Joshua Hollingshead

Painting to amaze


Hollingshead pulls no punches on the canvas.

Full article from edition two

Images photoghraphed by Andy Farrer

Orthodox (J Hollingshead)

Observe his depiction of the then recently appointed Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, in Orthodox (above). It isn’t sympathetic. It’s Patriarch Kirill I – a powerful and, Joshua explains, highly divisive player with Russian secret service connections and allegedly selling bootleg baccy down the pub – now installed at the apex of this religion’s hierarchy.

Joshua’s response is to depict the nature of the victory within the sallow and flame-lit features of the protagonist. Lurking behind him, in the chaos of incongruent, fleshly distractions in this supposedly sacred place, is a duo of sinister figures, one of whom bears a halberd-like crucifix. Ecumenical business? There is rich narrative with a strong sense of tension in this truly controversial painting. At five-by-six feet, it would be at home in a decently-sized rectory…

The ‘cathedral’ is in fact a composite of several in Russia. All the icons, statuettes and paintings residing in the various buildings that compose this particular phantasm are real, too, and are faithfully recalled. At times the interiors he paints are starkly minimalist; this one, however, is dark, rich and labyrinthine: a cross between Hieronymus Bosch and Escher.

There’s a quality to much of his work and it’s of an unsettling nature. Imagine if Joseph Conrad had taken to the easel instead of writing, and all he had to hand were oils and fluorescent paints. This sensation, combined with his ability to conceptualize and execute grand visions with meticulous attention to detail – including geographical and historical accuracy – may be the making of him.

It doesn’t, or maybe shouldn’t, require the background of a painting to be known in order to appreciate it but it probably does enhance the experience of viewing this particular artist’s work because the stories are fascinating in their own right. The best voice to tell them is that of the quietly-spoken man himself, so let’s hope we see an exhibition soon, replete with notes, such as those accompanying our photographs.

Joshua takes up curatorial duties…

SUZDAL is a 13th century capital of the state of Muscovy (Western Russia). It was left in a state of dilapidation until the 1950s, when the area was restored courtesy of fresh riches from the resurrected Orthodox Church. The churches are repainted and well-maintained and old barns have become trendy country dachas for oligarchs; but, come winter, it reverts to the ghost town it has been for centuries. Only a regular sprinkling of groups of teenage “training cadets” and the weekly arrival of tourist coaches stir the dozen or so chicken-rearing babushkas, squatters and alcoholics left behind, holed up in damp wooden houses that somehow escaped improvements. As autumn fades and winter looms, deep snow and hibernation await.

Tombstones of St. Petersburg (J Hollingshead)

From the humble to the lordly, Russian graveyards preserve a cross section of society that is often lost in the grim, stone regiments our modern ‘order’ demands. The headstones and monuments of St Petersburg represent the works and beliefs of their dead. From an explorer’s mausoleum made of dead coral to Christ crucified to a missile, the variety and power of suggestion is endless.

TOMBSTONES OF ST. PETERSBURG depicts Nevsky Monastery, its verdant grounds and surrounding chapels in a purple twilight. Monuments and lesser carvings abound. The stumpy, severed limbs of a marble tree; a lichen-stained, over-wrought face seems to plead with hands locked in supplication. Jeering skulls and crossbones adorn a granite stone; a spray-painted silver crucifix glints over a monks grave; a socialist star marks the resting place of an apparatchik. Time has stolen the names from the shoe-shaped graves, now overgrown.

Meanwhile, relatives mourn the newly dead as a monk walks away, shovel in hand. Yet this is no dark vision of death’s triumph. ‘Individuality’ lives on and death is merely our payment in kind for a singular life.

High Atlas (J Hollingshead)

As I was visiting the HIGH ATLAS mountains, flash floods swept through, submerging fertile valleys under a viscous tide, reddening with iron oxide to a magma-esque scarlet. This painting depicts Asni and ramshackle neighbouring berber villages (one near inundation), their irrigation canals channeling water over rock-faces, stripping topsoil to reveal rich mineral deposits. Despite the turmoil, the sodden figures traipsing home are resigned and well prepared; one man is solely focused on straightening the signs on the treacherous road! The independence of the people of the High Atlas is renowned; they resisted French invasion for decades through a successful guerrilla campaign. The painting shows a 2-km stretch of highway crammed onto a 10-foot canvas. I’ve rearranged the landscape slightly to capture a sense of the drama and disorientation of rushing for shelter.”

See more of Josh’s stunning work at
At the time of posting, Josh can be found at his studio gallery – Daisy May’s Arcade, Swanage, BH19 1ES.
Should you happen to be up London way, quick, get out! But stop to admire Joshua’s work at the Krilova Stelfox Gallery:
See more of the photographer’s work at