Drawn to paint

Joseph Holston has a knack for painting in most media, but he pushes himself to master what does not come naturally

Joseph Holston has a knack for painting in most media, but he pushes himself to master what does not come naturally

February 14, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

In younger days, Joseph Holston would go to museums and study oil paintings.

He just didn't get it, his artistic hands caught in an oily mess of frustration and inability.

Watercolors came easily. Other media were simple. Oil painting, on the other hand, sputtered.

Mixing paints was difficult; his stabs at oils were slavishly overworked, and it showed.

"My work was muddy, and I think that was the reason I gravitated to it," he says. "It was a challenge just to mix your colors and put it down without it looking like you labored on it for 10 years."

It is a testament to Holston's devotion to craft that of 50 pieces in his ongoing exhibition at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, 23 are oil paintings, either on linen or canvas.


Through Sunday, March 9, a selection of the 58-year-old's paintings, collages and etchings are on display in the Groh Gallery. Introduced to his work four years ago, museum Direct-

or Jean Woods raves about his use of color and the warmth coursing through his work.

And, standing amongst his large, colorful pieces, Curator Amy Metzger says this is not typical fare for the museum, which is a good thing.

"When we realized this was going to be a vastly different show, we found that exciting," she says. "People don't want to come into a museum and see the same thing every time. It's hard to walk past it."

For every painting populated by jazz musicians, there is another influenced by daily life, such as a woman ironing or two men sitting at a chess board.

Metzger's favorite is one of the few without human subjects. In this show, oil on linen "Along the Road" is also the rare piece dominated by a range of greenish hues.

"Most images in the room are scenes from everyday life, and, for me, I have always lived out in the country, so this is familiar to me," she says. "It looks so pleasant and relaxing."

Holing up in his Tacoma Park, Md., studio for months on end, more than two-thirds of this exhibit was created in 2002, a furious pace Holston credits to an intense drive fueled in part by deadline pressure, in part by an intense desire for perfection.

He mentions Rembrandt, who would create self-portrait after self-portrait. Not because he enjoyed painting himself, but to improve until he could improve no more.

"It's easier for me to express my spiritual self a little bit more now than ever because I'm always raising the bar more and more," Holston says.

"I'm going to do that as long as I'm on this Earth, just like Rembrandt was never happy with his paintings. ... I figure if he could to it, I could do it."

For months on end, he will work on etchings as an escape from his painting. Then the cycle reverses, his painting a welcome refuge from the creation of etchings.

Each discipline requiring different skills, he uses one to balance the other, creating a co-dependent relationship between each media.

And, like his stubborn drive to master oil painting, he is drawn to the chase. Holston refuses to ease back on the personal throttle that sends his work in a variety of directions.

"I look for a challenge within a challenge," he says. "Because I feel that if I challenge myself I'm able to bring out something I might not be aware of, and when I'm least expecting it, it happens."

However much he may suffer for his art, Woods says the finished product doesn't indicate a struggle.

"His style does give you the lyricism and fluidity. They kind of sing for you," Woods says. "You can almost hear the music in his compositions of the jazz musicians."

In creating work for this show, Holston says he was influenced in part by the museum and its location in City Park.

He hopes patrons viewing his work experience the same emotional impact he does.

"Now that I'm older, it's not just creating a painting. It's pulling in the audience," he says. "What I'd like to do is pull them in close enough to communicate with them, give them a part of the world that they may not be aware of."

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