Living Colour

Zahra Holm’s work is vivid and evocative. She tells us how she moved from the world of set design to become a painter, and how her love of nature and her diverse influences have shaped a unique body of work.

I see, feel and live my life through colours. I always knew I’d be in a creative job when growing up, it was in me for as long as I can remember. I have vivid early childhood memories of me sketching and drawing everywhere. Art was already in me and I always ended up creating something, whether I was playing with my dolls or with family and friends. The imagination and need to create have never left me.

It started at a very young age but it all became more serious when it was time to pick a field for my studies. I was very into set design for theatre and cinema for a while so I decided to pursue my studies in that direction for a few years and ended up with a diploma in set design. After a short time I realised it wasn’t truly what I wanted to do. Painting became omnipresent in my life and I needed to fulfil that need and see what could come out of it. It was the dream job that I always wanted to do but never knew I could actually do it.

The transition from set design to painting was very organic.
I believe all arts are connected and every field enriches the other. In fact, I still find set design very interesting and you can see it in some way in my body of work too.

I’m inspired by what surrounds me, catches my attention and moves me. It can be many various things and people. Nature is my biggest inspiration and is more and more present in my work. As influences, there are a lot of artists I admire in different styles and different mediums. These days I’d say that [Swedish artist] Hilma Af Klint and [the late French artist] Sonia Delaunay are with me in my daily creative work.

My work is articulated in different series and I come back to them when I feel like what I’ve created takes part in these series. The main theme is the human body, I find it fascinating and it’s an endless subject; the body has so much to say, to express.

Movement in every aspect is crucial in my work. Back when I worked in set design, what interested me the most was the relationship between the space and the body, and that is still present in my paintings. The artworks represent the vision of the body in motion as well as the inner space, the spiritual.

The notion of being alive and in movement is there from the beginning. I have a different series that expresses those feelings through colour and abstract curvy forms. They speak to what’s happening inside the body on a more intimate level. I find symbolism interesting and often relevant to what I want to express.

Of course, nature has always been a source of aesthetic and spiritual inspiration and I’m very sensitive to that. For me nature and the human body are very close and connected, so it is only natural for me to come back to these themes. I dedicated two big series to this specific subject: a fusion between abstract landscapes and bodies – where landscapes fuse into bodies, bodies into landscapes.

Nature is everything to me.
I’m so sensitive to its energy. I’m quite productive all year around but during spring and summer I paint the most. The light is omnipresent, the colours are incredibly beautiful and nature is full of life. I can’t wait to feel that energy again. My mood is very influenced by the sun and light in general.

Nature has taught me to have a balanced life, a slow life. The more I’m in nature, the more I am reminded of this. I try to catch the beauty I find in nature in my work, to somehow make it eternal. Everything is connected but we have to take care of ourselves, of our nature, our planet. Luckily I don’t have to travel to be connected to nature, I’m surrounded by it when I’m in Sweden.

“Of course, nature has always been a source of aesthetic and spiritual inspiration”

I live mostly in Stockholm and, even though it’s a big city, the wild is very close. I have an everyday relationship with nature because I take long walks in the forest or by the lake. It’s special every time because it conjures up memories through all the senses. More recently it’s been extra special as it brings up sweet memories of my dear grandfather who passed away a few months ago. I spent a lot of time with him in nature growing up. He also taught me to respect it.

I also travel for work or pleasure during my days off, and have a lot of amazing memories. To name just the last one; my trip to California last August, on the road surrounded by beautiful big mountains. I don’t know how to describe it, it moved me instantly. The feeling of greatness, the beauty, the power, the shades of colours, the light… I loved it so much that it inspired me to start a series as soon as I got back: Magic Mountains. It was the name of the area where we were, it just felt perfect.

Colour is an essential part in my work, my practice.
Every colour has meaning to me and colour is a form of expression. Some colours will bring back memories and some are who I am or what I want to express. I believe we are different shades of colour, depending on our moods, our feelings…

My creative process is very intuitive and spontaneous and I never know in advance what I’m about to create. It all starts out with a feeling, a colour. Little by little, I create a composition with different shades, curvaceous and abstract forms. I try to find the right balance, the rhythm I’m seeking.
As I’m originally from different countries, I have several places I call home: Sweden, Tunisia and France, Paris specifically. I’m not French but I’ve been to French school all my life and I speak it fluently, maybe the language I speak best. When I was 18 years old, I decided to live in Paris for my studies and ended up staying there for 13 years. I spent all my adult life there so Paris has a special place in my heart and I never left completely. I have lived in Stockholm since 2021 and travel back and forth to Paris where I still have my studio.

After growing up in Tunisia and spending several years in Paris, I wanted to go back to Sweden. It’s the homeland I felt I wanted to reconnect with because of my family, the great standard of living, the closeness to nature. That said, I believe every part of the world is home to me. When you are used to travel and come from different countries with such different cultures, you adapt very well everywhere.

Every season is beautiful in its own way. The city is full of colours – on my street for example, every building is a different colour: peach, pink, green, blue, yellow… It makes me so happy to walk the streets and be surrounded by all these colours everyday.

My home is bright, warm, arty and personal. It’s subjective but for me the most important thing is light and how to emphasise that. Though I love colour, I don’t want to have too many in the same room.

My favourite objects are my ancient masks that I brought from Mexico, a coconut bowl from Jamaica, a ceramic vase from Tunisia, another from a dear French artist, my Zebra Maralunga chair, Wassily chair, my beautiful rugs from Tunisia, my big plant and my artworks… For different reasons: aesthetic and sentimental. Pre-Spring signifies self-care and new year’s resolutions.

Personally I question myself a lot through my practice and as a person all year round, so this time of the year signifies more new starts and preparing myself for the year to come.

The thing I constantly do all year is buy fresh flowers, it’s my little addiction. Mimosa and clivia flowers are my favourite, for their joyful colours: yellow and orange. I feel like they bring me the sun I love and need in this endless winter.

I will be doing an art residency and solo show in Mexico City in 2023 which I’m very excited about. I have a few projects I’m working on that I can’t share yet; but I can say one of them is involved with flowers! Watch this space.

Find out more about Zahra’s work and upcoming projects @zahraholm