Conversations with an Artist. PatrickHolian.

Tell me about your early relationship with writing. 

I think I started writing when I was a little kid. I used to read a lot of horror. I loved to get incredibly scared then go to sleep. I would stay up very late and read... like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Love Craft, and anthologies of horror. I remember at an early age how affective and affecting the fiction was. And I was really enamored with that idea of it having such a deep emotional impact. I think I had a family member who kept The Shining in the freezer or something like that... I was enamored with that idea, so I started writing these horror stories or beginnings of stories. I would take them in these black and white pebbled journals to family functions and give them to one of my cousins who read a lot. He was a writer, so he would read them and he would be like "oh, that's great!". He was a very encouraging backer. Then I stopped writing for years because I really loved football. I wanted to be Joe Montana. I was very passionate about the idea of being a quarterback, but I was very fat and slow. But I ended up being a lineman in high school, and I was kind of a jock. So I stopped writing... 


So did you look down on it then, like it was a nerdy thing to do since you were this "jock"? 

I didn't look down on it as much as I was just so preoccupied with this other thing. And it had just taken over. But as it turned out, I didn't have a future in professional football... oddly enough.

I finished my thesis for my undergraduate degree, and I remember a professor of mine, who I really looked up to, suggested that I take some time off in between my undergraduate program and graduate school. I think he really wanted me to reflect on how serious I was about writing. So I took two years off, and during that time I wrote pretty steadily. I also lived in Santa Barbara for a year. And did other things pretty steadily. Boos... mostly. But I applied to graduate school and got a scholarship to St. Mary's. I was about 24 years old... so that was about 9 years ago. I've been pretty disciplined and at times militant and strict since then - in terms of a practice and dedication and craft. 


Do you have a set amount of work you like to strictly hold yourself to?

I used to be strict to the point of unhealthy. I would need to write almost two hours a day, and this was when I was working full time and even overtime. I was pushing myself to a point where I was losing the enjoyment. I was very committed to the idea that writing is like any practice where you have to do it every single day.. because if you don't you're just being lazy. I was raised Irish Catholic where my mom worked a shit load. She raised me by herself. I felt like I had my "9-5", but I felt like if I wasn't writing and my ass wasn't in the chair then I was neglecting this part of myself…and that I would ultimately be a failure. As time went on, I realized that it was not the right approach for me. Some people need to write every single day, and I think it is a good practice. But I was putting an undue amount of pressure on myself. 

And it was maybe affecting the work at the end of the day.. ?

Yea, it was not good work. I can say that with confidence. 


So I'm guessing you've found a healthy practice. And you're going through your PhD program now and you have another year left?

Well I have exams in Spring 2017, and I'm over half way done with my dissertation. Ideally, I like to set goals for myself at the beginning of every year. They're not resolutions necessarily, but things that I really want to focus on in the upcoming year... like relationship goals, financials goals, but also artistic goals. I want to usually produce four to six new stories each year, work on three to four revisions. I want to produce enough work to where I can produce a "chap book" of poetry this year. 

Right now I'm studying for exams, and people can become really obsessive. Because it’s such a daunting task, but writing gives me joy. Like even when it's frustrating, it makes me happy. And it gets to the point that if I'm not doing it, I'll feel weird. I won't feel bad about myself, but I'll feel like I'm neglecting this very important part of myself. 


How does teaching affect your personal work? 

It's hard to draw an explicit connection between the two. You know... I'm teaching composition right now, and I'm working with young people, which I think is refreshing. But I'm always emphasizing there relationship to language and the idea that it's important to challenge your belief system and the way that you form beliefs... the way that you're taking in information. And I emphasize reflection and writing as a recursive process. Those are all things embedded into my own practice. The things that I'm emphasizing to them, I try to practice myself. I think it's the same thing with artists, say painters or sculptors, if you're working in the same mode for an extended period of time you can get comfortable. And you'd maybe not explore other avenues that could potentially enrich your work or give it more depth. So I think that comes back to me through teaching. 


What themes do you work with in your writing? 

