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Whales add whimsy to a serious subject

Contributing Writer

Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011

Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2011 19:10


In Portsmouth's Button Factory, where many artists slave away at their work in their respective cubical studios, one is painting whales. Whales with baggage, boxes and debris stacked on their backs and wrapped in ticker tape.

Becky Holt wants you to have a chuckle at her work, but don't let the lightheartedness fool you. The young artist is working seriously to get you to think about the world you live in.

"I try to inject a silly, fantastical view of things so its not too bogged down by serious topics," Holt said.

Holt, 25, is fusing her two passions- art and the environment- into one cause. The Newburyport native found herself captivated by cybernetics: the relationship between humans, their environment, and how technological advancements affect that, since she was earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Alfred University in upstate New York. There, Holt's love of current events crept into her paintings.

Now, having moved to Portsmouth in 2009, she has the fever, working to get her MBA in sustainability (also known as a "Green MBA") at Antioch University New England, all while creating art focused on saving the environment.

"What I was reading really affected my work and therefore affected my life," Holt said. "And it was just this circle of inspiration for me. "

Holt first got into painting at a young age with the encouragement of her parents.

"My parents were always the type of people that liked to keep me busy," she said. "So we'll do art classes, we'll do dance classes, we'll do sports, we'll do all these things."

Holt was 10 years old when her family moved to Newburyport, MA. She said she needed an escape from the stress that comes with being the new kid in school and she found it in art.

Her growing interest in art paralleled her captivation with current events. As she moved on to Alfred University's art program, Holt read heavily and began making sustainability a primary theme in her art.

Early on, she struggled. Critics of her work said that the depth of her concepts didn't translate well to her oil canvas.

Holt said she recalled one painting in particular: "Bombarded" portrays several name brands, from Citi to Taco Bell to VH1, being overshadowed by a great cloud of smog hanging over them. The colors are dark and the imagery is intense. Holt said that a lot of people simply didn't get it.

"It was a commentary on consumerism and was too literal with the camouflaged logos, as well as too confusing to the viewer," she said. "It was my first time painting large scale, so it turned out to be a helpful experiment."

Since graduating in 2008, Holt has made an effort to lighten up her paintings, hence the whale series. She has painted three pieces; each of a whale weighed down by the garbage that society is throwing onto their backs.

"It sounds really horrible," said Holt, laughing, "But they're actually kind of fun and I try to bring some light into [the serious topic]."

Ashley Poulin, who shared studio space with Holt at one time, said that her style is impressive, and leaves viewers with a better understanding of the reality Holt is trying to convey to them.

"She is a young artist with a lot to say," Poulin said. "It's a powerful message of how unaware we are of how our action actions affect the world around us. It comes through subtly at first and then hits you like a ton of bricks once you put thought into the reality of her message."

Holt said she isn't sure where her work will take her, but she thinks that she would like to manage sustainability for a company, either one that is already making strides in that area or one that is hoping to become "greener." She said she feels good about the direction a lot of businesses are moving in.

"People have written scores and scores and scores about this," Holt said. "But it's really fun to paint it. It's sort of this weird dynamic that you can bring into clashing technology with something natural. It's just a fun playing space."

Holt intends to paint three more whales before moving on to a new project, hopefully in time for the Button Factory's open house in December.

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