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HOLLI HARMON, Pacific Disposition, 2020 for Santa Maria Sun article

Strong female figures are integral to the works of portrait and landscape artist Holli Harmon, whose latest muse is a mythical warrior queen, Califia, aka “the Spirit of California.”

“Somehow, Califia was in my subconscious,” the local painter told the Sun, while discussing her art featured in a new exhibition, the Califia Series, at Sullivan Goss Gallery in Santa Barbara (through Monday, Sept. 21).

While masks are required and a capacity limit is enforced at the gallery, fans of Harmon’s work can also take advantage of virtual showcases from the comfort of their own homes. Aside from visiting her own online gallery (holliharmon.com), other opportunities to learn about Harmon’s work include an upcoming Zoom webinar, Califia and Beyond, hosted by the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature in Solvang (Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 4 p.m.).

The first 100 people to register for the meeting will be treated to a free, in-depth exploration of Harmon’s artistic process, personal techniques, and inspirations.

“My work revolves around human experiences that are connection points between different cultures and generations set in iconic California imagery,” Harmon said about the presentation. “I will be explaining who Califia is, how she became my muse, what makes California such a unique state, and I will share my painting and printmaking processes. There is a lot to unpack.”

With a master’s degree from San Diego State University, Harmon is also an alumna of Santa Barbara City College where she completed life drawing, printmaking, and other fine art courses. Over the years, Harmon’s artworks have been showcased by the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, and other local venues.

Harmon previously exhibited at the Wildling Museum in 2018 as part of The River’s Journey, a collaborative multimedia show celebrating the beauty of the Santa Ynez River. While her more recent works were inspired by a specific mythological character, Harmon personified the river itself in her Journey paintings, she explained.

“The Santa Ynez River had become a spirit and took shape as a female figure in my paintings,” said Harmon, one of six local artists who contributed paintings to the group exhibit, from small gouache pieces to larger oil works.

While her latest Sullivan Goss exhibit premiered in July, Harmon said she has probably spent more time gardening than painting during the course of quarantine.

“I am not creating a lot of work at the moment. I think most artists need a fallow period,” Harmon said. “The quarantine has allowed me lots of time to work in my garden, and my mind is plotting and thinking about what to do next.

“I have some new ideas I want to explore. Those seeds are germinating,” she added. “In a way, the isolation has been a good thing for me, at least that is the sunny side of the experience.”

While many museums and galleries remain closed due to COVID-19 related health and safety concerns, Harmon recommends that any aspiring artist should frequent as many art venues as possible, when safe to do so.

“You will learn more about yourself while looking at other creations,” said Harmon, who described art observation as “the key ingredient to building an art practice.”

Harmon described the coronavirus crisis as an “epic shift in reality,” but finds optimism and comfort in the fact that artists can continue to share their works.

“You can find peace through many artistic endeavors. I am trying to balance what I take in from the news with other things that promote peace and connection,” Harmon said. “When this pandemic was just starting to unfold, I think of news clips from Italy showing opera singers standing on their balconies while reaching out to their neighbors with song.”

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