In terms of themes, I like to think about 'absence'. That can be absence as it relates to people in your life, whether it’s past relationships or family members. It could be the absence of a place. Like right now, I wouldn't use the word displaced, but I'm dislocated somewhat. I'm from San Francisco, and now I'm living in South Louisiana. There is a physical absence... like I feel absent from that place. And I'm feeling this absence within me. I am also really interested in ways we construct identity and are constantly kind of reinventing our identity and the many ways we try to rein in one comprehensive identity. In the fact that every interaction we have changes who we are by the time we go to sleep. And just how dynamic things can be in our lives. 

I think it's interesting how at certain points you can think about different points in your life and see where you are now... like physically where you are - the way you look, the way you dress, everything. It's very strange how time passes. Sometimes it's inexplicable. You start on this one path and things feel very certain, then twelve years later you're in this completely different mindset, in a completely different atmosphere, with this different value system and moral code. I find that endlessly fascinating. 


“So now when I do have free time, I'll spend an hour writing a poem or two. And that scratches that itch… it’s like a breath.”
- Patrick Holian

Conversations with an Artist. MeredithJohnson.

Meredith, tell me about your background and first beginnings with writing. 

I learned at a very young age that I had a strong propensity towards pen and paper. I looked at my sisters who are very skilled in art, but also very qualified academically. But I wanted to do something more. My first poem I wrote was in the fourth grade, and it got some attention at school. It was made this big deal - and that was kind of my launching pad. And I thought 'okay, here's a skill I didn't know I had'. It was a skill that I could spend hours doing and refining. And trying to understand how I felt was intrinsic to my writing. Writing became an incredible creative outlet for me. It became a way for me to understand my emotions. It became my best friend and how I viewed my world. It was my window to look at the world. 

In high school, I got really intense about writing, and I would apply to all of these competitions. And I got published in a couple of Reader's Digest Teen, which was really exciting for me. My schooling was incredibly challenging academically, and it was a school of over-achievers. And I constantly struggled with ADHD, and everyday became a struggle academically. Math, Science, Physics... I'm obviously on the complete opposite side of the brain. So when I would get to my history classes or my writing and language classes - that's when I would shine. And that's when I felt super secure and comfortable at school. And writing became a trade that allowed me to become confident, and it allowed me to find my place. I'm so grateful that I've found it. You know, I feel like if you're given a gift it's your responsibility to hone your craft. And I soon found out that writing meant much more to me than just something I liked to do in my off time. When I was around 14, 15 or 16, it just became this all-encompassing requisite activity that I couldn't get out of. And when I started to get published in high school, I realized that this could be something real. This could be my career. 


What type of work have you found in Lafayette?

I'm in advertising at the Independent. And that was a huge thing - I considered journalism, and I realized how much money they don't make. And it really scared me because I know that I have lofty tastes. I'm grandiose by nature. I don't want to have to pinch pennies my whole life. I want to be able to support myself with a husband or no husband.

And I've also had a lot of odd gigs. I worked as a chef.. artists don't get 'that job' day one into adulthood. You see starving artists all the time, and it's that passion - that raw integrity of 'this is in me and I have to get it fucking out no matter what'. You're on your canvas, on the piano, in a tune, on poetry, on the page.. But I knew it was something that I cared so deeply about that I couldn't let it go. So I basically kept taking jobs that I knew would support me economically, so I could continue with my trade elsewhere. And when I was 25, I think that's when I gave up on a 'writing career'. And realized that I would have to use other skill sets that I encompassed. I knew I could always write in my free time. 


If you had a dream project, what would it be? 

