Picture a couple of boys, brothers, holed up in their basement somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, where they are free to experiment with materials and art supplies and their own imaginations for hours on end. Then fast-forward a few decades to the vision of two men, now 60ish, hanging their first-ever show together. In the years between, they’ve each left their home state and excelled in their individual creative endeavors – painting, teaching, architecture, graphic design – beyond what was imagined by either of them. It is a long way from Kitsap County in Washington, where the Holl family home in Manchester still stands.
Jim Holl is an artist who has been showing in New York and beyond for more than 40 years. His paintings are catalogued in the 2009 pictorial biography, Jim Holl the Landscape Painter: An Autobiography 1974 through 1994. Veering ever-further away from addressing societal or cultural idioms in his imagery, his current work references the elemental.
“I developed a series of Indeterminate Landscapes. There are no horizon lines and the scale doesn’t fall into place. You don’t know if you’re looking at something small or big,” he says of a 60-by-60-inch field of soft red, blotched with what could be rocks or planets. Is it terrain seen from a bird’s-eye view? “You don’t know. You could be looking at your feet. You’ve got to decide.”
Jim calls the work featured in the biography his “youthful experiments across all kinds of media.” “I got to the point that I didn’t deviate so wildly. That was the beginning of Indeterminate Landscapes, when I moved up here in ’02. Then I felt I was giving up some things, like drawing. Being up here in nature – my wife Susan has a garden – I started a series called All the Living Things. That’s what I’ll show here at Atwater.”
A teacher and writer, Jim says that he reads a mix of physics, ancient history and philosophy to “see how they coincide in the atomic sense.” “Three thousand years ago, the Bhagavad Gita talked about the ‘vibratory nature of life,’ of everything… So, All the Living Things has to do with this vibration, expressive of teeming energy.”
Steven Holl is an acclaimed architect and a professor at Columbia University; he received the 2014 Praemium Imperiale Award and the 2012 AIA Gold Medal. He heads Steven Holl Architects, a 40-person architecture and urban design office with two locations: New York City and Beijing. He earned his first award – a blue ribbon – when he was a kid by entering an oil painting in a contest. Steven pulls out a small book of paintings.
“Every single project, starts with a five-by-seven watercolor, going back to 1980,” he says, flipping through a sketch pad, the pages filled with watercolor images. “So here’s today: I’m working on a project in Seattle, on the waterfront. It’s a view out towards Bainbridge Island across the Puget Sound. Every building that I do starts here.”
“What’s really exciting is that I do some of these in a shack on the edge of a lake, where there’s no electricity, no water. It’s a tar-paper shack,” he says. “And I’m drawing a building of 2,000,000 square feet, and then it gets built in China! From this drawing! It’s a long process, but four or five years later…”
Some of Steven’s drawings depict recognizable landscapes and buildings. In others, the squiggly lines shaded with just a bit of dimension seem totally abstract, but they become the sweeping parameters of a very modern structure. “Every day I do this. I get up at six and work for two hours; then I go to my office,” he says. “There are more than 17,000 of these. I don’t take them out of the books.”
Steven will be showing drawings of the massive museum buildings that he designed for the town of Qingdao. “And I think almost all the watercolors were done here in Rhinebeck… I love the extreme contrast between a five-by-seven watercolor done in this shack and a gigantic building in Qingdao.”
“The Bros. Picture Show” opens at the Atwater Art Gallery, above the Rhinebeck Artists’ Shop, on Saturday evening, May 16. “This is really about the brothers doing art in the basement,” says Jim. “It’s the first time we paired up to do a brother-to-brother show.”
One wonders if sibling competition had anything to do with the ultimate success of the Holl brothers. Certainly, a fraternal sense of humor prevails. “He gets the front room of the gallery,” says Steven. “I’m in the back.”
Opening reception of “The Bros. Picture Show,” Saturday, May 16, 6-8 p.m., through June 18, free, Atwater Art Gallery, 56 East Market Street, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-4922, https://atwatergallery.com. For more on Jim Holl, go to www.jimholl.com. For more on Steven Holl, go here: www.stevenholl.com.