Emerging Voices – Holly Rae Tharnish


Jeff Turner

Driving down Maple Street, you may notice that the Benson district in Omaha dawns an eye-catching mural – a moveable feast of bright color with three simple statements, “Historic Benson – All Are Welcome – Refugees Are Welcome.” One of the collaborators on this mural is recent University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) graduate, Holly Rae Tharnish, an art student with a clear love of her craft.

“As a kid, using my imagination was my favorite thing to do,” Tharnish said. “Many artists have a similar experience of having this innate tendency toward making art. People who are artists as adults have figured out how to stay a child in some form. Growing up, I found many things that I was good at, but there was nothing I wanted to do more than to make art all day. In high school, I decided to professionally pursue something creative.”

Tharnish graduated from UNO last summer, and in her final semester she put on an art exhibition for her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) thesis.

“At UNO, I rediscovered oil painting and fell head-over-heels in love with the material,” Tharnish said. “Later, I grew to love installation art as well. I combined both of these art forms with my personal sensitivity to history and created my thesis exhibition. Knowing I wanted to work as a professional artist was easy.”

Tharnish works in a variety of genres, and her oil painting “Womanly,” presented for her thesis, commands the eye of any who enter the room. Rich in detail, the work is not quite realism, but that does not diminish its draw. It’s a work that you don’t glance at—it draws you in and then attracts all of your attention and focus.

Tharnish’s artistic influences are vast and unique.

“Michelangelo’s hyper-figurations, Vincent van Gogh’s use of color and emotion and Mary Cassatt’s sensitivity to the lives of women are often on my mind,” Tharnish said. “Some modern artists that I admire are Hannah Wilke for her vulnerability, Judy Chicago for her grace in recognizing women and informing feminist theory, Alyssa Monks for her amazing painting techniques and Brad Kunkle for his incredible use of color and storytelling.”

Along with projects such as the Benson mural, Holly Rae has stayed busy since graduating from UNO.

“I have been busy setting up my new at-home studio space,” Tharnish said. “In the BFA program at UNO, I was able to have a consistent workspace in the painting studio which allowed me to establish a consistent studio practice, practice time management and self-discipline and helped me learn what kind of practice works for me. I thrive on stability, organization and routine, so that is something I am working to establish here at home.”

While she does expect to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in the next few years, Tharnish plans to work in Omaha for the time being. She will have her first solo art exhibition at the Florence Mill in September.