Holly Ahrens


Holly | Lucy



I’m starting to see a trend with these conversations I have with people. They all start out with a topic in mind and then as it progresses, it becomes something different altogether. Today was no different. It was supposed to be about painting and the creative process because I was actually very intrigued about that process. I wanted to know how different the processes were from photography and where the overlap was. Instead, we began to talk about such interesting things as; Northern lights, Denmark, New York, DC, Kids (my desire for 4 girls came up) and so, so much more. It may not have been entirely about painting, but man I loved this conversation just as much as I love all the others.

How I actually met Holly was through art. I saw her paintings in ye old Instagrams and I loved her style. I thought her work was a mix between abstract, expressionism and a bit of cubism and I loved it. It wasn’t refined and it felt as though that was the point. It felt as though she’s trying to say, it’s reality but with the flaws that reality sometimes overlooks. It’s as though she’s showing the flaws that we all have through her work and I loved it. I wanted her to make a personal piece, something that had meaning, something that was more than just a photograph transposed onto canvas. When I saw the result, I loved it. What sucks is that as I was taking it out of my car, and I still don’t know how it happened, a gust of wind took old and it fell out of my hand and an oncoming car ran over it. That was a sombre moment because I hadn’t even looked at the painting with my own eyes.

Holly and Lucy

Holly and Lucy

However, despite how annoying that was, it’s not enough to tarnish the great conversation we had. So here’s what happened.

Holly and I spoke about where we would meet and as I was coming up with ideas of where to meet, she suggested we meet up at Philz coffee down by Yards Park. That was fine by me because I like the area (I still don’t know why I do, but I do). After finding parking (no easy task) I began my walk around to Philz and I began pondering why in the name of sanity did I decide to meet a 11, a time when the sun was beginning it’s crescent into fuck you all territory.

Anyway, as I walked into Philz, I began trying to find seating, all the while not realizing Holly was sitting right in front of me. Luckily for me she recognized me and she called out to me and I pretended as if I saw her and was going to say hi (I didn’t). You know that shocked expression, that says OH THERE YOU ARE! Yea that one. That’s also the time I met her daughter Lucy who is this shy, introverted 3 year old who was already taking on her mothers’ artistic qualities.

So we got our coffee ( I got a Chai Tea which, if I’m honest, was probably the worst I’ve ever had) and we sat down. I explained to her that I have no real idea what I’m doing and that this is more an experiment in freeform. She nodded that’s fine and began we did.

Almost as expected, the first question I asked was why the arts? What made you get into being a painter. Her answer was almost a familiar one because it was a similar trajectory that I took with how I got into the arts.

She said “I did the art thing in college but my parents weren’t all too thrilled about it. After I left UNC I came home and my parents said here are your bills you need to find a job that pays well so you can take care of them…” which makes sense because no matter what bills need to get paid. It was because of this that she stopped pursuing her dream and went into real estate. After she found out she was pregnant though and had her daughter Lucy, it was at this point she began to work her way back into doing painting. 

Prior to having Lucy, she signed up for lessons with an artist she admired but the waitlist was a year out. By the time Lucy came around she had forgotten all about it until she got a notification saying, hey its your time. So, she went for it. She was a full-time mom and making inroads into being an artist in her own right.

As we were talking, Lucy was doing what kids her age do. She was becoming restless. Holly had given her a pen and pad to doodle and she warned me that she would be very difficult to photograph, as she goes out of her way to hide when she sees a camera. I saw that as a challenge when she would lift her head up I’d sneak a photo or two in and I did manage to get some gems.

As Holly and I spoke though, I started getting distracted a bit by what Lucy was doodling. To most people it would seem as if it was just mindless marking up of paper, but to me, I saw some hints of an artistic mind. Her scribbles didn’t seem without reason. In fact they seemed very abstract but with purpose. I began thinking of a mix between Jackson Pollock and Basquiat as she kept doodling. Now I don’t know if was because I was talking to a painter, but as I saw Lucy draw I couldn’t help but think that she may become an artist.

