seattle artist who currently makes socio-political pieces, if I could interview her for All Ageless, she hesitated and said, “I’m not that interesting!” That statement made me chuckle because her work is evocative, provocative, and guaranteed to start many discussions and even arguments among art patrons. Her portfolio includes exhibition titles like The Greatest Show On Earth, Domestic Bliss, and Crooked Thoughts, and every one of her shows addresses a hot topic in the news today. In fact, while sheltering in place she has been working on four pieces commissioned by The Gates Foundation.

The following video interview was filmed via ZOOM and has lower quality resolution, however worth the watch!

I make them look pretty from a distance, but the message becomes clearer as you approach

Holly reminds me a lot of Audrey Hepburn, with her short dark pixie haircut. She described herself as “settled” and then corrected herself and said, “No, I’m content.” What I’ve come to realize is that although she may be quiet in person, all of her emotions come roaring out of her and into her work. This outspoken direction really took off in 2004.

“I make them look pretty from a distance, but the message becomes clearer as you approach,” she said. For example, one of my favorite art installations of Holly’s is from her Domestic Bliss exhibit. She painstakingly bent hundreds of wire coat hangers into the likeness of the female reproductive system to create her “Danger of Nostalgia in Wallpaper Form (In Utero).” In her words, “It represents the slow and painful trudge to full reproductive rights for women in America.” The thing is, from afar, the installation looks like your grandmother’s wallpaper. The carefully chosen dark teal blue background with the shimmering, repetitive forms is almost soothing, and then BAM! You are startled and realize there is a strong message.

Screw this! I’m not staying quiet.

Holly has a BA and BFA in printmaking from University of Washington. But currently, the majority of her work is inspired by “things that I’m pissed off about, that make me cry, and what I feel passionate about,” she said. Her work is highly personal and often sparked by events that have touched family members, including a suicide attempt by one of her daughters. Holly created Crooked Thoughts based on this daughter’s poem Crooked Thoughts Run Sideways. “Nobody talks about mental illness and you don’t realize it until it affects you,” she said, ultimately deciding, “Screw this! I’m not staying quiet.” 

Sadly, one family member lost his life through suicide by gunshot and another was shot in an act of intimate-partner violence, which prompted Holly to create a series of three pieces titled Constellation of Transgressions (Thoughts, Prayers and Love Hurts), on gun violence. Again the works are pretty from a distance, sparkling with what at first appear to be stones. As you step closer you realize the words are made from a spray pattern effect created by Holly using hundreds of primers (a small, quick burning charge encased in a metal shell that ignites the gunpowder and propels the bullet) embedded in wax.  

One can only imagine the feelings that are brewing within Holly during COVID-19 and shelter-in-place and the projects they’ll inspire. In the meantime, take a look at her full body of work at hollyballardmartz.com.

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