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New Contemporaries star Holly Sezer talks about exploring gender fluidity and queer beauty in her bold portraits

“Middlesex has the best art facilities and studios I’d seen – super-bright and airy. You travel a floor and you're making connections with other creatives”

Holly Sezer

Holly Sezer is a figurative artist working in media including oil painting and photography. Her final year work, featuring a series of portraits of her partner and muse, celebrates gender expression and gender fluidity, sexuality and womanhood.

She seeks to create work which is understandable and relatable to a wide range of people.

“I love eye contact, being straight up and seeing people. The gaze is super-important to me,” Holly says. “I play with how the viewer is going to interact with my work”.

Her inspirations include artist and writer Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, known for her portraits of imaginary black subjects. Before putting brush to canvas, Holly’s artistic process involves shooting photos and collaging them to create compositions. “I love Pinterest, I love searching for found images, and thinking how they could work well in juxtaposition,” she says.

One of Holly’s paintings of her partner draws from a 1975 album cover image of US soul singer Minnie Riperton.

“She’s lounging - powerful, so feminine,” says Holly. “This painting was the beginning of my now-series of large portraits using block colour backgrounds, and a learning point for me as I battled with clashing colours and shapes. Both the tiger and the girl stare directly at you, as the viewer you are choosing who to look at and see if they are on the same team”.

Another work, My Greatest Friend, a triple portrait of her partner, is about “trust… Being your true self, letting others see that and the acceptance of not everyone being supportive, having your own back because no one can love your true identity like you. Being comfortable in your own company”.

Holly SezerHolly was an academic high achiever at school in North London, but she says art was “the first thing I found enjoyable *and* was super good at”. One particular teacher pushed her to develop her practice. Applying for Fine Art at university was “a no-brainer” she says, “to get that creative freedom that you don't get in the school system. Art was a hobby, it turned into my passion and now I can see it as my career”.

She chose MDX as “the facilities and studios were the best I'd seen - super-bright and airy”. After a challenging first year of her degree due to the lockdowns, she was in “every single day” as soon as she was able, she says, making “great bonds” with peers filling up university spaces with artworks.

She picks out lecturer Tansy Spinks and technicians Aaron, Leo (wood workshop) and Will, Bart and Catherine (photography) for their help and support.

Holly Sezer

She also relished the opportunities for collaboration with students on different courses – “you literally travel a floor and you're making connections with other creatives”.

She has been selected for the prestigious New Contemporaries exhibition, which brings together the UK’s best young artists each year, and has work entered into the ArtGemini Prize.

“Every day I wake up and I want to make artwork,” she says. She hopes for a shift towards better representation in galleries and at the summit of the art world – “Queer women are here, we’re a presence, we're not just stereotypes but we form deep bonds and connections that I hope you can feel with my work”.

Find out more about the New Contemporaries exhibition.

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