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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Lisa Holley’s art
served on ‘wry’

Express Staff Writer

There are artists and there are accomplished artists. Then there’s Lisa Holley, who serves up her paintings on wry with maybe just a little ham added.

She’s just completed a black and white poster for the Caritas Chorale’s upcoming April performances—a stalk of Rocky Mountain iris in whose buds and leaves can be seen 25 small human heads and faces.

Holley, a perky Sun Valley grandmother, has perfected an art form with roots in a style pioneered by 16th century Italian artist Guiseppe Arcimboldo, whose human portraits were composed of fruits, vegetables, animals and books and who became an icon for surrealists.

Arcimboldo’s inventive artistic impressions tended to the grotesque.

But not Holley’s work. She has found a way to take one group of objects (usually wildlife) and literally anatomically embody them within elements of plants, flowers or other animals in ways that show their interactions in life.

The results are playful images that draw appreciative oohs and aahs, smiling curiosity and, not incidentally, a thriving business for Holley.

Consider her profile painting of a Labrador retriever.

Within the outline of the Lab is a mélange of strokes resembling graceful leaves that, when examined closely, really are objects in a Lab’s life: a duck, fish, field mice, a dog biscuit, field rodents.

Or the saber tooth cat, whose portrait is composed of colorful flowers and leaves actually representing wild jungle animals.

A trout’s body incorporates bugs, flies and other invertebrates.

Her rendition of an owl includes in the elaborate flora small animals an owl might encounter in the woods: a brown bat, flying squirrel, chipmunk, rat and the like.

A painting commissioned by Albertson College shows the world with continents sprouting the Idaho state flower, syringa, with roots flowing out of Idaho.

The organization Pheasants Forever commissioned its own painting, "Pheasants in a Cornfield," whose flora-cum-concealed life includes a fruit fly, gypsy moth, spittle bug as well as corn and other vegetation on which pheasants live.

Occasionally, she lapses into the frivolous. Standing on a cabinet in the corner of her airy, bright studio is a florist box lined with green tissue and a rolled up painting, "A dozen roses that will never die."

Whimsical as more than two dozen of these renditions may seem, they’re not quickly whipped out with a few hurried brush strokes.

Often sparked by an idea she notes on a pad beside her bed in the middle of the night, Holley will devote hours researching plant and animal life and the habits of the animals she paints. A typical animal portrait requires as long as a month to complete.

An original color painting sells for about $5,000, a black and white original for about $2,000, and a print for $50.

This is a long way from the days when Holley, a young mother, showed up in the Wood River Valley in the late 1970s and waitressed while developing her art genre.

Her first recognition came when the Wood River Gallery staged a competition she entered with a satirical interpretation of an "Idaho Club Sandwich"—her artistic commentary on the practice of Eastern Idaho farmers clubbing rabbits.

Holley won a box of crayons.

Now firmly established with a nationwide clientele, a luxurious three level Sun Valley home generously decorated with eclectic art, her own Internet Web site (www.LisaHolley.com) and a greeting cards contract, Holley has added worldwide vacation travel to her pace.

Vacation? Actually, no.

She recently returned from the Galapagos Islands, a virtually untouched habitat of flora and fauna.

Her photographs of Galapagos life in time will crop up somewhere in her wild kingdom art.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.