It’s Not Hard to Spot the Beauty in Oil Painter’s Voluminously Layered Works

For painter Mark Holland, more is more.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

One of the enduring features of Highlights children’s magazine is “Hidden Pictures,” detailed drawings that invite young readers to look closely and find cleverly disguised items. “That’s my work,” says Mark Holland with a laugh. “I always take my camera with me when I hike, and when I look at the photos at home, I see things I hadn’t seen when I took the photo. The more you look, the more you see.”

Song of the High Hills

Born in East Africa and raised in the U.S., Holland spent childhood summers on Indiana farmland, where he fell in love with nature and became an artist, two passions that went hand in hand: “I have done many things and had many challenges in my life, but I always stayed with my art because that’s what kept me going, and I always found peace and solace in nature.” 

While living in San Francisco for 20 years, he was an art director, journeyman printer, and graphic artist; in Santa Fe, he taught junior-high English and did an award-winning series of paintings of centuries-old chapels and missions, plus a lot of figure work.

A Sunny Morning

But moving to Asheville in 2005 moved his field of vision. “My art changed from landmarks and people to nature and fantasy,” he says. “Our culture is so masculine and harsh. I love the soft and nurturing feeling of the Appalachian mountains, the wildlife, plants, and flowers. I work with a lot of memory, and many of these are memories of a childhood spent barefoot, in nature. I do seasonal work, so as the seasons change, my art reflects that.”

By the Pond

Holland works in oil on wood, using his own close-up photographs of the flowers, foliage, and animals taken on his nature walks, and pulling from an extensive image library of nostalgic items such as china figurines, vintage frames, and vases. “I cut them up, montage them together, draw them out, transfer them onto the wood panel, draw into the wood panel again, and then layer it with thin glazes of color that give it luminosity and transparency,” he explains. “My surfaces are smooth and mirror like — photographic in appearance.”

“For a long time, I concentrated on watercolor and became very accomplished in washes and glazes. It took a while to develop this technique — it’s been a journey.” 

Cascade

The next physical stop on his journey is Tryon, where he’s bought a home and will work in a studio in the historic Missildine building, home of Missildine’s Drug Store, memorialized in a poem written on a napkin by F. Scott Fitzgerald during his stay in the town in 1937.

No doubt, Holland will find plenty of subject matter there. “I’ve always been an artist who observes culture and nature, particularly the hidden things not readily seen in a glance. It is my mission to take the unseen and make it seen.”

It Only Takes a Moment

Mark Holland, Tryon. The artist is represented by Grand Bohemian Gallery in Asheville (11 Boston Way, 828-505-2949, grandbohemianasheville.com). He’ll be a guest artist with the Tryon Painters & Sculptors in a show opening Saturday, July 27 (78 North Trade St., tryonpaintersandsculptors.com). (His work is also shown at Grand Bohemian in Beaver Creek, Colorado, 970-845-9800.) For more information about the artist, see marksholland.com.

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