Twin sisters and painters Heather and Holly Blanton combine disparate styles into a seamless whole
As Ellen Cottrill looks at local artist Holly Blanton’s paintings one afternoon, Blanton shares a surprise: many of the pieces are collaborations between her and her twin sister, Heather. Cottrill delights in her own shock: “They’re so strong and painterly and come together so beautifully,” she says. “I love the fact that there are two people working on these and you can’t tell.”
The Blantons don’t hesitate to attribute their seamless teamwork to a special twin connection. “We started our collaboration processes at infancy,” says Heather. “We’ve always liked to do things together … as long as I art direct!”
Cottrill is the co-owner of Hobnob Fo0d + Social Exchange and the Blanton sisters’ work, both individual pieces and collaborative works, are on exhibit at Hobnob’s gallery space, adjacent to the restaurant in Riverside’s Unity Plaza, through September.
The sisters grew up in a “sweet, little neighborhood” on the south side of Jacksonville called Holiday Hill. They are half identical. “Yes, its a real kind of twin,” laughs Heather. She explains it as coming from one egg that splits in utero, is fertilized by two sperm, and then is surrounded by three amniotic sacs — one around each and then a third around both, which is very rare. “The doctor at Memorial Hospital in 1973 had never seen this before so we actually didn’t know what kind of twins we were until an expert at UC Santa Barbara told me of the little-known twin type,” says Heather. “We are fifty-percent identical and fifty-percent fraternal.”
Both women are currently professional artists – Holly based in Jacksonville and Heather in St. Augustine. The collaborative works are a recent endeavor, a combination of each artist’s current body of work. Holly, a self-described “geek for paint,” works in large-scale because she says she feels confined by small canvases and enjoys physical movement while painting. Her pieces are abstract, exploring color and texture through layering paint, and she seeks freedom and serenity in both the process and the product.
“I used to think art had to be political and exciting to be relevant, then I read something written by a Zen monk that changed my life,” says Holly.
“She said she used to be politically active, protesting the Vietnam War, but by doing that, she was one of ‘them’ — angry and hateful.”“She said to change the world, feel your peace and radiate it outward,” Holly continues, adding, “That’s what I do now … there is nothing so calming to me as painting.”
Holly’s expanses of paint are the backgrounds in the collaborative pieces. Heather has been an exhibiting artist since 2005; her work shown throughout Florida as well as in Colorado, Wyoming, New York, and the Netherlands, among other locales. Her first body of work was produced by manipulating the surface of Polaroid film, creating undulating images from photos of local spots and unusual, graphic objects. Holly takes credit for pushing Heather into “starting from scratch on canvas,” and upon doing so, Heather embarked on her current, widely-exhibited sports series. In these pieces, white backgrounds hold bold compositions of grouped figures, each painted with deliberate, repetitive brushstrokes that activate them as bikers, swimmers, runners, and skiers engaged in competition.
“There’s something I am drawn to in the sheer numbers of participants in sports, the number of people who thrive on these exercises,” says Heather, citing the worldwide attraction of sports as furthering her interest. She, however, is only a spectator. “I live vicariously through my paintings,” she says. “I am not an athlete at all — you couldn’t pay me to run a marathon, but I am obsessed with painting them.”
“I really feel like Heather will be famous for her sports work, because there has never been anything like it,” says Holly. “They are so inventive and creative.” Cottrill agrees: “It’s such an unusual niche — they’re quality sports-related works, not tacky, not an inspirational poster, but fine art.”Heather says she was in Holly’s studio, looking a some newly-finished pieces, and thought, “Hmmm … I wonder what a row of cyclists might look like on that.” And thus began the collaborative work, with Heather’s figures painted on top of Holly’s abstract textures.