Yes! Come on, you're knocking on my door right now! Directing films, directing documentaries, ghost writing for Jack Nicholson, ghost writing for Karl Lagerfeld – I’m really into fashion as well. There are a lot of people I look up to in that industry. I'd love to be able to do some writing for Chanel's team. I've read all of her books. I have a lot of role models where I'll just find out what they did. And then in some way get inspiration and suck up the idea to try and do something like that. For example, before any of her materials, before any of her clothes were produced, before she even established her brand, when she was still Gabrielle Chanel - when someone would ever comment on her clothes, she would tell them they were Coco Chanel Designs. So before marketing was big, she made marketing big. All of 'the greats' in industries, especially women, would be great to ghost write for. Not discounting men, but obviously I'm more prone to be impressed with women. A strong woman is hard to come by, and when you do come by one - it is so special to learn from. 



“That's the beauty of it. Getting lost in your craft. If your heart is asking you to do it, you cannot say no. And you cannot ignore it.”  - Meredith Johnson

Conversations with an Artist. JamesBilleaudeau.

What are you working on right now? 


Before I started my thesis, it wasn't anything focused. But through this process of going back to school and honing in on something that I actually want to do as a career.. It's now what I see myself doing for the rest of my life, really. Even the topics that I deal with, I don't see myself graduating then the work just ending there. I see it going beyond that and growing into something bigger than myself. I want my work to be able to shift the political discourse in this country.


I guess the first one that I tapped into was the idea of family time. The idea of family time like in front of the television, if it's genuine or if it's not. The act of eating without conversation thus tuning into the TV; you are united, yet you are divided by television that has your attention. And that's a reflection from my own family. Like even last night - I watched Narcos and ate a piece of pizza, you know. Of course I'm not going to have a conversation with myself, but it's a habit. But is it a healthy one? I'm kind of sick of it honestly. I miss sitting down with my family and having dinner and talking about actual things rather than watch TV. 


One of my other themes - I have a piece of work at the Ogden, and that image deals with the political climate and this election cycle. This is called Salute: Fear of a Fascist America. And this image stemmed from... so I'm political and my dad is very political. I grew up in a very conservative household watching Bill O'Reilly and listening Rush Limbaugh and all that bullshit. Once I started to attain a voice for myself, it was naturally towards the left side of the spectrum. I learned to never to talk about politics with my father after showing him Bernie Sanders. I sat down with my parents and without any intent of having a political conversation - I said, “We live in some fucked up times because there was a person beating someone up at a Donald Trump rally.” And my father was unfazed by it, and that was his open door to start talking about politics. And I was like, “oh shit”. So I start spitting all of this knowledge and the conversation turns into something I fear the most - that my parents support a piece of shit fascist businessman that I have absolutely no respect for. 

So with this picture, I had the conversation. My dad is saying that he (Trump) is smarter than all of us, and he is a great businessman. And I'm just face palming the whole time. So I leave the house in disgust, and I call my girlfriend. And I start crying on the phone. What Donald Trump represents is not what my parents represent, and I know that. It's scary. 


This (photograph) is the direct effect of it. It's the family having a dinner with guests at the dinner table. And the son is present when a political discussion kind of erupts. The parents kick their chair out and give their salute to whatever Fascist doctrine that they embrace. And the son is eating a burger like “what the fuck just happened?” And the guests just have this look of disgust. 



What is Sign of Distress about? 


It's an image that is representing the call-to-action for our generation to rise out of the ashes of political apathy and political disillusionment of our political process. And it's saying that “I have a voice and I matter” and “I won't back down until I'm heard”. So the title Sign of Distress comes from the upside down flag in the background. It's a literal military sign of distress. So this symbolizes how we are in a distressed time. We are finally starting to boil up and say something. This is our future, and we should start caring - and we are thankfully. 



What currently influences your work? 


I read a lot, and one of the books I'm reading right now is called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman. It's a really great book, very ahead of its time. It talks about the infiltration of television into our public discourse. One of my next images is going to be more specifically on the change in our public discourse. If you notice on cable news there's a lot of shouting, that's because we are now a TV culture rather than a book culture. So with a book culture, like at the Lincoln and Douglas debates, they were poignant. They involved literary wit and metaphor, and the people understood it. The people of a television culture need direct messages and simplicity to be able to exchange ideas.  



"I want my work to be able to shift the political discourse in this country." – James Billeaudeau


Find work by James here.