Ar thur Holman
Ar thur Holman
Arthur Holman: Luminous Energy with essays by Patricia Watts and Connie Smith Siegel This catalogue is published with funding from the Holman Trust to commemorate the artist’s sixty-year career. Special thanks to Mark and Maura Abrahams, and Bob and Anna Berryman. Maura and Anna are the nieces of the artist. Also, special thanks to Connie Smith Siegel, Holman’s good friend and colleague, for sharing her knowledge of the artist’s life and work. Publication design by Jasmine Moorhead Printed by Greenerprinter, Point Richmond, CA Slides photographed by the artist and scanned by Bob Berryman Cover image: Nebulosity in Scorpio, 2002 (detail; see page 47); back cover: Palomarin, 1977 (see page 25) Essay “Arthur Holman: Painting Nature’s Energy” © 2017 Patricia Watts Essay “Arthur Holman: A Legacy of Light” ©2017 Connie Smith Siegel Publication © 2017 the Holman Trust Artwork © 2017 and courtesy of the Holman Trust Published by Watts Art Publications wattsartadvisory.com
Introduction: Art’s Trust Mark Abrahams
met Art in 1981. I had been dating his niece Maura, and when the relationship became serious enough for us to meet one another’s families, we made the trek to Marin to visit her artist uncle. Although Art’s life hadn’t intertwined a great deal with those of his nieces and nephew as they were growing up, his love for them was always evident. Maura had already shown me the painting that Art created the morning of her birth in 1957 as he sat gazing at the sunrise. On that day, he was at his sister’s San Francisco apartment watching Maura’s five-year-old brother, Stephen. Perhaps this scene foreshadowed events that would occur thirty-five years later; Art would again care for his nephew, as Stephen, suffering from a prolonged illness, would spend the final months of his life at Art’s peaceful Lagunitas home. A quiet man, Art had no trouble demonstrating his love through his art and through his actions. At that first meeting, Art and I hit it off immediately. He was impressed that I built cabinets to pay my way through law school and, later, enthusiastic that I chose to renovate homes for my life’s vocation rather than practice law. I was a novice in the world of art, but his paintings awed me. Maura and I began acquiring our own collection of Art’s work, beginning with a large painting, Wild Roses, that Art presented to us for our wedding in 1984. This vibrant painting has remained my favorite piece of his that we have hanging in our house, even as the years went by and we brought home more and more of his works. Art could show his friends his remodeled kitchen, his updated bathroom, his new heating system. We can revel in the paintings and drawings that literally cover the walls of our house. I was Art’s nephew, his friend, and finally his caretaker. During the eighties and nineties, I saw him only periodically, but our relationship began to change as Art got
arthur holman. wild roses. 1980. oil on canvas. 50 x 65 inches.
older and became less mobile. When his bones began stubbornly refusing to produce enough red blood cells, my trips to Marin became a monthly event, driving him to the VA hospital in San Francisco for blood transfusions. Art was a completely independent being, but as his body continued to fail, he finally agreed to come live with Maura and me in Sacramento. He stayed in constant communication with his closest friends, and even though he missed his studio, he still did some painting. Art remained thoroughly dedicated to his work, until the evening he passed on to the next “plane” that he was bravely seeking. I’m grateful that Art placed his trust in me. It was personally uplifting to accept responsibility for the physical and emotional needs of another, and I am gratified to know that I helped Art transition through his final days with dignity. He trusted me with his mortality, and he trusted me with his legacy. With this monograph I begin the process of preserving that legacy, a body of works that moves and transports me to the places Art’s paintings evoke—whether a wave on the ocean, a hillside, a constellation, or a bed of roses. 3
“It seems to me that when a painter has accomplished quality—through purity of inner vision—fulfillment and pleasure can result both on the part of the painter and the audience. Because of the experience of quality, the sensation beyond the ordinary can take us into the realm of new emotions, and we can, thereby, reach a level of ecstasy on which we are able to rise above the purely physical into the field of the spiritual.” —Raymond Jonson
Arthur Holman: Painting Nature’s Energy
rt Holman, known early in his career in San Francisco during the 1950s as Arthur, was born Arthur Stearns Holman in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. His mother, Barbara Hendry Holman, who majored in geology at the University of Chicago, moved to Oklahoma to work for the Phillips Oil Company in 1917. There she met Arthur’s father, Newton Holman, who was a tax specialist working for Imperial Oil. After a prolonged courtship, Barbara and Newton married in 1924. Arthur was born in 1926, and his sister Margaret arrived two years later, in 1928, one year before the stock market crashed. In 1931, after losing his job, Newton moved the family to Illinois, where he was able to secure work with the Natural Gas Pipeline Company. In Chicago, Holman’s family lived in the suburb of Oak Park, where most of his mother’s family had already settled. At around ten years of age, the young Holman developed a passion for marionettes, which he made with his sister, Margaret. His father, Newton, built them a stage so that they could give performances for friends and neighbors. Possibly of influence was the fact that Alexander Calder, who performed the Cirque Calder between 1926 and 1931, had his first solo exhibition at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago in 1935. Later, after the family moved from Oak Park to Elmhurst, Holman was involved in a high school theater program at York High, where he painted theatrical sets. His niece, Maura Abrahams, Margaret’s daughter, states that Holman “always viewed that year as his turning point.” After high school, Holman briefly attended the University of Illinois, Chicago, then, at eighteen years old, he enlisted in the Army, serving stateside for three years, from 1944 to 1947. When the war
