The Broadcast / Holly Bendall: Knowing The Feeling

Holly Bendall: Knowing The Feeling

From adrenaline-fuelled action sports to the serenity of the studio. We spoke to Holly Bendall about her journey to becoming an artist, and how her sculptures are intimately linked to the sea.


5 min read

Holly Bendall interviewed by Zak Rayment

Photography by Abbi Hughes & Luke Gartside

“I’ve done all sorts of different extreme sports! I like to try things and then I'll obsess about it and do it for a period of time, get to a level I'm really happy with, and then I'm like, ‘oh, something else has popped up. Let me try that!’”

Quiet and unassuming on first meeting, Holly Bendall’s eyes light up when talking about her love of action sports. Having moved to Dorset with her family at the age of 6, watersports became an early childhood love and, after being introduced to the local skate park, she quickly showed aptitude in a variety of pursuits. “I absolutely loved it”, she recalls, “All sports basically, I just wanted to be outside all the time.”

By the age of 15 she was sponsored by Fox for BMX, followed soon after by a move to Animal as a sponsored snowboarder, BMX rider and also picking up surfing. After attending university in Falmouth, relocation to London for an internship with Rapha would open the doors to a new sporting obsession and the world of road cycling. Her natural ability shone through once more. Embedding herself in the London cycling scene led to further unexpected sporting opportunities, and Holly was headhunted to join the Women’s Olympic training squad for kitesurfing.

“I told them I’d never done that, and they were like, ‘that’s fine, we’ll teach you!’ So they taught me to kite surf”, Holly explains, in a casual matter-of-fact way that belies the scale of the challenge. “I ended up going to Australia and I did a Red Bull kitesurf race out there. We went to Perth and got the ferry across to Rottnest Island, then we kite surfed 30 kilometres through shark infested waters back to the mainland!”

Unfortunately, that Olympic career was not to be. Injuries, and the prospect of a gruelling six-year commitment to something that Holly wasn’t even sure she wanted, were enough to dissuade her. This is also where the transition to artist and sculptor began.

“I never thought it would be a career.” Holly remarks when asked about her new found success, “I did a little bit of sculpture at school, and design is sort of ‘making’, but not like sculpture. It's a very different art. It has a function. It's for something, and it's always trying to be better, and proven. Whereas with art it's just… a feeling.”

Her first major sculpture was an instant success, carrying a poignant message encouraging people to consider where exactly their food comes from. Titled ‘Waiting For Fish’ (although more popularly known as Dave and Bird) the sculpture depicts a man sitting beside a gull, as they both await the return of the fishermen with their daily catch.

“With Dave in particular, I just really noticed him.” Holly explains, remembering her initial sketch that became the inspiration for the finished sculpture. “The way that he was staring out to sea, and that feeling that he was waiting for the fisherman to come. I can't really describe it in words, but just that pose he had. I was like, ‘I know that feeling’. He's just staring at the horizon, looking at the sea. It's such an incredible place, that's what really drew me to him.”

Her latest work is in the studio for our visit. A life-sized plaster cast of a heavily wetsuited figure, hood pulled tight over the chin, hands clasped in a moment of contemplation. Instantly recognisable to the initiated, the tall figure is that of Nick Pumphrey, an artist and photographer from St Ives, the pose inspired by a photograph taken by Nick’s friend, Warbey.

“I spoke to Nick about that picture” Holly continues, filling in the context behind the image, “He’d been shooting in the water for hours, trying to get this shot of the backwash off of the pier, and then the breakwater started working behind him. So he’s sitting there thinking, ‘do I have enough energy to get back in the water for a surf?’ As soon as I saw that photo, again, I was like, ‘I know that feeling’. It spoke to me. The way his body was in that position, I just had to make that. And I'd love to put it back in that position, back on the harbour wall in St Ives.”

From Dave to Nick to the other works that she’s been commissioned to create, Holly’s sculptures and sketches are linked by a common thread; the figure’s relationship to the sea. It is, of course, a reflection of Holly’s own innate connection to the ocean. “I actually can't really even go a few days without going in the sea”, she remarks, “My partner says I turn a bit pale! If I have a headache, or if I'm maybe overthinking or anything, she'll just get me back in the sea. It's like a recharge, a re-balance.”

That re-balance is essential to provide the motivation and clarity which Holly carries into the studio to create her work. “I think I love it even more when it's really stormy and rough,” she explains, “Because I feel confident in my ability being in the sea, I feel more at home there than I do in a busy social situation! That business and that energy and that excitement and that playfulness, it completely fills me up and gives me time to just be calm and process things. If I haven't had that exercise, I go into my studio and feel a bit hazy, like I haven't really woken up yet. But if I've been in the sea, I feel energised.”

Her passion and love for the sea is another motivation behind Holly’s work, going beyond her own personal enjoyment of it and trying to get people to think about protecting this incredible environment. “We need to protect the sea but what I've seen of activism and protests, there's all this noise from different sides. It's very loud and it can just be so depressing. But when you come from a place of hope, there is a chance.”

“That was another reason why I pushed Dave so much”, she remarks, explaining that the initial motivation for going to Cadgwith was to hear more from the local fishermen who were raising money to save their net lofts, “Seeing the father and son teams was amazing. There's such a community there, it’s literally a way of life for them. So I just wanted people to question where their fish comes from. Do you want to buy it from the supermarket, where it's come from a farm? Or do you want to buy it from these fishermen, who go out every single day, and actually care about the fish and the environment?”


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