WILL HOLUB’s figurative paintings based on publicity stills
of actresses and vintage photographs of prizefighters and Army Air
Force Navigators emphasize the act of looking and being looked at. His
work focuses on American cultural archetypes of glamour and masculinity.
His abstract accumulations of the meditative repetition of ripped paper
offer a haptic antidote to the scrutiny of only looking at the surface.
Will studied painting and film-making at the University of Toronto, and
completed coursework in illustration at the School of Visual Arts. His
numerous solo exhibitions include shows at the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Art, Chiaroscuro Gallery in Santa Fe, Braunstein Quay Gallery in San Francisco and the Gail Harvey Gallery in Santa Monica. You can view his work in-person at the group show Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art (Marietta, Georgia) until mid-September 2013. Will lives and works in the Mystic region of southeastern Connecticut.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You have two ongoing modes of work that are visually very distinct from each other. On the one hand, your figurative paintings are based on movie and publicity stills of actresses and vintage photographs of prizefighters and Army Air Force Navigators. Your other body of work is comprised of textured, abstract paintings and collages. How is the process of recreating a photograph in paint different from creating an abstraction by tearing up paper and applying it to the surface? Are these different ways of making a painting more alike than one might expect?
Will Holub: Making a painting based on a photograph is fundamentally a labor-intensive exercise in hand-eye coordination. It is also a constant reminder that a photograph is not the thing it depicts. Such basic and helpful awareness is also a primary link with my textural abstractions, since the irregular shapes of the hand-torn fragments I use in building up textural surfaces demand decisions instantaneously as each one is glued into place. As a result, both kinds of work also impart the calming benefit arising from attentiveness.
OPP: From a process point of view, do you prefer working one way to the other?
WH: The figurative paintings require the use of my dominant right hand alone for most of the work, while the abstractions allow me to work with both hands, which balances muscle use more and allows me to work for longer periods without taking a break. That also may have something to do with the stimulation of the right and left sides of the brain that ambidextrous work provides. After nearly 30 years of art-making, I can honestly say that I love making both kinds of work, and my appreciation for the differences and similarities in their processes continues to grow even as they evolve.
OPP: My favorite series is There Is Nothing Like a Dame, which is based on screencaptures from the musical South Pacific.
You've painted only the male characters, singing while shirtless or
bare-chested. What strikes me is that even though I know they are
singing, they look like they are screaming or yelling. Some look
aggressive and others look like they are wailing in pain. What do you
think these men are so upset about? Or do you see them that way?
WH: My intention had been to find something tender and vulnerable amidst all the hypermasculine, military posturing of the period. I had not considered that the singing sailors in South Pacific might look like they were in pain, but given that Joshua Logan, the director of the film, was a bisexual man working in the fiercely homophobic America of the 1950s, it very well might have been his own "hidden-in-plain-sight" message.
OPP: I think there is
vulnerability in the aggression I see, especially because you’ve frozen
them in time. It’s like they can never escape the longing embodied in
the song. I was reading it as about the precarity of the
heterosexual masculine experience of that time: that the straight men
are also victims of a cultural climate that limits their expression of
longing and desire. Longing is universal, but the expression of it is
often culturally dictated. I didn’t know that the director was bisexual,
and now that I’ve just gone and re-watched that scene on Youtube, it adds a whole new dimension to the movie and to your paintings. Do you think viewers who haven’t seen South Pacific or other musicals from this era understand this work differently?
WH: Familiarity with American movie musicals of the 1950s is not required to appreciate the paintings on their own terms, but perhaps the paintings might arouse some curiosity among the uninitiated. That said, your interpretation and the responses I've received from several curators indicate that the paintings may be functioning as a kind of psychosexual litmus test for viewers.
OPP: Your 2010 series PROOF OF HEAVEN: Women of the Golden Age was selected in 2011 to be included in the Brooklyn Museum's Feminist Art Base.
In your statement in the database, you say "Back in the 1970s, after
the violent struggles of the Civil Rights movement and during the
exhilarating early years of Gay Liberation, it never occurred to me that
I wasn't already a feminist." I'm glad to hear it, but I have to admit
that it's still pretty rare to hear a man identify as a feminist. I'd like to give you the opportunity to talk about what being a feminist means to you.
WH: There are a lot of male feminists out there who just don't claim the title. After all, how could any working man married to or partnered with a working woman not fervently want her to receive equal pay for equal work and have access to affordable and high-quality childcare and paid family leave? But however encouraging this may be, the ever-widening gap between the wealthy one percent and the millions of people in poverty or struggling on the edge of it constitutes the greatest threat to ever creating a truly egalitarian society. We must all fight for justice and equality now, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation and the feminist agenda holds the key to winning.
To see more of Will's work, please visit willholub.com.