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Wednesday Holmes: Art as an Act of Survival

This year, we’re celebrating Pride by acknowledging the LGBTQIA+ community’s long-standing history of breaking down barriers and lifting each other up. Throughout June, we’re featuring customers who embody the reality that resilience isn’t only about being persistent—it’s also about becoming stronger than before. From building community, to fueling creativity and encouraging activism, we’re honoring the LGBTQIA+ community as a continual source of strength, evolution, and inspiration.

For Wednesday Holmes, resilience is a foundational part of their lived experience, and it inspires many of the themes reflected in their illustrations. They talked to Squarespace about finding unexpected support and community online, and how art, activism, and Queerness are inextricably linked in everything they create.

SQUARESPACE: You’re an established Queer illustrator and content creator. How did you start on this career path?

WEDNESDAY HOLMES: I started making art initially as an act of survival. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and one day I picked up a pen and began to draw. I found that the act of making could help me to stop thinking so much. It was a relief. And I realized that after the drawing was finished, I had made something beautiful out of a bad feeling. This was a powerful step in reclaiming my control with regards to my mental health. In this way art became my language. I would paint and draw every single day. I quickly realized that I didn't want to do much else. It fit me perfectly and became my method of healing. After that I started to get better. It brought me out of the toughest period of my life yet. 

I had so much art, and was still unable to hold down a job because of my bipolar disorder. I had always thought that being an artist was never a job for people like me. But my friends loved my paintings. They were so supportive. They bought them. Then I started selling them at illustration fairs and listed some prints online. I struggled to make any sufficient money — but I realized this was my dream. So when my partner got a new job in Cardiff I moved with her. I enlisted for an art foundation year — I have never felt like a school fit me more. I loved that all my time was spent being immersed in art. I loved the challenge of creative briefs. When it came to the final project, I got to choose my own brief. By this time I had realized that there is no distinction between my art and me. It is me. There’s no part of myself that my art can ignore. 

A huge part of my experience has been rooted in the fact that I'm Queer. Being Queer has given me the deepest love I will ever know, it's given me the deepest pain I will ever know. There was no way I could avoid it. And I actually didn't want to anymore. So I created artworks that were about being Queer, and these artworks were not received well. They were deemed offensive. There was one in question, which was simply a canvas with Queer moments in history on it. But here I had an experienced artist and tutor being so defensive and aggressive about its existence. After this I realized that no artists are immune from social bias. And I wasn't going to pay thousands of pounds for a university where my traumas were going to repeat themselves. So I started drawing about being Queer and created my own space. I knew if I needed to talk about it, then there must be people like me who need it. My dad let me draw on his old tablet. I started to make these artworks and post them on Instagram. That was the beginning.

SQSP: What role has your online presence played in growing your career and your following?

WH: My online presence helped me to reach people who want to connect with my work. I always struggled to find Queer people in real life, especially as a chronically ill person in recovery. Putting my work online allowed me to find thousands of people like me. I was happy someone liked my work. I was happy that my work was helping people.

I really care about Queer people, and I know the world fails at caring for us. I think when I started to make work that connected with people, clients started to recognize it. I believed that, because I'm chronically ill and without a degree, I would never get far—let alone become financially stable—but I found that people online actually started to celebrate my differences. That is something I'm not sure I'll ever get in real life. The support of my artwork online has changed my whole life.

SQSP: As an illustrator, where do you find creative inspiration?

WH: When I was younger, I struggled to read very quickly, but what used to make me pick up a book was the illustrations. From there, I really appreciated how consuming art can affect real life. I got really into reading. I enjoyed it. The illustrations were an invitation to explore the worlds under the cover. Art is everywhere. Illustration is everywhere. The whole world is inspiring.

Since I started sharing online I got connected with so many other Queer artists. I loved that at the touch of a hand, I could find other young people making such different artwork. Everyone else has their own languages. There are so many incredible contemporary Queer artists on instagram, ready for us to encounter. I love them and they all inspire me in different ways.

SQSP: Whether it’s writing, photography, or illustration, your art consistently centers the Queer community. What role does activism play in your creative process?

WH: When I started, I had no intention of being an activist. But I think when you speak up about being marginalized, it can be easy for that to be interpreted as activism. A cishet, able-bodied, thin artist can talk about their life and it’s just art. I talk about my experiences and it’s activism. It’s a reality that Queer people feel silenced. I have felt silenced my whole life. It’s like the world says "we know you’re trans/a lesbian, but shut up about it." They want us to be small. So my art started to get big, which is interpreted as revolutionary. Someone like me loving myself and others like me is revolutionary, which isn't altogether the most comfortable truth. But that’s it.

Later on, I started making educational artworks. One of the most exhausting parts of being Queer is the constant coming out process and the need for cishet people to ask me to teach them about their ignorance. I realized if I could put learning into artwork, it could be an easily sharable resource for other Queers to send people in these circumstances, instead of having to educate them.

Artivism came very naturally to me. If I feel angry, upset, or I want to activate allies, I can use art to demand action. I can use art to create posters for community organizing, I can use art to amplify. I started a Queer activist group where I could give my services as an artist to the team, to facilitate the seeking of Queer liberation.

SQSP: This year, Squarespace is exploring the idea of ‘resilience as a revolution’ as it relates to pride. How does the idea of resilience factor into your definition of pride and your experience as part of the LGBTQIA+ community?

WH: Resilience is something that I have become quite a master at because of the way my world has treated my Queerness. I must be resilient to survive, and even more resilient to thrive. And I want to thrive. I resent that we have to be resilient. I wish we could just be permitted to be soft without having to be strong. We have to be resilient to achieve liberation. The world throws inhumane challenges at Queer and trans people. I'm tired of being resilient. But for me there is no option than to have pride in who I am. I will never ever go back. Never.

When we have pride in ourselves, others can also be proud of themselves, and in this way we create a chain. It's a chain of the old giving the young the inspiration to not only just survive, but to know that they are already worthy of thriving just as they are. Pride is resilience. It’s softness, it’s strength, it’s bravery, it’s deep love.

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