Patricia Watts ended he learned that the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (UNM) had an excellent art program, so he matriculated there on the GI Bill. This was also a good environment for his serious lung problems; he had suffered from pneumonia, which had developed from a bad case of measles contracted during his time in the service. While at UNM, from 1947 to 1951, Holman studied painting in his first semester with Agnes Martin, who was thirty-five years old at the time, and also took a design class with her in 1948. Martin herself attended graduate school at UNM in 1946–47, the year before Holman’s arrival, and only taught for one year there. While at UNM she mostly painted landscapes and had yet to develop her abstractions of the mid-1950s or her grid paintings, which evolved during the mid-1960s.
arthur holman. untitled (landscape). summer paper. 13 x
18 1/2 inches.
1950. casein on
Holman, like Martin while a graduate student at UNM, studied with Raymond Jonson, cofounder of the Transcendental Group of 1938–1942. Jonson, who considered himself a post-Surrealist, created mystical fields of color relationships and sought to change the language of art by exploring the spiritual.1
He was inspired by the work of Nicholas Roerich, a Russian spiritualist painter, whose paintings he viewed in 1921 while teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1924 Jonson moved to New Mexico, following the path of Roerich who had stayed in Taos before him. During this time Jonson was painting his nonobjective abstractions. After twenty years of teaching at UNM, full-time since 1949, Jonson retired in 1954 and then ran the Jonson Gallery until 1978.
arthur holman. untitled (fall).
24 x 30 inches.
1951. oil on canvas.
Holman felt that the atmosphere at UNM was inviting, and that teachers encouraged and befriended the students. Bay Area artist Richard Diebenkorn, who was a graduate student during Holman’s last year in the program, was also connected to Raymond Jonson, who was on his graduate committee. During Holman’s time at UNM, he was offered the opportunity both to know Jonson and to be influenced by his painting style and the legacy of his Group. Ultimately, however, Holman would reach beyond the Modernist abstract movement back to the great masters for his painterly influences, combining an impressionist style with a contemporary engagement with nature, while adding a spiritual dimension of light and color. And like Jonson, who aimed to create images that provoked sensations and feelings, Holman sought to achieve the experiential with his paintings.
In 1951 Holman graduated with distinction from UNM with a degree in painting and art history, and that summer he traveled to Provincetown, Massachusetts to study with Hans Hofmann. His time line following that summer on the East Coast probably included a side trip to New York to visit museums and galleries, although this is not confirmed. It is understood by his family that Holman returned to Albuquerque that year, where he worked in a bookstore before moving to San Francisco in 1953. Holman’s sister, Margaret, had moved to San Francisco earlier that year. During his first year in the Bay Area, Holman lived on a houseboat in Sausalito and took a printmaking class at the California School of Fine Arts. From loan forms for gallery and museum shows in San Francisco, it appears he also lived in Mill Valley on Janes Street in a house he shared with a married couple. Margaret would visit him there on Sundays, and he would give her painting lessons. In 1955 Holman and Margaret traveled together to Europe, after which the artist stayed an additional six months traveling alone and visiting museums. Around 1958–59, Holman moved to Texas Avenue in San Francisco, in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. His friend John Paul Thomas, a painter who was a year his junior, lived in the flat above Holman. Thomas is known for creating a system of grids for his paintings, which he developed based on his studies of Italian Renaissance painters while in Rome in 1954–55. From Holman’s exhibition resume, it is evident that he was off to a great start following his time in New Mexico. At around thirty years of age, he participated in some of the most important exhibitions of California artists of the late 1950s and early 1960s, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. In 1954, he won a prize for a monoprint he submitted to the Eighteenth Annual Drawing and Print Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, in which Jay DeFeo received an honorable mention for a gouache-and-ink drawing. And by 1958, Richard or “Dick” Faralla, who was the administrative director of San Francisco’s Bolles Gallery, considered Holman their star artist. Faralla was also an artist and a good friend of Hol-
