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Intimate Moment


Power, Corruption and Lies





Mark Holland-Hicken

Some men at my age buy a 'super-bike', others might run off with the maid. What did I do for my mid-life trick? I gave up a fantastic and successful career as an international product designer to become a painter!

Actually, my career as an artist started many, many years ago - although I hadn't realised it. Turn the clock back 20 years and you'll find me as a young man studying car design at Coventry University. I went to do a placement year with 'Mission' - at that time the UK's most prestigious and successful loudspeaker manufacturer.

On and off I spent most of the next 20 years working for 'Mission' in one creative capacity or another. I remember being frustrated about all the creative graphic work I had to do - all I wanted was to design a top selling product! I vented my frustrations to my then boss, Henry. He calmly sat me down and explained a few facts of professional life.

"Mark, if I wanted a perfect speaker design I'll ask Kieron, but if I want some beautifully creative artwork I'll ask you - that is where your talent lies..." I hadn't got a clue what Henry meant. (10 years later he bought one of my originals).

Shortly after this episode I was fortunate enough to be 'head-hunted' and invited to set up a product design office for a newly formed multi-national hi-fi manufacturing group. Based in London and China - I didn't need to be asked twice!

My team's output was phenomenal - even today 9 years on, designs we were working on are still appearing in the shops as 'new'! You know what? Henry was right - I did enjoy the creative side more.

After 3 or 4 years of all expenses paid fun in London and Hong Kong I felt it was time to come back home and resume my role as a 'creative'. A few carefully chosen moments and a few dropped words later I got the call - "Why don't you come back and re-join the family?" After a great deal of deliberation (about 3 seconds) I moved back to 'Mission' - whose umbrella now encompassed other great brands such as Wharfedale, Cyrus, Quad and even Premier Drums! I was brought back on board to manage the creative side of the business and really make the company rock!

I spent the next 5 years on a very comfortable salary producing beautiful artworks for the group. I had pretty much carte blanche to do what I felt was right. At that time, life couldn't have been sweeter.

As with all corporate giants the 'bean counters' rule. And the organisation was split up and brands sold off. I enjoyed working for all these companies so I took the opportunity to set up my own design business enabling me to work with, no conflict of interest, all my favorite companies and personalities. However, personalities come and go and brands change their identities - soon enough I found myself working for a mish-mash of disorganised clients. Then the miraculous premature birth of my daughter changed my life!

I started to think about how precious, short and fragile life is. How we work so hard to fulfil other peoples' dreams. I thought long and hard about all the skills I had acquired over the years - but more importantly how to fulfil my own dreams and ambitions...

In 2001 I took stock of everything. How I had learnt to draw, paint in all mediums, used every conceivable kind of paper and material, mastered spirit based markers, water colours, pastels, acrylics and oils. I was at a professional level with all the popular computer aided design software, I could art direct photographers and took a half decent picture myself. What else had I learnt? Drummed into me were the three P's - perception, proportion and presentation. I realised that my 'toolbox' was full!

One lazy summer evening something caught my imagination on a TV make-over show. A painting of a child - painted in what looked like 4 or 5 shades of grey. When you looked at the painting with focussed eyes - it looked just like a contour map. When you blurred your vision the picture of the child emerged. "I once designed some cartons that did that..." I thought to myself...

This painting must have flicked a trigger because about a month later I thought "I'm going to try that"

Using whatever came to hand, old scraps of wood, and old bed sheet for a canvas, a tin of blue gloss paint and a really 'glossy' digital photograph of my daughter - I cobbled together my first real painting. OK she somehow had ended up with John Majors lip - but hey! This was fun!

Part of being a designer is learning how to handle rejection. At least a staggering 80% of your work is rejected, that is to say that for every 5 ideas you put your heart into 4 of them will be dismissed and casually dumped in the bin. I painted a further 2 paintings of my daughter and went to seek professional advice - fully expecting dismissal and rejection.

One balmy summer evening, over a few gin and tonics I showed my work to an art dealer friend and his wife - a university art lecturer. Thankfully, I had a wonderful and enthusiastic critique. Fired up and floating on air I painted for Britain! All manner of subjects and all colours - I was overflowing with energy!

I took these paintings to a gallery - they liked the work, saw the potential and a deal was struck for me to have a solo exhibition the following February. "we'll need at least 14 paintings..."

