PRINT November 1963

Three California Artists: Tom Holland

TOM HOLLAND WAS BORN IN 1936 in Seattle, Washington. M.F.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied with David Park and, finding himself sympathetic to Park’s ideas, absorbed them to produce excellent, close-valued figure studies and landscapes in that tradition. Awarded a Fulbright Grant in 1960, he spent one year working in Santiago, Chile. Persuaded more by his own inner vision than by the Indian environment around him, Holland completed, in the last few weeks of his stay, six paintings in which he totally and permanently changed his approach.

Holland’s subject can be broadly defined as landscape—one in which he finds the iconic, the ritualistic, the eternal. His work is anything but modish. It assumes a contemporary look because it contains an element of shock value. His idols are fierce, awesome, even intimidating. His art’s real merit lies in its fresh, direct approach to the basic fact of life, change and renewal.

In modern art the iconic is usually presented in the simplest, most abstract terms. Holland personalizes these “toys” of his imagination by concretizing his subject matter. He gouges the thick paint surface with his fingers and the resulting grooved texture becomes also an imprint of his personality. The canvas has been passionately worked over. Moreover, he often builds elaborate constructions and stretches the canvas over them; this becomes the basis for a dialogue between the work as painting and the work as totem. Recently he has taken to building lizards and other animals and by so doing may have taken his stress on the concrete too far, creating not paintings with iconic implications, but out and out totems with only a vestige of the act of painting.

Holland is primarily a colorist. He applies a brilliant undercoat to all his work and then overpaints it with a mud-colored topcoat, which he grooves with the stroke that is his signature. The undercoat shows through and is often reinforced with patches of color on the surface. The effect is highly luminous in very much the same way that Philip Guston’s surface is. Currently, Holland is starting to use color in his final surface, but the effect remains the same. His drawings are gay color charts for his paintings. He seems to have little interest in formal drawing problems.

Tom Holland is the kind of painter who belongs more to the world of art than to the art world. In the tradition of American pastoral, such as Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove, Holland possesses a tremendous fund of creativity which seems to arise out of his intuition about life, rather than from esthetic concerns. Like the great European expressionists, Holland uses his art, not as a guideline for personal discovery, but as a language reaching out into the world and speaking there for him.

Joanna C. Magloff