man’s. In a review of a show of Holman’s work the same year at Bolles, one of Holman’s larger works, Spectrum, was mentioned. This six-panel painting meant to induce contemplation or meditation was described as “tranquil like the sound of a bronze gong.”2 In 1958–59 his painting style became very stark and monochromatic, and surfaces gained an allover slightly layered vibrating texture. He was featured among a number of artists who are now well regarded in current art world collectors’ circles. In reviews of his work he was often referred to as an abstract impressionist who employed textural devices and a deft application of pigment, which resulted in lyrical expressions of light in nature and the heavens. Holman was included in the annual UCLA Art Council exhibition at the Wight Gallery titled California Painters and Sculptors, Thirty-five and Under, curated by Jules Langsner in 1959. The exhibition included Karl Benjamin, DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Ed Moses, and others such as Harry Cohen, also a long-time artist of the San Geronimo Valley. Cohen and Holman were both represented by Bolles at the time. The same year, he participated in his first group show in New York at the Alan Gallery. A New York Times reviewer stated, “He has a delicate, Turneresque touch and endows his shimmering visions with a true mystery. He is interested in the atmospheric, continuous concept of space widely practiced now, but he never lets it get out of hand. Each painting has an important central focus.”3 And for the obscure though important exhibition titled The Individual and His World, also in 1959, Holman was one of ten Bay Area artists who were presented at the California School of Fine Arts, juxtaposed with portraits of the artists in their homes taken by photographer Jerry Burchard. Curated by artist Fred Martin, the director of the San Francisco Art Association’s Art Bank, the exhibition also included Jeremy Anderson, Joe Botherton, Bruce Conner, DeFeo, Helen Dunham, Art Grant, Wally Hedrick, Seymour Locks, and David Simpson. The show traveled to several university galleries, at Am-
herst, Massachusetts; Delaware; Memphis; Pensacola, Florida; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Fayetteville, Arkansas. Holman had three works in this exhibition: Field, Third Force, and Under Sea.
arthur holman. untitled.
8 3/16 inches.
1960. oil on canvas. 6 3/8
In May 1960 critic Dean Wallace wrote an arts editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, which stated, “some of the biggest guns in the city’s artistic arsenal are—Anderson, Bischoff, Conner, DeFeo, Diebenkorn, DuCasse, Hedrick, Holman, Lemon, Lobdell, McChesney, Morehouse, Neri, Oliveira, Park, Saccaro, Siegriest and Tchakalian.” That year, Holman was included in the annual San Francisco Art Association Members’ Exhibition at the de Young Museum. In a review of this show, which featured his painting Blue Gradation, the critic stated, “Impressionism becomes abstract in his all-over pointillist work.” 4 Holman was also part of the exhibition A Look at Recent Bay Area Art at the San Francisco Museum of Art, a group show that included his paintings titled Foliation—Triad and Foliation II, both of 1960. These works take a turn toward representation. Light, leaves, and the landscape are revealed only slightly in an abstracted swirling, glowy presence. That year, he was also in an exhibition at Esther Robles Gallery in Los Angeles, which was reviewed in Art News. In 1961 Holman was again included in Form Concepts: 10 California Painters at the Downey Art Museum in
arthur holman paintings on view at the de young museum, san francisco, 1963.
Los Angeles; some of the other artists were Oskar Fischinger, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin. Holman’s paintings Escarpment II, Purple Rain, and Fall were shown. And in 1962 Holman was invited to participate in the exhibition 50 California Artists at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, organized by the San Francisco Museum of Art with assistance from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show included thirty-five painters and fifteen sculptors; artists from the Bay Area were Conner, William Wiley, Faralla, and Richard Bowman. The exhibition traveled to the Walker Art Center, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Des Moines Art Center. Also in 1962 Holman was shown in the exhibition of recent acquisitions titled Increase in Riches: The Growth of the Museum’s Collections (1959–1961) at the San Francisco Museum of Art, presenting works acquired by gift or purchase for the museum’s collection, including pieces by Joseph Albers, Conner, Arthur Dove, Gordon Onslow-Ford, Holman, and many
others. And in 1963 Holman was paired with Ruth Asawa for a drawing show at the San Francisco Museum of Art, where ceramics by Gertrud and Otto Natzler were displayed in an adjacent gallery. In the San Francisco Chronicle in 1963, critic Arthur Bloomfield reviewed a three-person exposition at the de Young, including Michel Cadoret of New York, Roberto Matta of Paris, and Holman, curated by Ninfa Valvo. Bloomfield states, “There isn’t much question that Holman is the most exciting spirit here, and this particular show represents a milestone in the extremely interesting career of a very refined young artist.” Bloomfield goes on to say, “As you delve into the intricate web of brush strokes and recede from them, too, notice the rock-like firmness of construction, the dramatic and mysterious handling of the dense yet transparently dynamic space, the artful mixture of many colors into a naturally unified rather than a diffuse color theme.” 5 Included in the expo were twelve paintings by Holman from 1962, including Blue Leaves and Hill (see pp. 16–17).
