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In the Studio: An American Icon at 90
With work all over the world and a legacy for always having been true to himself, Gino Hollander still creates magic in his Ojai studio
February | March 2015
According to American artist Gino Hollander, the act of thinking is completely overrated when it comes to creativity. “Painting is not a thinking affair. It’s rather a sense of doing. I simply work instinctively and intuitively.”
Every day, Gino Hollander paints and sketches multiple abstract pieces in his tranquil outdoor home studio, located in the picturesque town of Ojai, California. His diligent and conscientious practice may not be unusual for many artists honing their craft, but Hollander has always emitted an exuberant energy — even at 90 years old. And on August 4, 2014, the grizzled artist with the ebullient spark spent most of his birthday afternoon at his easel with his wife of 51 years, Barbara, by his side. There, he continued to give life to his distinctive earth-toned paintings that elicit an array of vast and deep emotions.
Freedom and self-expression have always been instrumental in every aspect of his career. “For me, inspiration is never a thought process, but rather a recognition of a feeling that actually shows me the way of my thoughts,” Hollander says. “Often, I start painting ... not knowing at all what I am about to paint. Sometimes I wake up, I feel like (painting) and then just do it.”
If the term iconic can be ascribed to a living American painter, Hollander certainly fits the description. Born in New Jersey in 1924, Hollander first discovered his love of painting at age 30 during the Abstract Expressionist movement. He established the first Hollander Gallery in Greenwich Village in New York City shortly thereafter. Prior to picking up a paintbrush, however, Hollander was a World War II veteran, serving in the U.S Army Ski Troops, (10th Mountain Division) from 1942 to 1945, and then became a documentary filmmaker. His contemporaries in the 1950s included Jackson Pollock and Norman Rockwell, yet he did not aspire to follow their path to commercial success. After growing disillusioned with the confines of commercialization in the art world, Hollander made a bold decision in the early 1960s to flee the United States and move to Southern Spain with his wife and their three young children. While there, he established Museo Hollander in 1972 (to showcase Spanish antiquities), which he donated to the Spanish government in 1990 when he returned to America.
Considered an “undisciplined” painter, Hollander’s chosen paints are acrylic and his muted Abstract Expressionist images possess an overt Western influence. He is best known for galloping horses, portraits, shadowlike figures and subdued seascapes. Approximately six years ago he began painting his Universe series, which includes sizable canvases featuring ethereal themed images reminiscent of shimmering planets and stars.
Hollander’s granddaughter, Jessica Kane, is a London-based art advisor and oversees sales and manages the inventory for Hollander’s collection. “He was inspired to paint the Universe series while recovering in the hospital after a heart attack,” she explains. “He was impressed with National Geographic’s NASA images of the universe. I think it was the near-death experience that changed his outlook on the way he painted. All of a sudden his colors became more vibrant and bolder.”
A true maverick, Hollander has always refused to name his paintings, because he says he doesn’t want to distort the viewer’s interpretation of his work. In fact, for a long while he refused to even sign them.
Barbara Yates, an art collector and co-founder of Gallery 221 in Little Rock, Arkansas, was so impressed with Hollander’s work when she was introduced to his paintings 10 years ago that she replicated his Ojai studio in two rooms within her gallery — complete with empty paint cans, brushes and used clothing — direct from the artist himself.
“Some people view his work as being dark at times. I see his work as being deep and, opposed to the darkness, I see light, joy and love coming out of every piece,” Yates says. “I think that goes with Gino’s view that the work of the artist stops when the viewer looks at the canvas. I’m always searching for light and love, and that’s what I find.”
For Yates and her collectors, Hollander’s work stands the test of time. “There is a serious depth to explore in every piece while it exudes an energy of love and timelessness,” she says. As a gallerist, Yates appreciates that Hollander’s work is of affordable investment quality and finds that his collectors span the generations themselves.
Adjacent to his modest bungalow in Ojai, Hollander’s studio bursts with an abundance of earth-toned paintings in various stages of completion. Bathed in sunlight and filled with the sounds of nature, the outdoor space was envisioned and built by his youngest son, Scott, when Gino and Barbara moved to Ojai from Colorado in 2008, due to the artist’s respiratory health issues.
A delightfully jumbled area, Hollander’s studio is an artist’s chaotic private oasis. Many unstretched canvases are haphazardly scattered across the large wooden table dominating the space, stapled to the walls, stacked in rows and piled in corners, patiently waiting for him to add another random flourish that somehow magically transforms the art into a brand-new masterpiece with renewed balance and perspective.
Known throughout the art community as somewhat of a renegade, Hollander has freely given away thousands of his paintings to friends and fans over the years. He has also generously donated his artwork to numerous charities.
“He is a true artist’s artist,” says Kane. “He went about his own career owning his own successful galleries, but not establishing the art-world credibility from curators. If there is one thing in his legacy that I want to carry on is that he creates artwork for himself. And he creates artwork because he hopes that people will like it.”
Hollander’s work has been included in many notable private and public international collections. A multitude of celebrities have collected his work, including Henry Kissinger, Calvin Klein and Jacqueline Kennedy. Across the globe, Hollander’s work can be viewed in Mt. Sinai Hospital, the offices of New York magazine, Carnegie Hall, JFK International Airport and Vogue in Spain, among many others.
Hollander’s daughter, Siri Hollander, is a renowned sculptor based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She owns the Hollander Gallery which features a continual, one-man showing of her father’s paintings, from his early days to his current works.
“Over the years my father always had his own galleries and today I do my best to honor his thought-provoking and inspiring paintings here in New Mexico,” she says.
On entering his tenth decade, Hollander is pensive and willing to philosophize about “wrapping up 90 years.” “In my experience, we all reach a third age. It’s sensing that as our time draws to a close, we achieve an awareness allowing for positive feelings to emerge and for a true appreciation of a life well led.”