Interview with Jamaican Artist, Marisa Willoughby-Holland

This month we interview Jamaican Artist, Marisa Willoughby-Holland. Many of you may have seen her famous “Seaching for Jesus” painting in gift shops around Jamaica and on the cover of Air Jamaica’s Skywriting magazine. Marisa studied art in London at the Royal College of Art .  While in college she won several awards including ‘The Folio Society Illustration Award’ in 2001 and the ‘Worshipful Company of Painters and Stainers Award’ in both 2000 and 2001. Her work has been featured in ‘Graphics International’ magazine Issue 88. Her work has been exhibited internationally in locations from Miami to the Vatican. Marisa currently lives in the United Kingdom but travels to Jamaica frequently.

Q. As we Jamaicans love to say “Which part of Jamaica are you from?”

I was born in St Andrew

Q.  How long have you been painting?

I have been painting for as long as I can remember. Since I was around 5 years old I knew that I wanted to be an artist. Professionally I have been painting for 10 years.

Q.  Tell us about your 3 kings “Searching for Jesus”  painting that seems to be everywhere during Christmas time? What inspired it?

I have done many paintings reinterpreting religious themes over the last couple of years. “Searching for Jesus”  was one of the first with an obvious seasonal appeal. I liked the idea of giving the three kings really interesting ethnic identities and I spent a lot of time researching ancient Egyptian frescoes and clothing to get ideas for the patterns and cut of their robes. It has recently been made into a charity Christmas card in aid of the Step Centre school in Jamaica.

4. Did you think this painting would be as popular as it is?

I actually thought that no-one might want to buy it as it was so obviously “Christmassy” but instead it has probably become one of my most published images, it even made the cover of the Air Jamaica in-flight magazine, Skywritings Nov/Dec 2007 issue.

Q.  Most of your paints seem to around spirituals themes .Angels seem to be in many of your painting. Is that your inspiration for painting?

I am inspired by everything in my life, my surroundings, my family and friends and my spirituality. I like to think that there are spiritual beings or angels in a sense, watching over us. My paintings are outlets for self expression, feelings and emotions and I like to feel that each one is a part of my life, which it is.

Q.  I love your painting titled “Sun flowers”. What was the inspiration behind the painting?

“Sunflowers” was inspired by my husband. A sunflower to me symbolises happiness. It points towards the sun and is optimistic and hopeful. There is a feeling of serenity with the couple floating over the flowers which reflects my happy home life.

Q.  How have your painting evolved throughout the years?

I feel that I have learnt a great deal over the years. Particularly after my Masters degree where they encouraged me to look at things from a different perspective. Ever since I started painting I have always looked to what was inside myself,  however they encouraged me to look even deeper. Also being given the opportunity to study in London, with the many art galleries, museums and culture in Europe, it has all played a major part in my development.

Q.  Do your children influence the way you paint today versus when you were younger?

My children influence my paintings in many ways. The longing that I had before I was a mother inspired me as well as being pregnant and being a mother. These are themes that appear again and again in my work in various ways. In a more down to earth way my two young boys impact massively on the time that I get to spend in front of the easel and even this element of frustration and being held back is apparent in some of my work.

Q.  Do you have any new major projects that you are working on?

I am always working on new projects with my work. At the moment I am preparing for a small group show with 128 Gallerie in Jamaica on December the 11th. I am planning a showing in London for 2009.

Q.  Do you think Caribbean art is respected worldwide as valuable?

I think Caribbean art has come so far. There are so many very talented artists now in the Caribbean who have studied either abroad or in Jamaica, some even self taught. There are quite a few specifically Caribbean galleries in London and America and although the market is small at the moment I am sure with time this will increase as countries continue to be more cosmopolitan.

Q.  You have traveled to many countries around the world showing your work.  Can you tell us about an experience in another country you will never forget?

In many cases my work has traveled to exhibitions abroad without me. I was particularly honoured to have a piece chosen for an exhibition at the Vatican library of contemporary religious paintings.

Q.  If you were not an artist today what career path would you have taken?

I cannot imagine being anything other than an artist.

Q. Where do you get inspired the most; In Jamaica or London?

Well both for different reasons. Jamaica inspires me with childhood memories, the vegetation and the sunshine. My home in the UK inspires me. We live just outside of London so it is very quiet. I have a studio that my husband built for me tucked away at the back of our garden.We also live on a hill with a fantastic view.

Q: Thanks for the interview. Any final words?

I am showing some new work at 128 Gallerie, 128 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6. Show opening Dec 11th – Dec 18th. Thank you and all best wishes.

To view more of works by Marisa Willoughby-Holland visit her website.

About the author

Denise Lee