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Artist in Residence Holly Buchholz in the Milwaukee River Greenway

Holly Buchholz: Artist in Residence in The Milwaukee River Greenway

June 27, 2022  |  Topics: featured artist

Artist Statement by Holly Buchholz

As my family knows, I have a hard time sitting still. I am anxious, an over-thinker and I walk fast. I am fairly hyper and typically have multiple tasks and projects going simultaneously. I am social, a grand planner, love to host things, and I quite often bite off more than I can chew. The only time I slow down is while in ‘the zone’ of an art project, or outdoors in the sunshine.

 “Milwaukee River Greenway, Cold Day”, 10X8, gouache.

You have to slow down and look deeply to practice art. To look at things closely and think, connect and really SEE your subject and how the objects and environments around it affect it and you. Seeing the intricacies of what you thought was a simple subject when you picked up your brush can absorb you, make time stand still and quiet your mind of everything else.

Holly Buchholz in the Greenway. Photo by Eddee Daniel.

Being in the natural world can also force you to slow your pace. Even taking a short walk in the Greenway can be revelatory. What at first seems like silence gives way to a sudden cacophony of sound as spring birds vie for territory and mates. A brisk walk on a neighborhood trail can turn into the slowest meander after the scent of a lilac bush stops you in your tracks. And suddenly you look and notice; the lights, the shadows, the colors. Being in nature is a breath of fresh air, literally.

"East Bank Trail, Estabrook", 8x10, gouache.
“East Bank Trail, Estabrook”, 8×10, gouache.

Looking deeper makes you care more deeply about your subject and about the world. I believe people need and crave a connection to the natural world, that it is important to our mental health. Art can be a way to make that connection. A poem, movie or painting might inspire someone to reconsider a subject or rethink an idea. Artists show you something you may have overlooked, or can present a different view of something you thought you knew. From highlighting a certain quality of light on an otherwise mundane landscape, to shining a light on injustices, artists point things out. Artists share in hopes that others will see, connect and care more deeply as well.

"Lincoln Park", 6x6, gel pen and sharpie.
“Lincoln Park”, 6×6, gel pen and sharpie.

I have a wide and varied love of all things ARTS. My mom also enjoys painting as well as her father and his father before him. I was fortunate as a child to be exposed to many artsy things and creative people. I have always been interested in, and practiced with, many different subjects and mediums (drawing, painting, sculpture, printing, not to mention sewing, knitting, cooking, baking—and I got a ukelele during lockdown!) I am also an interested consumer of music of all sorts, as well as dance, theater, pottery, hand crafted jewelry, fine arts and crafts. As far as the arts go, you could say I am “all over the map,” so when I applied to ARTservancy, it seemed appropriate to choose the Milwaukee River Greenway with its expansive map of 800-plus acres and twelve parks. Because I had been so isolated due to the pandemic shortly after moving to Wisconsin, I was excited by the idea of getting out with a purpose to explore, document and chase shadows in the natural areas of our new home in Wisconsin.

Block print postcards, Estabrook Park Winter shadows.

So far my residency in the Milwaukee River Greenway has not only introduced me to these 12 parks and the connected areas in between, but also many neighborhoods, businesses and restaurants nearby. I started this residency thinking that my focus would be a continuation of the shadow paintings I started of my yard in 2020, but that focus has grown to include an interest in the delicate balance between people and nature, both good and not so good, in this strip of greenspace within the city.

Riverside Park, photograph.
Riverside Park, photograph.

While on the trails and in the parks, I often start with a brisk walk to calm and clear my mind. I take notes, sometimes do a quick sketch or doodle, and take lots and lots of pictures. Back in my home studio I may further develop a drawing, paint a picture or edit a photograph. Each space I visit seems to call for a different approach.

"Feels like Home," 12x16, acrylic on canvas, from my series of pool and swimming paintings.
“Feels like Home,” 12×16, acrylic on canvas, from my series of pool and swimming paintings.

