The many visions of John Holladay
If there's an artist on Martha's Vineyard whose diverse talents, rather than his age, lend themselves to a retrospective, it is John Holladay. As serious about his work as he is affable, this artist is a master of watercolor, acrylics, oil pastels, pen and ink, graphic and computer art. His style changes accordingly in each medium, and at his solo show opening this weekend at Featherstone Center for the Arts you might think you're viewing the work of multiple artists.
Mr. Holladay, a teacher at Featherstone and computer graphics and animation teacher at Falmouth High School, explains his exposure to a multitude of media. "The possibilities with computer graphics fascinate me," he says, "but I'm going to leave that to the young kids. In teaching you have to allow kids to try different things, so I was always experimenting with different techniques. I don't believe in teaching things that I don't use."
Photos by M.C. Wallo
A willingness to expand and diversify has been the key to Mr. Holladay's long and successful career. "One of the things I always say to my students is, if you get in a rut, do something different," he says.
For the past eight years, Mr. Holladay has been teaching watercolor painting, which he considers his forte, at Featherstone. "People love his classes," says Featherstone director Francine Kelly. "He teaches his watercolor techniques through his demos. I think it's really special to watch how it's done rather then pedantically going through the process."
Mr. Holladay has a passion for sharing his talent: "I love to teach. I love to see someone grow and learn something because I love to see that in myself. I have no hesitation to give out any of my information."
The artist, who shows regularly at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven and the Artisan's Festival in West Tisbury, has never had a one-man show at Featherstone. When Ms. Kelly decided that the time was right for a retrospective, Mr. Holladay hesitated, but not for long. After all, he says, "You don't say no to Francine."
Commenting on the variety of styles represented in the retrospective, Ms. Kelly says, "He used to do a lot of sailboats and subtle watercolors, then an acrylic phase with bright bold colors. He also has a beautiful delicate series of the details of the campground cottages which are just exquisite."
Mr. Holladay's evolving style has kept him in demand as an artist for over three decades. After teaching art at the high school and college level for 10 years in Iowa, he embarked on what became an extremely successful career as a graphic artist. He created a series of large cartoon-style posters of stadium scenes for 50 university football teams and then for all of the NFL teams that became popular around the country. He illustrated a series of eight children's books, produced artwork for corporations like John Deere, brochures for the Chicago Cubs, jigsaw puzzles, greeting cards and tee-shirts. His style during that period was essentially cartooning, an art form that he continues to pursue. "When I was in grade school and high school I did cartoons as a way to release tension," he says, explaining how naturally that talent is expressed.
Still, when he first moved to the East Coast, a move based on his desire to devote himself to painting, and the Vineyard's abundance of natural sea and landscapes, Mr. Holladay vowed that he would never do another cartoon. His resolve didn't last long: "I love people too much and I love to make positive comments on people's life. Taking everyday life and looking at it with a positive stroke."
His whimsical takes on Vineyard life are included in the retrospective, as are his notebook sketches of people commuting to and from Martha's Vineyard on the ferries, which the artist/teacher rides daily.
The show will feature many recent Vineyard landscapes in both acrylic and watercolor, posters, including of the iconic football stadium drawings which brought Mr. Holladay so much exposure in the 80s, and some surprises.
Opening Reception for John Holladay, Sunday, Feb. 9, 4-6 pm, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. Watercolors, acrylics, monoprints, cartoons, cards. Through March 4. For more information, call 508-693-1850.