HOLLANDER'S ART: STUDIES IN EMOTION AND TRUTH
by Scott E. Dial for Destination Magazine
Most people would be content to achieve success in just one field of art. But not Gino Hollander. He became one of the nation's most respected film directors and documentary directors. Yet that success wasn't enough. So he turned away from the art of movie making to pursue the art of painting. Painting was an art that he never even seriously put his hand to until he was 35 years old. But he quickly developed and mastered techniques that have made him one of the world's great art talents.
The story of Gino Hollander is a unique and compelling as his art. It's a story that bears some parallels to the lives of other great artists of the world. One that comes easily to mind Paul Gauguin. Gaugiun left a career as a successful stockbroker, then eventually followed the muse of painting to Tahiti and found fame. Hollander's story differs because it's filled with ironic twists that might well have come from the pen of O. Henry Hollander gave up one art for another. But he too would follow the muse of painting to a foreign country to fulfill his talent and destiny as a painter.
The first of the ironic twists that would shape Hollander's life and eventually his art began in 1942. The world was at war. Gino Hollander was in the US Army. Ore precisely, in the famed 10th Mountain Division The 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale near Leadville. During this tour of duty Hollander was temporarily stationed in Aspen.
"There was a battalion of us that actually came over from Camp Hale to Aspen," explains Hollander to a writer. As he talks Hollander turns and stare out the window of his second story studio at 410 Hyman Avenue in Aspen. The trees are now green with summer leaves but he seems to be looking back to a winter of years gone by when young soldiers milled about the streets rather than an army of tourists. He rubs his had across his mouth, then continues, "It took us three or four days on snowshoes to make the trip. We skied, we held maneuvers and we stayed at the Jerome Hotel for two weeks," he says as he smiles at the memory his words have evoked. There is a visible truth found in the faces of soldiers that has formed the basis of many great character studies in art. These range from the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons of World War II infantrymen by Bill Mauldin, to the Marines of that war who somehow were reincarnated in the paintings of the faces of western cowboys by Harry Jackson.
Hollander has never actually executed paintings of soldiers, but the truth that is so clear in the faces of combat soldiers, often manifests itself in the faces of Hollander's subjects. Perception and storage are vital parts of all artists' talent. What he saw in the faces of the soldiers of the 10th Mountain slumbered in his memory for nearly 20 years before the truth would be released through Hollander's artistic interpretation of other subjects in other places.
After his discharge from the service, Hollander made his way to New York City. There he began his first career in art; film making. In 1951 Hollander met his wife to be, Barbara. Both were divorced and Hollander had two sons. They went on to have three more children. "Barbara was a filmmaker and within a year I was into films," related Hollander.
He was into films in a big way. In just nine years he learned and perfected techniques, which when coupled with his own creative innovations, earned him a reputation as a top film director and documentary maker. Of course that wasn't enough. "I was successful," concedes Hollander. "My wife was also a successful director. We went to Scotland and showed two of our films in Edinburgh at the festival. When I got back I had an offer to go out to the west coast to do three films. That would have meant moving out to the coast. But something just didn't feel right. So I took a year off and played chess," he laughs.
"During that time I found painting and I knew from the first time my hand scribbled lines on a piece of paper that I was meant for painting. Painting is immediate. It's something that's right now, and grows with each heartbeat. I just couldn't get close to that self-expression as a film maker. So I trained myself to be a painter."
At first Hollander considered staying in New York. He and his wife opened the first Hollander Studio and Gallery in Greenwich Village and his paintings sold. But Hollander wasn't satisfied with his art. In search of fulfillment he turned to Spain.
Spain's selection as a home and place to perfect his art represents another of the ironic twists in Hollander's life. The country he now wanted to call home had once expelled some of Hollander's ancestors. "I'm Jewish and I knew that back in 1492 Jews were driven out of Spain. They wandered the world, some went to Turkey, some went to Holland which was under the Spanish flag. Thus 'Hollander' came to mean someone who came from Holland."