My first show was a great success on one level and nearly commercial suicide on another. I received lots of well wishing - but sold only enough to cover my costs - nothing to make up for the previous months' lost living. On the bright side a painting I did at the gallery while the show was running sold a week or so later and a few commissions came in too. It started to look like I could make it as an artist after all - fulfilling my own visions and dreams at last!

Then I had a crisis! I realised I hated my work! As much as I enjoyed losing myself in the studio - I really didn't like what I was painting. "Manufactured, digital rubbish..." I stopped painting for 3 months. My heart broken, I had no idea what to do...

..3 months in the doldrums is a long time to reflect and soul search. However, my subconscious mind must have been working over-time. I awoke one morning with the word 'analogue' on my lips and I knew precisely what I should do. I started a painting with the usual 'digital' base but then let the analogue artist take over. My first 'transition' painting was created. My soul lifted and the work sold! Finally I was drawing on all my skills and talent - my heart soared! I painting a further 4 'transition' paintings fine tuning all the time. At last I felt I could face the world, with my head held high, my heart on my sleeve and my paintings proudly displayed on the wall!

And that is where I am today. My choice of subject, crop of image, materials and colours all being the culmination of my 20 years of often agonising experience. I'm quite fond of saying - "An artist has a vision and by whatever means he is compelled to bring you, dear viewer that vision"


An artist has to paint what he or she is passionate about - and I am passionate about beauty and emotion. For me there is nothing else in nature that brings these two together quite like the female form.

My dear friend Gabriele Rigon (in my opinion the world's best photographer of the female form) creates many of the source images I use for my artworks. Over the years he has become 'my soul-mate-in-art' and I have had many long conversations with him, philosophising and trying to define 'sensuality' - the fusion of beauty and emotion presented in a sensitive and subtle way that we can all relate to without feeling threatened or intimidated by.

There will be a certain element in one of Gabriele's photographs that fires my imagination. A distant gaze, a sorrowful brow or sparkle in the eye that catches hold of my heart and in an instant I have made up the story in my mind.

Gabriele tells his own story his way in his photograph - I have seen a quite different tale and am compelled to paint this for you.


An old boss of mine coined the phrase "Technology is the slave, mankind is the master" This is so true in my art!

I use what I will enigmatically describe as a 21st century version of the 'camera obscura' to transfer the detail I have seen in a photograph to canvas. I will spend hours mixing paint shades before I paint a single brush stroke. At this point my studio resembles a chemist's laboratory!

My preferred medium is 'vinyl' - much like 'acrylic' in composition except for one single atom! That atom makes a whole world of difference to the finished painting. Vinyl dries with a natural soft matt finish, this quality along with the cooling influence of the 'trademark blue' that I so often use, gives my paintings the softness and almost velvety texture that my subjects deserve.

I paint from dark to light and eventually my canvas is covered. At this point I usually celebrate with a beer or two. As I wind down, I will tweak little areas that start to call out to me. This fine-tuning takes days often weeks!

At last the softness, subtlety, sensuality and emotion I have been striving to portray is finished and another piece of my heart and soul is ready to be shown to the world...


Since painting full-time my day has gone 'topsy-turvy'. I'm wide awake at 4am. In fact I started writing this biography at 4:30am on a freezing cold winter Sunday morning.

My mind seems at its most lucid and active this early - with none of the pressures of everyday and business life to cloud it. During the lighter months I will paint when the sun is up and in the dark winter months I'll devote the time to administration and correspondence.

I feel like I have done a good day's work before the rest of the family awake and the Holland-Hicken rush hour starts as my family hurriedly gets ready for work and school. Once the house quietens down I can get on with my second day's work! I'm usually back to my painting - in the broadest sense by about 9.00 am, be it mixing paints, looking at photographs or setting up the studio for a photo-shoot with one of my models.

If I'm painting it's music on and I get those brushes smoking in no time! Before I know it I've gone through 15 CD's, it's 4:45pm and I've to pick up my daughter and become a family man again! In the evening I try not to work and spend time with my precious family.

Another dear friend of mine and long-time associate, Jon, once said something to me that was initially trivial but has become quite profound for me. Quite out of the blue he said -

"You know Mark, when you marry your mistress you create a vacancy..."

"Sorry Jon?"

"When your passion becomes your full-time job, what becomes your new passion?"

My passion is my art - and thankfully I've never seen it as a job!