After almost ten years in San Francisco, Holman decided to move to Marin County in 1963. His first stop was a small rental in Woodacre, a nestled hillside borough where visionary artist Gage Taylor painted his psychedelic landscapes until 1983. This was a time of confusion. Abstract Expressionism had passed its zenith, and tourists were arriving in San Francisco to see the beatniks. Artists were becoming more suburbanized and were more likely to be living in the East Bay or in isolated little towns like Porta Costa or Benicia, or in the San Geronimo Valley. Through the mid-to-late 1960s, Holman was largely overlooked because of his formalist style. Also, at a time when many artists were switching to acrylics, he continued to paint in oils. These decisions, in the end, actually freed him to spend the time necessary to develop his mature style over the next forty-five years. In 1968, the year after buying his home in nearby Lagunitas, Holman began painting a representational series of cosmic trees. Through the 1970s he painted trees, skies, and moons, experimenting with color and brushstrokes, painting from perspectives different than those of traditional landscapes. By the late 1970s he joined AA and became sober. During this time, he made trips to Scotland and, in the early 1980s, to Egypt. His family says his work, taking off from this point, became bolder and more prolific. In 1982 he painted his first space paintings, which were based on Hubble Space Telescope images of nebulas and stars.With this new work, he developed his signature style, building the paint up in abbreviated brushstrokes over several months in order to capture the depth and vibration of the energy radiating from the universe. Interspersed among his space works, he continued to paint landscapes and trees and experimented with brighter colors, including shades of purples, to communicate nature’s radiance. Art Holman is referenced in Thomas Albright’s book Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–1980. In his introduction, Albright singles Holman out as an artist who has “made more distinctive contributions to Bay Area art than many artists whose work is more historically illustrative,” adding that he reached his achievement by swimming against the current rather than with it.6
From 1964 to 1969 Holman showed paintings at Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco four times. During the 1970s he exhibited at the William Sawyer Gallery in San Francisco, once at both the Bolles Gallery in Santa Rosa in 1982 and at the Braunstein Quay Gallery in 1992. Holman did participate in one last exhibition at the deYoung Museum in 1989; the show was titled 20th Century Landscape Drawings. From 2001 until his death in 2015, he had several smaller shows in and around the North Bay, including San Rafael, Point Reyes Station, San Geronimo Valley, and Sacramento. In 2015, before his death, he had one last show at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, and following his death, also in 2015, a memorial exhibition was held at the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, near his home. During his nearly fifty years of living in the San Geronimo Valley, Holman became somewhat reclusive, focusing intensely on his painting, although he always valued his many friendships. He relied on his AA friends for his sobriety, for several years attending meetings every night of the week. He cherished the time spent with his hiking friends, who shared the experiences that provided so much of his inspiration. Holman had other friends who accompanied him to the opera in San Francisco. He also had the support of his close neighbors John and Alain. And, with a group of painter friends they shared recent works and potlucks. Intensely private, however, Holman treasured his time alone. While his dedication to painting provided his lifeline, he also spent many peaceful hours reading from his extensive library and listening to classical music. As Holman grew older, he lived primarily on Social Security and received additional benefits from the Veterans Administration. He always lived frugally. Holman’s relationship with Connie Smith Siegel, a neighbor in Woodacre, developed in the 1980s when they were both represented by the William Sawyer Gallery in San Francisco. Smith Siegel, who took an interest in Holman’s relationship with color and light, included his paintings in two books she wrote: Spirit of Color and Spirit of Drawing. She reports that Holman could be brisk and feisty—exhibiting a temperament that probably explains his disdain for the art world.
Gallery in NewYork a year after Holman began his studies at UNM. There is a synchronism in their choices: both moved to a rural environment to create their art; both preferred the spiritual in painting; and both were excluded from the art world for many years. They also shared an objective to paint fields of energy, and there is a similitude between their brushstrokes.
arthur holman. energy.
2010. oil on canvas. 22 x 30 inches.
