|::: JOSEPH HOLSTON :::|
"I want art to speak to the viewer, and for the viewer's response to be a part of the art. Ideally, viewers will become so interwoven in the art that the line between where the viewer ends and the art begins
- Joseph Holston
The artist Joseph Holston grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which served as his home until his family moved to nearby Washington, D.C. where he attended a local high school. It was there that his life compass spun in the direction of art, a career that became his passion, a pursuit that embraced his nascent sensitivities to the aesthetics of design, an interest counter to his mother's expectations of more academic pursuits for her child, all of which resulted in his inevitable enrollment in art school. While honing his skills as a painter, the crafting of commercial art and advertising images became his temporary profession. However, in 1971 after of summer of study in Santa Fe, Mexico, Holston's compass spun again, and he launched his career as a full-time studio artist. The artist continues to work and create from his studio in Takoma Park, Maryland - not far from his Washington, D.C. roots.
Artists may discover their creative impulses through a journey of self-understanding. For Holston, that journey was prompted by his emotional and intellectual curiosity about people, nurtured by instructors such as Marcos Blahove and Richard Goetz, mentored by Harlem Renaissance artists such as Lois Mailou Jones and James Wells, and re-routed to Africa like a salmon instinctively returning to its spawning grounds. During that trip to Africa in 1967, Holston realized the existential impact of nonliteral representations of the world - particularly the bold emphasis of geometry and color harmonizing to convey mood and emotion. His journey, however, was far from over.
When Holston turned to works of the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954), he saw color explode into a myriad of energized forms. Matisse furnished him with the tools to understand the role of primary color and what it could express. Holston learned that when the bold and often contrasting colors are juxtaposed, the forms on canvas begin to vibrate with energy and life. Holston learned well this lesson and how to balance each hue to virtually reduce it to an abstract patch of color.
Having read the artist's testament printed above, the reader should not be surprised that Holston's style is described as abstractionist - cubist abstractionist as the artist himself would classify it. However, the cubist influences in his work only become evident upon viewing his paintings. Holston had also embraced the acrobatic riot of vivid colors and dramatic forms introduced by Pablo Picasso's (1881-1973) cubist compositions in 1907. The inspiration derived from African sculptural forms, married with the European master's oeuvre, resulted in wider exposure to the art of Africa and heightened understanding for the continent's gifts. Holston saw that the importance of Picasso's influence, which captivated Western audiences, went beyond fragmented forms and the radical cubist movement. He recognized that Picasso created a tension between three dimensional space and a two dimensional design lying flat on the surface of a painting. He saw a kind of freedom of artistic expression that had endless possibilities.
So what do we see in Holston's art? There is an instantaneous familiarity to the images in Holston's masterworks - the familiarity of people moving in their daily surroundings, the universality of faceless forms and vibrant colors dancing together on the medium as if in silent parlance to relay the artist's perspective. The repetitive use of these geometric shapes creates a complex organization of forms and rivets our attention to the subject matter. While Holston's paintings exploit the freedom of color, his etchings are more about line, pattern, and texture. His recently completed cycle of both paintings and etchings that is titled, Color in Freedom: Journey along the Underground Railroad, is currently on tour.
Holston's creations have been exhibited at numerous institutions across the nation including the Amarillo Museum of Art, Texas; the Washington County Museum of Fine Art, Maryland; the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the Butler Institute of American Art, Ohio; the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, Baltimore; the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum; the Fort Worth Museum of Fine Art, Texas; and the African-American Museum of Philadelphia. Additional venues for the artist's masterworks include the permanent collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Lyndon B. Johnson Library at the University of Texas, Howard University, the University of Maryland University College, the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, the headquarters of the National Medical Association, and New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. His critically acclaimed works also have been featured in the private collections of Angela Bassett, Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington, Vernon Jordan, Courtney Vance, and Forest Whitaker.