Then, I quipped something I can’t quite remember but the topic to changed to my previous conversation with Austin and how I wanted four daughters. We began to talk about why and my explanation was; I had grown up in a house of women and as such I already knew how to deal with being around women. I began thinking about it, probably for the first time, about my experience as a camp counsellor in New York. I think that was the moment when I figured that at some point I’d have kids and they’d be girls and I’d probably be the greatest dad to ever dad. I’m not even kidding. 

The conversation then somehow switched to traveling and seeing the Northern Lights. Holly wanted to make a goal to see the Northern lights. I began talking about moving to Denmark for my own personal reasons and I began talking about how all of Scandinavia is worth visiting. The only issue is, it’s probably better to visit during the brief summer because in winter it’s wicked cold. 
She said “I don’t know about that, I may have been born by one of the great lakes in Pennsylvania, but there’s a reason why I went down south. I love the heat”

Immediately I shut down the going to Scandinavia aspect unless she plans on buying all the layers available to go. So then I said she might be better off just going to Edmonton (Alberta) or anywhere in northern Canada. That way, she can always stop off in Banff or Jasper to take some amazing photos and do some painting. 

Lucy became visibly restless and I knew she wanted to leave, mainly because she said she wanted to leave. So I stopped our conversation at Philz and said, hey let’s just go walk and we can continue talking as we walked. So off we went.

I’ve been to the area quite often, but as we approached the water fountain area, I was flummoxed by the amount of kids in the area. I was also confused as to why so many kids were in the water park thing. I didn’t know that people were allowed to go in there and Holly said, that’s why they’re here. Lucy was anxious to get out of a stationary place and go play in the water.

While Lucy was off being a kid, we began talking about a lot of other things that had nothing to do with painting. We began talking about DC culture and what makes it a unique place to live. It’s definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I said as much as I’m not heavy into politics. I’m aware of what goes on, I’m aware of what is said, but I don’t like talking about it. Holly went on to say that she wasn’t really into it but because of her husband’s job, she had to learn quick. It also helps that she’s a very extroverted person and will talk to anyone about anything and it makes things a bit easier. 

Then again the topic switched. This time it went back to a previous topic about being in the arts and having support. She started telling me that it’s only now that her parents have really started supporting her artwork. We began commenting on why parent’s do what they do because that kind of support would’ve been a lot more useful when she started painting. It’s a little bit of wasted energy saying they support you now because at this point you’ve already gone through the pitfalls of life and realized on your own that you need to do what makes you happy.

Why this resonated with me is because it is almost the exact same situation I find myself in. For a long a time no one liked that I was doing something in the arts. No one cared that I wanted to be a photographer or an artist in general. I was always looked upon as the black sheep of my family because I dared to be different. It’s only now that some people are saying “oh wow you’re actually good at this”. As if we were reading each others’ mind we both quipped “you know what I could’ve done with that kind of support when I was younger?”.

It was a serendipitous moment because we both recognized the need to support your kids’ dreams because the worst thing in the world is to have a kid grow up loving one thing, but having parents say “you’re wasting your time”. 
At the same time however, most artist are artist because of some kind of angst that’s developed over time. We all come from a similar mold and it’s that mold of rejection, intolerability, heartbreak, excitement, wonder and so much more, where we build our artistic identity. So one can argue that the lack of support from family in our early days somewhat shaped who we are as artists.

It still would’ve been nice to have the support being shown now, back then.

That's about where our conversation ended. 

Again, it was all over the place, but again the point is to just talk. Having a genuine conversation with someone and not expecting anything return is the point of this project. What I've encountered in DC is that there are people who only speak to you when they want something from you. They only give you time if you have something to give them back. That lack of genuine relationship building for me is annoying as hell. That is why I started this project.




Hope you like it.