Fort Myers artist Mamie Holst has exhibited her work throughout the country and in Europe. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from University of West Florida in Pensacola and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Visual Arts in New York. Among the awards and honors she has received was a 2005 Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She is currently represented by Feature Inc., New York.
After earning her MFA degree, Holst settled outside of New York to pursue a career as an artist. However she soon began to encounter difficulties in working. In 1989 Holst was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), an illness characterized by incapacitating fatigue, problems with memory, difficulties in information processing, and a vast array of other symptoms. In Holst’s case, CFIDS severely limits the amount of time and energy she can devote to any activity, including painting. In 1992 her illness led her to move to Fort Myers to live with her family. Landscape Before Dying is a series Holst began a few years after her return to Florida, a series she continues to work on.
This exhibition of works from the series features 30 acrylic paintings on canvas from 1998-2005. Painted in white, black and shades of gray, these non-representational artworks represent the subconscious workings of Holst’s mind, in a sense mapping out her thoughts as she heads out into unknown territory. Though much of her work prior to the onset of CFIDS was sculptural in nature, often large-scale and often quite colorful, the illness led her back to small-scale paintings using nothing but black and white. The small size of these canvases is a result of her limited energy. The lack of color is a result of the increased difficulty in making decisions about details.
However much these limitations might have impacted the direction of her art, they have brought a greater intensity to those elements on which she remains focused. Beginning with a small black and white painting in 1997, which depicted a stark, uncertain landscape, Holst saw the potential for an exploration of how the most basic artistic forms could be used to depict life’s possibilities. Her series is not conceived as a series of answers; rather the paintings pose abstract questions. The paintings are not intended to be particularly morbid or even directly concerned with death as an end; instead, Holst believes that death is a part of life, “just a passing from one plane.” Her paintings address in very open ways the nature of relationships any of us might have with one another or the greater world around us during our lifetimes.
These are ambitious goals for paintings that make every attempt to avoid interaction with us, with their diminutive scale and lack of loud colors. But they connect to us through a shared sense of uncertainty about life, even if we have varying approaches to life or visions of what lies far ahead. Through her Landscape Before Dying series, Holst continues to use abstracted simplicity to find that the distance between now and far ahead can be filled with unimagined options.