Hey, Sports Fans! Meet
By HOLLY NADLER
Recognize any Island fans at Fenway?
We often equate artists with one distinct style. But John Holladay,
originally from the Midwest and for many years now a resident of
Vineyard Haven, paints and illustrates with so much versatility, he’s
impossible to pigeon- hole.
And yet one of his hugely successful, largely unknown artistic
endeavors is now being celebrated at the Louisa Gould Gallery on Main
street, Vineyard Haven. From 1980 to 2000 he was licensed to paint the
official artwork for NBA, NFL and college sports teams, work that later
appeared on posters, shirts and jigsaw puzzles.
A John Holladay sports portrait, such as the Babel-tower-sized
stadium for Michigan football, replete with hundreds of fans, normally
took the artist a week to illustrate and another couple of weeks to
In a recent interview at the gallery the artist, wearing glasses
and a wide smile, described how illustrators must woo sports executives
to land the coveted contract: “There’s wining and dining involved.”
Once the artist receives the greenlight, he talks to players and
fans and studies yearbooks. Various rules must be adhered to; for
instance, at Texas A & M, no caps are allowed in the stadium, and
therefore none may be pictured in the poster of hundreds of fans.
Another team, whose name shall remain anonymous, required Mr. Holladay
to leave out breasts on female fans. (Only a thorough search of the
illustrator’s many posters could turn up these anatomically incorrect
Mr. Holladay was licensed artist for pro, college teams.
Mr. Holladay’s paintings are continuously on display at Louisa Gould,
but this weekend will yield a reception in honor of the sports work. “I
had all the original paintings these past years stashed in a drawer,”
Mr. Holladay said. “It suddenly occurred to me that when I’m no longer
here, these works will be essentially orphaned.” (He has no children, by
the way, but he does own a cherished black and white boxer named Ansel
So now the sports paintings have been removed from the drawer,
framed and put on display for sale. One team dear to New Englanders’
hearts was conspicuously missing from Mr. Holladay’s considerable
output: the Boston Red Sox. To rectify this situation, he recently
painted the beloved exterior of Fenway Park, with pennants, fans and
trees and a noticeable lovability that Red Sox Nation brings to this
monument. At this moment, posters for the Fenway masterwork are not
available. However, a fair amount of begging on the part of this Gazette
correspondent may have given the artist and Ms. Gould an impetus to
reproduce the image. Meanwhile the painting itself is priced at $10,000.
From the earliest age, Mr. Holladay loved to draw. His dad was in
the Air Force, so the family moved all over the country, with young
Holladay later enrolling in college in Iowa. He majored in art
education. He has always taught art in addition to creating it, even now
commuting each weekday to Falmouth High School. Next Monday he travels
to Washington, D.C., to pick up his second annual Scholastic Art Award
Coach K and the gang.
“Because of my crazy commute during the week, I paint on weekends from
morning till night. I never go on vacation because, for me, painting is
the highest form of recreation.”
His parents had always discouraged his dreams of becoming an
artist. Even when he started selling his earliest landscapes, Mom and
Dad refrained from hanging their son’s paintings on their walls. “Until
their friends started to buy my art,” he confided with a chuckle. “After
that they were very supportive of me.”
Now at the Louisa Gould Gallery, in addition to the sports
originals, Mr. Holladay has landscapes in oils, watercolors, acrylics,
cartoon illustrations (some small items priced as low as $20), and
monochromatic schemes. He can paint with exquisite representational
precision or wield a brush and knife to a Vineyard vista and anoint it
with just a touch of abstraction. He also favors realism over
quaintness: “Most artists portray Menemsha with all the junk missing. I
love to keep the junk in,” such as unruly stacks of lobster traps.
The artist brings a joie de vivre to his profession, as well as
that tiny bit of outlaw mentality that lurks in so many people of an
artistic temperament. When visiting the Island back in 1988, he noticed
dinghies were painted an assortment of colors. When he returned to the
Midwest, he began to paint barns purple, gold, green, and all the other
colors of the rainbow. He found an appreciative customer base for the
liberties he’d taken.
And then there’s his own Where’s Waldo element in the sports stadiums.
Mr. Holladay doesn’t stop with a single wild card character in his
audience of hundreds. He pops in whoever comes to mind — Batman, Mother
Theresa, the Wizard of Oz, Prince Charles, the Statue of Liberty, Oprah,
Dick Tracy, Frankenstein. Rather than searching for Waldo, a viewer
could spend an hour picking out every famous personality, real or
John Holladay reveals another side in new show.
Blessed are those who have so much fun with their work, plus the
talent to keep it going. The show continues through June 21.
The artist’s reception for John Holladay’s sports show will be
held on Saturday, May 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Louisa Gould Gallery
on Main street in Vineyard Haven.
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