In the 1990s Holman broke his leg, and for a period of time he could not stand up to paint. Consequently, he painted smaller landscapes, which sold readily. Between 2010 and 2012, he suffered another accident, hurting his arm and hand, which for a time kept him from painting at all. In 2012 he was again able to pick up the brushes, and he painted smaller space paintings until 2014. These were his last works. This essay serves as a starting point for delving deeper into Arthur Holman’s oeuvre, to learn more about his influences and painting techniques. This talented and under recognized Bay Area artist created more than eight hundred paintings during his lifetime. Most of them were purchased by collectors through the years, but his estate left over one hundred drawings, paintings, and sculptures to his nieces and nephews.While his time line and locations are fairly clear, his artistic influences have yet to be examined thoroughly. Specific artists whom Holman appreciated are brought to light in Smith Siegel’s essay in the current volume. She also introduces Holman’s use of a grid, which he used in constructing his paintings; this technique deserves further research. While we know a great deal about Holman’s life, there is much we don’t know about the other postwar painters who might have influenced and inspired him. One artist who took a comparable path was East Coast artist Richard Pousette-Dart, who started showing at Betty Parsons
Of course, Holman is a culmination of his life experiences—his encounters with Agnes Martin, Raymond Johnson, and John Paul Thomas, for example. However, his most powerful teacher was his exposure to the elemental forces of West Marin County. Other artists, such as Gordon Onslow Ford and John Anderson, had also experienced these other worlds in Inverness, exhibited through their unconscious painting styles. The earth, the trees, the wind, and the sky, combined with the water and light, form a magical zeitgeist in the forests of the North Woods. Holman belonged to this special group of artists who lived and made their work in nature. Despite the absence of art world approval for many years, he was able to dedicate himself to creating works that illuminate his experience of this unique place. We are graced by his gifts. “Each one of us has a certain aura, a certain vibration, a certain contribution. And, I think that is what it is all about. I don’t think that one is better than another, or they’re all different. They’re all unique. And, I think of this period in which people are concerned, the abstract expressionists, I think there are so many wonderful people that were working at that time and are working now, that people don’t know about, or make anything about. There are marvelous artists around. I think that we don’t seek them out enough, we don’t dig for them.” —Richard Pousette-Dart, 1990 Notes: 1. Video, http://www.nmartmuseum.org/cypher-space/ transcendental-painters-group-1152015.html 2. Miriam Duncan Cross (art editor), review, Oakland Tribune, December 14, 1958. 3. New York Times, April 3, 1959. 4. Cross, review, Oakland Tribune, January 10, 1960. 5. San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 1963. 6. Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–1980: An Illustrated History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, xvii.
Arthur Holman: A Legacy of Light
In nature, light creates the colors, in the picture color creates light. —Hans Hofmann
lthough Art Holman had shown widely in major museums and galleries throughout his career, the artist’s two most recent exhibitions—one before and one after his death—took place in West Marin, where he had lived and worked for almost fifty years. The February 2015 show in Point Reyes Station featured his Outer Space paintings, while the Holman Memorial exhibit the following October reflected the artist’s immediate surroundings in the San Geronimo Valley. The impact of Holman’s paintings was a revelation for those not familiar with his work and a confirmation of his stature for those who were. The people who attended—family, friends, and patrons—were profoundly moved by the luminous presence of his most recent pieces. Glowing with a depth of color and inner life, when seen together the paintings em-
holman (back) with teacher hans hofmann, c.
Connie Smith Siegel bodied all the wonders of the natural world—land, sea, sky and beyond. Holman created a new vocabulary of personal expression in the visual arts through his close connection with nature and intensive metaphysical studies, while staying grounded in formal principles of past and modern masters. His unique vocabulary fulfills a tenet of his important mentor, Hans Hofmann, who asserted, “I know only one thing for certain: art starts where construction ends; only visionary experience transferred into visionary pictorial expression will produce a masterwork.” I first became aware of Holman’s work when we both exhibited in the William Sawyer Gallery in San Francisco in the 1980s. I felt a special kinship with Holman’s unique combination of nature and geometric forms. Later, he and I participated in a group show of artists in the San Geronimo Valley, an experience that evolved into regular meetings to share potluck dinners, view recent works, and mount exhibits. On separate occasions Holman and I gave each other feedback on our paintings. When we attended museum shows together, I discovered the depth of Holman’s aesthetic principles. These occasions were informative and sometimes combative when our opinions differed. He was fiercely critical of painting that did not meet his standards of what he called “form structure,” especially representational work. The power of the picture plane and the distinction between real space and metaphoric space were more than theoretical for him. Formal integrity was a matter of nourishment.
