Holden Mesk Talks Asheville, Success and Memes as Art

Interview by Jefferson Ellison, done in Partnership w/ AVLtoday.

Holden Mesk is an illustrator, collage artist, and graphic designer living in Asheville, NC. Known for his love of abandoned shopping malls and his charmingly full mustache, Mesk has become somewhat of an Instagram celebrity thanks to his fresh and whimsical approach to design.

When deciding which Asheville creative to interview for this project, I knew immediately that Holden needed to be involved. I first encountered his work and his personality when I saw a YouTube video by Big Cartel highlighting Holden’s approach to all things design. I found his work approachable, his wit charming, and the video well shot. But more than anything, I found him believable.

When dealing with art that has commercial purpose and application, many times the creativity can feel “phoned in." But from the moment Mesk said “These are things you see in everyday life,” I knew that wasn't the case. Mesk is a genuine artist whose aim is to help the world see itself in a different way. He offers us a meditative break from reality and presents us with the opportunity to see the world as it could be rather than simply, as it is.

Your portfolio is quite robust. How have you been able to find success? How do you define it?

I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and the clients I’ve gotten to work with! Interacting with folks on Instagram, making connections locally, and always trying to be open to projects of all sizes are what I’d credit my success to.

I define success by waking up every day and feeling proud of all the work I’ve done. In the end it really isn’t about clients, sales, followers, likes, etc and it all boils down to how stoked I am on the art I’ve made. Harnessing the creativity inside you and then turning that into a real thing is no small feat and I think anybody doing that should feel successful.

We live in a world where memes can be considered as “art”. Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?

Memes are most definitely art! I am blown away on the daily by memes and think they’re a vital and creative medium in our current landscape. Pushing the boundary of what people consider art is something I’ve always loved and memes are certainly worthy of deeming art. Shout out @patiasfantasyworld, @welcometomymemepage, and many other wonderful meme accounts that always make my day better.

Where do you hope to be in the next 5 years?

I really want to move to the West Coast! I’ve always loved it out there and have felt like it’s where I’m meant to be. Beyond that, I hope I am still making art on the daily and chilling to the max whenever I can.

How have you used the evolving technological landscape to your advantage with your work?

Instagram hands down has boosted my career in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Being able to share my work and have it be seen by people all over the world with just a few taps on my phone is wild. Additionally, it’s made it easy to make connections with folks and I’ve gotten to become pals with so many new people!

Why do you live in Asheville? How has it positively or negatively impacted your life?

I moved here from Hollywood, FL with my family in 2005 when I was 11. Being a kid in Florida and then growing up here in the mountains was really cool for me. I was used to the beachy palm tree vibe, and switching that out for waterfalls and twisty roads opened my mind in different ways. As far as my art career goes, the community here has been wonderful and I’ve felt very supported. Shout out Horse + Hero!

What does a typical Friday night look like for you?

Lately it’s been my partner and I playing video games and eating grapefruit under a blanket on our couch. Haha, but on a typical non-quarantine Friday night in Asheville, you can catch me riding my bike, eating tacos, or hanging with friends––sometimes all three combined.

If you could compare your art to a music genre, what would it be and why?

I’d have to say mallsoft, which is a subgenre of vaporwave that’s all about playing on the 80s/90’s shopping mall aesthetic. I’ve always been inspired by vintage shopping mall design and have used mallsoft/vaporwave style songs in some of my shop videos––it’s just what feels right.

Where’s your favorite spot to grab collage materials? What do you typically look for in a book to cut out?

Thrift stores, yard sales, antique shops, and sometimes ebay! The thrill of the hunt is really what keeps me going because there’s nothing like finding a rad vintage magazine in a box of dusty books. National Geographic mags are my go-to and seem to be the standard for collage artists. I typically look for expansive images of nature that I can manipulate, as well as interesting shots of people that can be cut-out.

What can we expect next from Holden Mesk? Any secret projects or collaborations coming up?

I have a new pin dropping with Deja Pins sometime soon that I’m really excited about, I’ve got some new client work that I can’t wait to share, and I’ve also been dabbling with learning simple animation. Y’all better prepare yourselves to see some Holden Mesk GIFs in the very near future. ;)

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing with your life?

Ever since childhood I’ve always felt creativity pulsing through me, so it’s weird to think of a life where I wouldn’t be using that creativity and making art. That being said though, I would probably be an interior designer. I blame watching countless hours of HGTV home renovation shows growing up for my love of interior design, but I’m not mad about it because I love how my apartment looks.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Skateboarding! I first got into skateboarding when I was like 13 and then ended up taking a break, but last year I got back into it. I’ve been skating every week now and am dangerously close to being able to land a kickflip. It’s really fulfilling and makes me sweaty, all while being outside and finding new spots––I love it.

Which grocery store has the most romantic vibe for you? Why?

This is a fantastic question. I would have to say Ingles, because it was the place I had my first official date with my partner almost 8 years ago. I got off work late and we didn’t know where to eat so we both decided to just go to Ingles and grab little snacks. Walking around the aisles at night perusing graham crackers and apples while BBMak’s “Back Here” plays softly overhead is a one of a kind experience. Although Harris Teeter is where we now primarily go for all of our grocery needs, Ingles still has a tender place in my heart. Also mandatory shout out to Trader Joes of course.

Where is your local go-to spot for inspiration?

Ooh, I have a whole bunch and am always trying to find more. I don’t wanna spill the beans on all my spots, but I will say that Innsbruck Mall has provided me with heaps of inspiration. It’s a nearly abandoned mall built in the sixties that is on its last legs, the bizarre medieval theme and luscious indoor plants keeps me coming back. You can see inside the mall in this documentary that Big Cartel made about me back in 2018! You can see more of Holden's work here and be sure to follow him on Instagram and Facebook.