Mystic Artist's New Paintings Are 'Proof of Heaven'

'Faye Emerson,' 2010 by Will Holub, oil on cradled wood panel.
"Faye Emerson," 2010 by Will Holub, oil on cradled wood panel.

Mystic painter Will Holub never met any of the young women in his newest series of oil paintings - "Proof of Heaven: Women of the Golden Age" - because these Hollywood beauties are from a bygone era.

And yet, Holub's portraits reveal so much about his subjects and engage the viewer so fully, it's hard to believe postage stamp-size black-and-white publicity stills in a tabletop book were the prime source of inspiration for these riveting works.

The eight paintings, Holub says, "honor the collaborations between the performers, costume designers, hair stylists, makeup artists, lighting technicians, and photographers, who together created decades of gender-defining images."

"Proof of Heaven" is the second in a new series of paintings by Holub - whose work is represented in public and private collections across the United States and Europe - that document social history by focusing on unique groups of Americans with shared characteristics.

The first series, "Lucky Strike: WWII Army Air Force Veterans," painted in 2008, was dedicated to the memory of his father, William Holub, a navigator in the Army Air Corps, who died in 2009 at age 90. The paintings were on exhibit at New Haven's Artspace gallery this past summer.

What the two series of paintings have in common, and what Holub plans to continue exploring in this ongoing project, is the representation of Americans in all different groups and professions - men, women, men and women.

Another common thread is that Holub likes to work from old photos.

"There's something very appealing about working with people who are (no longer alive), through vintage imagery," he says.

He also prefers to paint people who are not particularly famous, stating, "I have no desire to paint well known people. I would consider it a distraction from the group."

Both series feature young people, which remind Holub of his own youth, and he finds draws young viewers to his paintings.

"It's the young people who see themselves mirrored," he says, and (relate to) the fear, anxiety, willingness to serve (the veterans), and with the actresses, a certain vulnerability, as well as their grit and determination to get to where they were - to be part of this extraordinary business that was changing the way people perceived the world."

Golden Age Captured in Oil

Holub says the collaborative aspects of producing a work of art - in theater, film, opera - have always inspired him.

After living in Sante Fe, New Mexico for 14 years, Holub lived in New York City for 17 years, before coming to southeastern Connecticut in 1992.

"When I first moved to New York City in 1975, I would go to the theater every week, the tickets were inexpensive; it was well before the era of the big produced lumbering musicals," he points out. "I was friends with lots of theater people. Perhaps I've always been drawn to the theater because when I work, it's very solitary, and it allows me to tap into that collaborative effort."

Holub created his "Proof of Heaven" series by choosing photos from a book he was given about the Golden Age of Hollywood, which he scanned and enlarged because they were too small to work from. He waited until after he completed the paintings to look up the names of the actresses he'd painted.

"I deliberately wanted to make the actresses more painterly than the veterans," he says, by building up layers and allowing the flow and movement of the paint to create an atmosphere, a mood - soft and hard at the same time," he explains.

By using ivory black oil, which has a warm tone, and light washes to build up the surface, the oil lends an almost auburn tone to the paintings, Holub observes.

"It almost ceases to be a black-and-white-painting because of its beautiful tonal and coloristic range."

Holub found the photographs came to life in new, surprising ways as he painted.

"I tried to be as true to the source material as possible, but sometimes what drew me to a photograph initially, isn't what ended up being revealed. I wanted (the women) to speak through my description of them, but nonverbally."

Holub is looking forward to continue to creatively document American social history through his paintings.

"My first paintings in New York were of the people around me," Holub says. "I've always loved painting the people who interested me."

Holub's goal is to eventually exhibit the entire project together, "basically like chapters in a book," he says. Meanwhile, his new series is on his website, where he plans to post exhibitions four times a year, noting that the Internet is "the best thing that's happened to artists" by allowing them to get their work out to people all over the world.

"Proof of Heaven: Women of the Golden Age" can be viewed at www.willholubgallery.com through April 16.

'Marilyn Maxwell,' 2010 by Will Holub, oil on cradled wood panel.
"Marilyn Maxwell," 2010 by Will Holub, oil on cradled wood panel.
'Anna Nillsson,' 2010 by Will Holub, oil on cradled wood panel.
"Anna Nillsson," 2010 by Will Holub, oil on cradled wood panel.

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