For the past couple of years I have also been working on a series of underwater swimming pool paintings in acrylic or gouache, which is a newer medium for me. My process while working on the larger acrylic works is more methodical than most of my works. In those pieces I have typically spent many weeks of prep time and planning before anything starts on the canvas not to mention stocking up pictures. I use an underwater camera to take lots of reference photos. I need good weather, access to a swimming pool, and a willing model. Many of these works start with very precise drawings and can take weeks or months to finish. The works for the residency have, so far, required less preparation and are a lot looser. In contrast to the pool paintings photo sessions, I have been out to the Greenway in a variety of weather, temperatures and a half a year of seasons so far. Instead of setting up perfect conditions, I let whatever conditions I find there are inspire me. Instead of planning, I am letting go of control and responding to whatever I find.

“Punk Rock Backyard”, 7×10. gouache on paper, 2020 yard series.
About this series: Our family had recently relocated to Wisconsin when the pandemic hit. With so many things closed and cancelled, I ended up spending a lot of time in my own backyard on a street populated with trees and wildlife. I started becoming interested in the way the towering old Oaks and Black Walnut trees cast stark shadows across the yard, making bold, almost abstract, statements in contrast to the densely detailed visual overload of the wooded area behind it.

In all my works, I usually spend the most time on working out my color scheme, just playing with colors and doing small sketches in different combinations until I hit on the one that has the perfect feel. I like to use colors that are challenging to fit together or that are not expected for the subject. I typically work on at least two paintings at a time so working on these two series simultaneously, one looser one more structured, fits well with my personality.


“Late Summer, Franklin, WI” 7×10, gouache on paper, yard series.
“Along the river trail, near Kern Park” 5×9 gouache.
Reference photo, found mask, Lincoln Park, December 2021.
Most people respect the principle of ‘leave no trace” in nature but things blow away, get dropped, forgotten, accidents happen. Human debris is an unfortunate side effect to people connecting to nature. 
“Sign of the Times” (finished work), 8×10, watercolor.
Estabrook Shadow photograph, capturing shadows in Estabrook Park. Colder months were great for stark shadows.
“Eastbank”, 9×12, gouache.
"Locust Street Bridge', 10x6, gouache (work in progress).
“Locust Street Bridge’, 10×6, gouache (work in progress).
"West Bank Trail," acrylic on masonite.
“West Bank Trail,” 24×24, acrylic on masonite.
"Shadows on west bank", Photo.  More shadows and finally some green in Spring!
“Shadows on west bank”, Photo.  More shadows and finally some green in Spring!
"West Bank Trail", 5x6, gouache.
“West Bank Trail”, 5×6, gouache.
“Discarded Fish, Lincoln Park,” colored pencil, work in progress.
A different type of waste.
"Frigid Day, East Bank", 10.5x4.5, gouache
“Frigid Day, East Bank”, 10.5×4.5, gouache.
"Stairs at Estabrook", photo capturing great shadows
“Stairs at Estabrook”, photo capturing great shadows.
“Early Morning August, Franklin, WI”  7×10, gouache on paper, yard series
 “Surfacing 1”  24×36 Acrylic on canvas


Holly Buchholz.
Photo: Eddee Daniel

I was born in Tacoma, Washington and raised in central Illinois with fourteen moves throughout the US since. Before my last move, I owned a small business hosting art workshops and lessons and sat on the city arts commission for Gladstone, Missouri. I have participated in juried shows, fairs, popups and been a member of several arts groups in the various places I have lived. I am currently living in Franklin, Wisconsin and am a member of Wisconsin Visual Artists and Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN).

To learn more about Milwaukee River Greenway go to our Find-a-Park page.

This residency is sponsored by River Revitalization Foundation.

This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the 2019-2020 ARTservancy artists in residence is currently being exhibited monthly at Gallery 224. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.

All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted. The featured photo at the top of Holly Buchholz in the Greenway is by Eddee Daniel, curator of The Natural Realm. River Revitalization Foundation is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.