Joseph Holston, born in 1944, is a contemporary artist, painter and printmaker, renowned for his cubist, abstract style. His media includes oil painting, etching, lithography, serigraphy, and collage. His paintings are rendered in flat planes of bold color and engaging in sensitive form. His prints capture the subtle gradations of tone unique to each medium. He is currently residing in the Washington D. C. metropolitan area, working from his studio in Takoma Park, Maryland.
He attended Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, Florida on a sports scholarship. While pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree at FAMU, Denmark came under the tutelage of artist and acclaimed African-American art historian, Dr. Samella Lewis, who exposed him to the great traditions and accomplishments of the African-American art movement. After graduating from FAMU, Denmark moved to Brooklyn, New York and began a career as an art teacher in the public school system.
From 1973 to 1976, Denmark earned his Masters of Fine Arts Degree at the prestigious Pratt Institute of Fine Arts in New York. While at Pratt, Denmark met and was nurtured by an immensely talented community of artists. During this period he was heavily influenced by the abstract expressionists and admired such mainstream artists as Jackson Pollock, Clifford Still, William deKooning. The African-American masters Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Ernest Crichlow instilled in him an appreciation of African/American artistic heritage. "So much richness reinforced my natural talents," Denmark says of his growth at Pratt. He likens it to picking up a baton and carrying it to the next leg-his collages. Denmark's work underwent a stylistic transition at this time. He began experimenting with collage. Prior to this period, he worked primarily in watercolors and charcoal.
A native of Washington D.C., Holston began his nearly forty-year career as an artist when he was in high school. He knew then that he had a passion for art, and was keenly aware of his aesthetic response to art and design. Determined to follow his heart and to pursue a career in the arts, he enrolled in art school where he worked hard at his art lessons and excelled as a self-disciplined and dedicated student. He learned to observe people with an open mind, aware of their movements and gestures, from the smallest detail to the most public display. He found that he could respond with discriminating and perceptive images that inevitably touched the hearts of those who saw his work.
Completing his formal studies in 1968, he began working as a commercial artist. For Holston, it was not just a matter of looking for a vocation and working toward a desired goal, it was about being an artist. It was a matter of looking inside himself, recognizing his calling and allowing his talent to flourish. He continued to study independently with Marcos Blahove in Washington and Richard Goetz in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He received encouragement and counsel from renowned artists Lois Mailou Jones and James Wells.
Holston’s visit to Africa in 1977 further inspired him to listen to his heart, to use his knowledge of the fundamental elements of art to express something more powerful and intimate than merely a literal view of the world around him. He responded to the African countryside and to its people who possessed a love for bold colors and powerful abstract forms.
A quiet man with extraordinary vitality, Holston had the fortitude and the perseverance to follow his dream. In his forty-year career, he has produced a body of work that communicates his vision in a strong and powerful voice. A transformation occurred in Holston’s style after his visit to Africa. He moved from the anecdotal, sentimental, and realistic to the colorful abstract forms. His style became the vocabulary with which he could communicate his feelings and ideas.
The years of study, observation, learning and experiencing art brought him to the realization that he could and should express something more than a simple narrative. The people in his paintings didn’t just represent a single in-dividual, but rather a type; a culture embroiled in living and experiencing events of the world. In Holston’s images, each individual is rendered with personal qualities and at the same time exposing universal characteristics in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary. In his search for true artistic freedom, he found that he no longer had a desire to merely imitate nature, but rather to make a bolder statement through abstraction and distortion.
Joseph Holston’s cubist abstractionist style has evolved over a fine arts career spanning nearly 40 years. His dedication to color and the power of its message guides his compositional organization. For Holston, color is more than descriptive, it must be expressive, and it must translate to an emotional value or tone to produce the desired effect.
Holston’s etchings have been critically acclaimed. He personally executes every step in the creation of his prints, from the actual drawing on the copper or zinc plate through the printing of the entire edition. His etchings exude a warmth and feeling far removed from the cold metal plate on which they were created. Holston explores an array of visual effects with his etchings, through the use of hard ground, soft ground, aquatint and other techniques.
Holston’s silk screens display the same boldness of expres-sion and attention to details of color and composition as his paintings. Often involving dozens of separate screens to compose the finished image, these original prints represent weeks of painstaking work in close collaboration with a master printer. Holston is one of the few artists to create his own color separations in order to insure that the final print meets his exacting standards, and conforms to his artistic vision.
Permanent Museum and Institution Collections
Holston has a long and distinguished exhibition record with an equally long history of enthusiastic critical acclaim for his paintings and etchings. His work can be found in numerous private and public collections around the country and he has attracted the attention of both collectors and scholars of American art.
– Library of Congress
– Baltimore Museum of Art
– Washington County Museum of Fine Art
– Butler Institute of American Art
– Yale University Art Gallery
– Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design
– Banneker-Douglass Museum, Annapolis, Maryland
– King-Tisdell Cottage Museum, Savannah, Georgia
– Lyndon B. Johnson Library at the University of Texas – DePauw University
– Howard University
– University of Maryland University College
– University of Vermont
– AFL-CIO, Washington, D.C.
– The David C. Driskell Center for The Study of The Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and
The African Diaspora
– New York City’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Color in Freedom:
Journey Along The Underground Railroad
In 2008, Holston completed his epic visual narrative, “Color in Freedom: Journey along the Underground Railroad.” This sequence of 50 paintings, etchings and drawings in four distinct movements, depicts the story of slavery from capture in Africa, through arrival in the Americas, life in bondage, the journey of escape and the attainment of freedom. The series has been seen in numerous cities around the United States, and was also exhibited in 2010 at the United Nations Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, under the sponsorship of the U. S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. Eighteen etchings created for “Color in Freedom” are included in the Fine Print Collection of the U. S. Library of Congress.