Visual form was the container for vital forces—food for his soul and sense of well-being, his life’s blood. Holman could be deeply disappointed or ecstatic after seeing an art exhibit. He was outraged at art that did not deliver the formal substance he craved—as if a restaurant had served us the menu instead of the food. Holman could always be inspired by the reproductions in books from his extensive private library. As a meditation practice he studied his art books every day before painting. Although he had a wide range of appreciation, his best and biggest books showed the old masters: Giotto, Michelangelo, the Venetians— Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto—and Rembrandt. Viewing their paintings directly in the great European museums was a pilgrimage for him—a sacred journey into the heart of form structure. Holman’s dedication was passionate. He often described his devotion to Bruegel, and would arrive exactly at the museum’s opening time to secure a precious five minutes alone with the artist before others showed up. He reported salivating at seeing a Caravaggio still life, not because of the fruit itself but because of the remarkable way color, space, and value were woven together into a living force. Recognizing this vital integration in art sustained him as an artist. Van Gogh once said that if someone loved even one artist, the whole world of art would open up. Holman loved many artists, not only the Renaissance masters but Constable and the revolutionary Turner as well. He admired Monet, Seurat, and the Fauve paintings of Matisse, along with contemporary masters such as Jackson Pollock. He attended workshops with Hofmann, whose theories of spatial dynamics were pivotal to his work. These master artists were his real extended family and community. He counted himself as part of this lineage and held himself to the same high standards. Through his integration of nature, spiritual experience, and abstraction, Holman continued a vital legacy of light and form.
NOTES ON HOLMAN’S PAINTING WORKING PROCESS Holman’s technical and expressive excellence did not appear overnight; it was the result of a long and persistent dedication to painting, integrating influences of past and contemporary modes with a direct experience of nature. His formal education began at the University of New Mexico in the 1950s, where he encountered well-known painters, such as Agnes Martin, his teacher, and Richard Diebenkorn, his classmate, who were dedicated to the principles of abstraction from Matisse to Mondrian. Diebenkorn especially was committed to immediacy of personal touch and the unity—the balance of forces—of the picture plane. These principles were reinforced for Holman by his next influential mentor, Hans Hofmann, who conveyed the revolutionary vitality of European abstraction—Fauvism, Cubism, and German expressionism. Freed from the conventions of academic realism, Hofmann proclaimed, “Form only exists through color and color only exists through form,” and later, “The real in art never dies, because its nature is predominantly spiritual.” The painting process itself becomes an act of devotion, allowing the unfettered, free flow of natural forces. In pursuing these possibilities, Holman experimented with many media, including casein, acrylic, graphite, and ink. In the 1950s he decided to paint with oils, sometimes diluted with linseed oil for glazes, which he applied to cotton canvas. He also found the need to reconnect more consciously with the support and underlying structures of the old masters paintings that he valued, providing order and cohesiveness to his practice. This need eventually led to the use of a preliminary geometric grid obtained from the study of Renaissance painters—a complex pattern of geometric squares, diagonals, and circles painted on the blank canvas. When he was living in San Francisco in the 1950s, Holman and a group of his painter friends would study a painting by an old master each day. Examining Titian, the great sixteenth-century
Venetian painter, Holman had a revelatory moment that he described to me: “One day I yelled, Eureka! I found the grid. Titian’s grid.” And, ever since, he laid down a grid to guide the placement of forms, providing order and cohesiveness to the work. OUTER SPACE Holman was a deeply spiritual man with a highly evolved philosophy of life. Although he was distrustful of organized religion—having rejected his Presbyterian upbringing early in life—he extensively pursued metaphysical studies, and for decades he faithfully followed the spiritual principles of his recovery program in AA. He didn’t write down his beliefs, yet he would expound at length on his aesthetic theories during studio visits and occasional lectures he gave at The Institute for Noetic Sciences in the 1990s. He understood color, shape, and space as living components of “form structure.” These components, however, were not about technique. They were a metaphysical language—as sacred as the language of Sanskrit in the Upanishads. Holman’s language of form structure flourished in his later work, as his influences expanded beyond his home in the San Geronimo Valley and the professional art field. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he found himself irresistibly attracted to magnetic power places in the world, from the ancient Druid stone formations of Scotland to the pyramids of Egypt. The pyramids in particular triggered powerful transcendent experiences and spiritual awakening. He later described the significance of his first trip to Egypt that affected him metaphysically, impacting his landscapes and initiating his Outer Space paintings. Influenced by these experiences, Holman became interested in the pictures of distant stars and nebulas taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Inspired by these images of outer space, he found a new vocabulary of form and color. The rich diversity of his own inner nature could express itself more
arthur holman. nebulosity in arturo.
