From the Archive: Holly Graham

We revisit Art Licks issue 20 (Spring 2017) and interview artist Holly Graham about her contribution, 'After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers'.


Can you describe the initial idea behind 'Lair du Temps (Camel)' and the process of making it?
When Holly asked me to contribute a project to the magazine, I just started collecting these perfume bottles. I was drawn to the absurdity of the forms and what they signified to the immigrant population in East London that collected them. I thought it would be fun to producing a scratch and sniff sample enclosed in the magazine, which is how people used to try out perfumes. I worked with Ken Kirton of Studio Hato, who has since become a frequent collaborator, to test out ways of creating this fragrant strip of paper that we can attach to the magazine. It was a bit of trial and error working out the most effective mixture of adhesive and really horrible perfume to get it right.
Where did the camel come from & what did the perfume smell like..?!
I bought the camel perfume for £5 at the Whitechapel Market and it smells exactly what you would expect a £5 bottle of perfume would smell like. A photograph of the camel perfume were shown at the Whitechapel Gallery later that year, so there ended up being a great circularity and specificity to the project.
At the time (2012, yikes!), was this a helpful idea to explore for your work—had you done something like this before?
Wow! Nearly 10 years ago! I remember doing this project towards the end of my MA at the Royal Academy which was an intense three years of questioning and doubt. It was great to do something fun for a change and to also think about different ways of disseminating my work. It has also led to meeting people that I have worked with since.
Have you continued to work with these ideas / the piece more recently?
I showed an actual camel bottle as part of an installation at the Gwangju Biennial in 2018, alongside other perfume bottles that I collected in 2011/2012 – including perfume bottle versions of the Burj al Arab and the Burj Khalifa. The installation, I think, best articulated the thinking behind collecting the objects. As a collection they present this false narrative of Middle Eastern progress through cheap perfume.
The day after the biennial opened, the—now rare—camel perfume bottle was stolen. Luckily, Holly still kept the camel perfume bottle we used for the project so I was able to find a replacement. It’s a great epilogue to the project and that £5 camel perfume is now more valuable than ever.

Art Licks: 'After Harry Jacobs' is an ongoing body of work of yours, please can you describe the research around it?

Holly Graham: Absolutely! Harry Jacobs was a studio portrait photographer based in Brixton between the 1950s-90s. He was particularly popular with individuals from the Afro-Caribbean community, many of whom would have been recently settled in London, particularly towards the beginning of this period. Throughout this 50-year career, his studio held the same backdrop, a quasi-tropical garden scene. The collection of photographs is now housed by the Lambeth Archives. I'm always interested in how people choose to present themselves in time and space, and here I was drawn to the layers of flatness and fiction that the studio engendered.

The piece you made for Art Licks issue 20, 'After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers' (2017) is part of this research, please can you describe the process of working on this magazine contribution?

Many of the works in the wider series home in on posed limbs resting on props or against the backdrops. The works think about how through the duplication of these gestures, the archive collection of images compresses individual narratives into a social document that testifies to a singular narrative. In the work for Art Licks magazine, I began to insert my own hands, replicating the forms in the original images, and playing with layering photographs. I was thinking about my own relationship to the images, my attempt to understand them, get beneath their surface. There's a play on the idea of gardening, pruning, enabling growth from matter, acts of care. I liked the idea that the viewer would also become part of the composition and almost an extension of a performance as they move their own hand into the frame to turn the pages.

Had you explored these ideas in print before?

Up until this point the works in the series had taken on a multitude of forms, from animated gif animations, to large-scale digital prints. But this was the first time they would exist in this context of the magazine format.

Have you continued to work with these ideas / the piece more recently?

I have, yes. Last year I made a video piece called 'After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers II'. The work consists of similar layered imagery to what was present in the Art Licks spread, and is accompanied by a voiceover delivered by two speakers, which is interspersed with extracts of interviews with Windrush generation individuals, reflecting on their experiences of migrating to the UK. I've also been reflecting on the body of work in relation to other projects of mine, and some of the other research that has informed them in a recent essay that will be published in an anthology titled 'On Care' later this year.


Holly Graham undertook her BFA at Oxford University in 2012 and graduated from MA Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in 2014. Recent exhibitions and projects include: To Us It Just Looks Like A Lemon: Bothy Residency, Southwark Park Galleries (2019); On Board II, Art Licks & Espacio Vista, Madrid (2019); BOUNDS, Skelf, Online (2019); The Oval Window, Gerald Moore Gallery, London (2019); The Romance of Flowers, Kingsgate Projects, London (2018); Common Third, Copperfield, London (2018); Carefully Cleansed of Labour and Softened by Cooking, Compressor, London (2018); and Sweet Swollen, Jerwood Visual Arts: Project Space, London (2018). Holly is Head of Artist Development at Turf Projects, Croydon, and is Co-Founder of Cypher BILLBOARD, London.

Read more about Art Licks issue 20 (Spring 2017) and purchase back copies

Art Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers. Copyright the artist & Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers (detail). Copyright the artist & Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers (detail). Copyright the artist & Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers. Copyright the artist & Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers. Copyright the artist & Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), featuring Holly Graham. Copyright Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers. Copyright the artist & Art LicksArt Licks, Issue 20 (Spring 2017), Holly Graham, After Harry Jacobs: Green Fingers (detail). Copyright the artist & Art Licks