"We chose to go to Spain because it was like a place of another time. A place of great tradition and pride," Hollander explains. "It was also a place where we could live with a family on about a hundred bucks a month."The move to Spain was a complete leap of faith for Hollander and his family. He was a promising but unproven painter. When Gino Hollander left for Spain he had a wife, five children, a parcel of paintings, and about $600.00.
He settled his family into a house in Marbella, in Southern Spain. Then he began to paint. Fortunately he proved to be a talented artist as well as a prolific painter. Today he still creates about 300 paintings a year He estimates there are about 12,000 of his paintings in private collections, museums and other institutions all around the world.
All of these evocative paintings are influenced by Spanish tradition "Everything I was looking for was there," continues Hollander, "There was no poverty of spirit there. People might not have a lot of money, but their spirit was magnificent. These people are of great hear, just and honest, and forthcoming. These are elements of truth."
The spectrum of Hollander's art is incredibly wide. While he can create awe inspiring landscapes, particularly of his beloved mountains, Hollander has a penchant for people. Among the spellbinding subjects of his portraits are pensive, evocative women, and plaintive children. He also relishes painting horses and bulls. And he delights in telling stories about how he often ran with the bulls in Pamplona.
While Hollander is an accomplished colorists, he prefers working in black and white. He notes, "Black and white satisfies me. I'm concerned with feeling. I'm a mood teller, not a story teller. Color can interfere with the emotion I want to show."
Hollander's creative process is more intuitive than reason. "When I go to the canvas I usually don't have an idea of what I'm going to paint I just start working, painting, and paint about what I am today. I may have had an experience snowmobiling, or been touched by something my granddaughter has said or done, or I may be moved by something that has happened in Bosnia."
"The most important thing is just to start. Before you can change any painting, you have to start one. I may put in a horse then, take it out, and that causes another change, and another and another... My guide line all the time is to get caught up in a mood, to be caught in the emotion of the thing. When I am captured in a feeling, I'm off and running. When I get that feeling, its a high... it's a tremendous high.
"The important thing for any artist is to work and to work on your own thing," adds Hollander. "Sometimes it's going to be good, sometimes its going to be bad, and unfortunately sometimes its going to be indifferent. But just by the fact you are exposing it, the painting will keep you up. It will make you pay attention to your art. You stay aware of your tools, your techniques. In my case, as in the case of most self taught artists, these tools are very special. They may not be perfect but they are yours. That's a great incentive for staying at work. I've found out somewhere along the way that by staying on things, staying at work, the best things can come out of the worse ---if you just work hard enough.
There's no doubt about it, Gino Hollander has found a great way of producing good paintings. One of the marvelous things about his talent is that he can create in public. His studio is part of his gallery. Visitors wander in, browse through the paintings on display in the gallery. Often they leave clutching a Hollander under their arms. While they browse and chat with him, Hollander continues to paint.
His studio also serves as a gallery for two other artists and a display of historic Spanish antiques. The gallery features sculptures by his daughter Siri and photographs by son Scott. Also on display are a number of 15thand 17th century Spanish antiques and historic artifacts from the Hollanders' own personal collection.
In 1982 Gino and Barbara established the Hollander Museum on the grounds of their home in Spain. The museum displayed a array of Spanish artifacts, antiques and Hollander's paintings. When the museum began to assume a life of its own and consume too much time form their lives, they decided it was time to go back to US that's where their children, and seven grandchildren were.
Gino and Barbara decided to try Santa Fe where daughter Siri was a sculptor. "But it was too commercial. I had a yearning for the mountains," remembers Hollander. Ironically the yearning would take him back to the place of his youth. "I remembered the Aspen I visited as a young soldier, so Barbara and I came up."
One day Gino rode a horse over to Crested Butte, "I found the emotion of the mountains and I was up and running, ready to paint," concluded Hollander. Form then on there was no question about where home would be. Today Hollander's studio and gallery is a virtual Aspen landmark. His evocative portraits that give new meaning to the concepts of truth and passion have made it all possible.