72 x 60 inches.
2002. oil on canvas.
fully—from the dark mysteries depicted in Nebulosity in Scorpio (page 47) to the seductive crimson immersion of Within the Nebula (page 54) and the fiery boldness of Great Star (page 55). The infinite grandeur of Nebulosity in Arturo (above) evokes the primal beginnings of the universe itself. A HEALING CONNECTION An important part of Holman’s contribution to the fine art world was his awareness that making art is a deeply intimate and healing experience. For him, the process of painting itself was regenerative in the fullest sense of the word, characterized by respect and devotion. Every part of him was present in what could be described as a form of meditation, a kind of channeling—an opening to forces larger than himself. His studio was small, but it was oriented like a chapel, with a skylight at one end illuminating the painting that held his focus.
arthur holman. rob’s sky.
1989. oil on canvas. 66 x 81 inches.
The transformative power of Holman’s painting process became especially clear to me in the months following the untimely death of a dear friend of his. I saw the beginning of a large canvas in which massive strokes of red had been hurled across the surface, bringing to mind an open wound. It was awesome in itself, but months later when I saw the painting again, I was astonished at its transformation. The original red gash was still visible but had been modified—smaller strokes of golden radiance had been woven into the surface, transforming the canvas into a world of light. (See Rob’s Sky, above.) Holman had allowed a natural balancing process to unfold within the painting—
acceptance of the pain, with the revelation of another reality. Although that painting seemed to evolve directly and inevitably, Holman often would struggle for weeks or months as he sought to bring the forces of color and value into balance. Some paintings he set aside to resolve at a future time, eventually bringing them out again. This process took the greatest patience and respect. He sometimes reported to me, disappointed after a painting session, “It wouldn’t let me in.” It was a joyful occasion when the painting would finally let him in, and he could follow what the painting needed as a deeply felt meditation.
BLUE LEAVES 1962 OIL ON CANVAS 16
60 x 68 INCHES
OIL ON CANVAS
HILL 65 X 72 INCHES 17
WINTER WOODS 1968 OIL ON CANVAS 18
56 X 62 INCHES
SUN THROUGH AN ARBOR OIL ON CANVAS 42 X 31 INCHES 19
UNDER A TREE 1968 OIL ON CANVAS 20
66 X 66 INCHES
OIL ON CANVAS
SUMMER 56 X 56 INCHES 21
ECLIPSE 1971 OIL ON CANVAS 22
52 X 74 INCHES
WORLD WITHIN WORLD OIL ON CANVAS 64 X 78 INCHES 23
SUMMER â€™77 1977 OIL ON CANVAS 24
54 X 46 INCHES
OIL ON CANVAS
PALOMARIN 54 X 66 INCHES 25
SUMMER â€™78 1978 OIL ON CANVAS 26
66 X 66 INCHES
OIL ON CANVAS
ESTUARY 78 X 99 INCHES (TRIPTYCH) 27
WAVE / YANG 1983 OIL ON CANVAS 28
46 X 68 INCHES
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WAVE / YIN 45 X 60 INCHES 29
LUMINOUS WAVE 1985 OIL ON CANVAS 30
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HORUS STAR 1985 OIL ON CANVAS 32
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NEBULA IIIâ€”STARFACTORY OIL ON CANVAS 42 X 31 INCHES 33
EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE 1983 OIL ON CANVAS 34
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WEST MARIN 50 X 50 INCHES 35
SKY / BLUE ARC 1987 OIL ON CANVAS 36
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MAGELLANIC CLOUD OIL ON CANVAS 56 X 68 INCHES 37
BARRANCA / DUSK 1990 OIL ON CANVAS 38
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GREEN NEBULA 57 X 48 INCHES 39
SAN GERONIMO VALLEY—DUSK 1994 OIL ON CANVAS 34 X 43 INCHES 40
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HIKING 28 X 36 INCHES 41
ROCKS AND TREES 1995 OIL ON CANVAS 42
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ARCADIA 64 X 56 INCHES 43
GOLDEN AFTERNOON 1998 OIL ON CANVAS 44
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ON ENTERING THE DARK CAVE OIL ON CANVAS 42 X 52 INCHES 45
NEBULA 2004 2004 OIL ON CANVAS 46
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NEBULOSITY IN SCORPIO OIL ON CANVAS 28 X 24 INCHES 47
GREEN VEIL NEBULA 2002 OIL ON CANVAS 48
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AROUND THE BEND OIL ON CANVAS 50 X 62 INCHES 49
IN THE SHADE 2005 OIL ON CANVAS 50
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SPRING 40 X 50 INCHES 51
BURNING BRIGHT 2005 OIL ON CANVAS 52
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BLUE NEBULA 37 X 45 INCHES 53
WITHIN THE NEBULA 2007 OIL ON CANVAS 54
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GREAT STAR 54 X 43 INCHES 55
