Piece of Work: John Holladay

Some people play golf, some do yoga, some go to church. This is my meditation. I get so into it I don't even know where the time goes.

Switching careers midstream is the stuff of daydreams and self-help books, but artist John Holladay is somewhat of a poster guy for the cause. A successful sports cartoonist from the 1970s to 2000, his designs were the centerpiece of jigsaw puzzles, games, and T-shirts that, at one point, sold in every single Walmart across the country. He figures more than three million posters were created and sold featuring his work.

In 2000, going through a self-described midlife crisis, Holladay came to the Island and returned to teaching. His workday began in a reverse commute to Falmouth High School, where he taught computer graphics for sixteen years.

John Holladay, Menemsha Lobster Traps, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.

Last June he hung up his digital chalk and committed more of his time to painting, both acrylic and watercolor. The acrylic shown here, Menemsha Lobster Traps, captures a kind of functional chaos that attracts him repeatedly to the Chilmark fishing port.

“I like Menemsha and the boatyard the most,” he said. “It’s common people and all this beauty mixed in with all this stuff. This piece is pretty much a cluster. It’s full, it’s maxed out, and there’s no dead space at all. It is what Menemsha is – boats, buoys, water, lobster pots, fishing lines. 

“I know a lot of people say, ‘Why don’t you just paint a pretty picture of Menemsha?’ But to me, this is beautiful. It’s the common man, the fisherman and his daily job. And we get to enjoy it.”

Holladay travels to Menemsha at least once a month to take pictures, which he brings back to his studio. “Why do I do that? Because some mom walks over with her kid and says, ‘Eat your ice cream cone and watch the man paint,’” he said. “I’d much rather take a lot of pictures, bring them back, break them down, and paint here.”

The medium in which he works has changed overtime, and is apt to change again. “I love acrylic because of the thickness, and I love watercolor because it’s so precise and I just go in spurts,” he said. “Last winter, I spent four months doing all watercolors and this winter it’s acrylics.”

Indeed, last winter he was one of fifty artists picked to show their work by the New England Watercolor Society. Not surprisingly, it was another take on Menemsha.

“I had my camera and turned around and took a close up of lobster pots and that’s what I painted and it got into the show. To paint that took me about three months because it was so intricate. To me, it’s meditation; it’s quiet time. I love taking something that will take forever and ever. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle when you paint.”

Holladay’s work can be found at Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven and The Cooperworks in Menemsha. His Vineyard posters are available at Menemsha Blues.