NEBULOSITY IN AENEA 2006 OIL ON CANVAS 56
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EDGE OF THE LAKE OIL ON CANVAS 40 X 56 INCHES 57
PEARL NEBULA 2009 OIL ON CANVAS 58
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NEBULA PHOENIX OIL ON CANVAS 23 X 36 INCHES 59
OCTOBER 2010 OIL ON CANVAS 60
40 X 28 INCHES
Arthur Holman October 25, 1926–September 8, 2015 Born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Education University of New Mexico, BFA, 1951 Hans Hofmann School, Summer 1951 California School of Fine Arts, 1953 Solo Exhibitions Bolles Gallery, San Francisco, 1958 Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles, 1960 David Cole Gallery, San Francisco, 1962 de Young Museum, San Francisco, 1963 San Francisco Museum of Art, 1963 Gumps Gallery, San Francisco, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1987 Marin Civic Center Gallery, 1970, 1995 William Sawyer Gallery, San Francisco, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976 Bolles Gallery, Santa Rosa, 1982 Braunstein Quay Gallery, San Francisco, 1992 Art Foundry Gallery, Sacramento, 2003 Toby’s Feed Barn, Point Reyes Station, 2015 Selected Group Exhibitions Alan Gallery, New York, 1959 California Painters and Sculptors,Thirty-five and Under, UCLA Wight Gallery, 1959 The Individual and HisWorld, California School of Fine Arts, 1959 (traveled to Amherst, MA; Delaware; Memphis, TN; Pensacola, FL; Baton Rouge, LA; and Fayetteville, AR) The Art Bank of the San Francisco Art Association, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963 A Look at Recent Bay Area Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1960 50 California Artists, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1962 (traveled to Walker Art Center, AlbrightKnox Art Gallery, and Des Moines Art Center) Form Concepts: 10 California Painters, Downey Art Museum, 1961
arthur holman, c.
1960. next page: holman, c. 2000
Increase in Riches: The Growth of the Museum’s Collections, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1959–61 Drawings by Ruth Asawa and Arthur Holman, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1963 Roberto Matta, Arthur Holman, Michel Cadoret, de Young Museum, San Francisco, 1963 Some Points ofView, Stanford University, 1962 (Purchase Award) Winter Invitational, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1962–64 11th Invitational, Contemporary American Painters and Sculptors, University of Illinois, 1963 Annual, University of North Carolina, Asheville, 1965 California Painting and Sculpture:The Modern Era, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1976 20th Century Landscape Drawings, de Young Museum, San Francisco, 1989
Bibliography Albright, Thomas. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–1980. Davenport, Ray. Davenport’s Art Reference:The Gold Edition. Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art, 1994–1997. Hopkins, Henry. The Painting and Sculpture Collection. Jaques Cattell Press. Who’s Who in American Art, 1976 (12th ed.). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Painting & Sculpture in California:The Modern Era. Marquis. Who’s Who in American Art, 1997–1998. McGowen, Alison. Who’s Who in American Art, 2004 (25th ed.).
Selected Reviews Alfred Frankenstein. “Epical Things Take Place in Holman’s Abstracts.” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct.18, 1959. Artnews, September 1960, 53. Review of show at Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles.
John Canaday. “Visitors from the West” (review of 50 California Artists, Whitney Museum of American Art), NewYork Times, Oct. 28, 1962. Alfred Frankenstein. “Meditation and Serenity in the New Galleries.” San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 1962. Feature image, Allegorical Landscape by Art Holman. Arthur Bloomfield. “A Stimulating Month at the deYoung.” San Francisco Chronicle, June 16, 1963. Samantha Kimmey. “Art Holman: Painting the Cosmos through the Unconscious.” Point Reyes Light, Feb. 12, 2015.
Museum Collections Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, San Francisco Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California Mills College Art Museum, Oakland Oakland Museum of California, Oakland San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco
watts art publications
Arthur Holman (1926-2015) studied with Raymond Jonson at UNM in 1947-1951. He moved to the Bay area shortly after graduation, where he paint...
Published on Mar 2, 2017
Arthur Holman (1926-2015) studied with Raymond Jonson at UNM in 1947-1951. He moved to the Bay area shortly after graduation, where he paint...