I have found that when an artist does work that both resonates with the public and that the artist really likes, it usually sells. It’s a perfect combination. But sometimes, when an artist is very successful at doing a style for a while, they can experience a strong desire to do something completely different.
Leland Holiday has created a lot of different styles of work over the years. This talented Dine’ artist began his career carving toys. He and his brother, Roger Armstrong, were at the forefront of the Navajo Folk Art movement. He carved tree stumps into sculptures, painted simplistic Navajo scenes and abstract patterns onto wood and canvas.
He liked them all, but when he began to paint animals, he found a home with his art. Today, his animal paintings on canvas and his paintings on carved lumber are found in collections across the United States. He is also known for his portraits of Navajo people.
One day, a few years ago, I was traveling with Leland to do a demonstration at the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, he had a heart issue and ended up in the Kayenta Clinic before being flown to Flagstaff. He’s fine now, but it gave us a scary couple of days.
But what I wanted to share with you is that we were driving along, and I asked him what kind of music he liked, thinking I could pull it up on my Sirius radio.
He replied, “heavy metal,” and I immediately thought, “This is going to be a long trip!”
But we did turn to that station, and you know what? It’s loud and crazy, but there is a lot of creativity in it. Leland loves music and when he’s painting, he’ll listen to everything from country to classical, but he does love heavy metal and he probably has the largest collection of heavy metal band t-shirts in the country.
Another time, during a fund raiser we had in the Gallery for a local classic music festival, Music in the Mountains, Leland was supposed to come up and talk about a painting he had submitted for the poster art for the festival. Other artists were also there with about 150 festival patrons.
He hadn’t shown up yet, and the event was moving along when I received a phone call on my cell from Leland.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m outside,” he answered. “And I am way under dressed to talk to these people.”
I walked outside and he looked fine, but he did have a Metallica t-shirt on. I convinced him that no one cared what he was wearing, and he came in and gave a wonderful talk about how he loved painting animals. People loved him.
I suspect you might be wondering what this newsletter is about. Well, not too long ago, Leland called and said he had a large canvas but didn’t know if I would like it. Basically, I love everything Holiday paints, so I told him to bring it up.
When he brought it in, it made me smile. It was a portrait of a Native man, in a head dress, with an American flag wrapped around him and a Metallica t-shirt underneath. The old, wrinkled man held a cigarette in his hands and his eyes were mesmerizing.
The first thing I thought was the this was an amazing and powerful painting. The second thing was that I thought I recognized the man in the painting, the way his eyes looked and the way he held the cigarette in his fingers. But I couldn’t remember who it was.But this was a painting that had been inside of Leland for a long time and, thankfully, for him and people who like his work, it was something he had to paint. We put it in a prominent space in the gallery.
Not thirty minutes after he had left, my sister Antonia walked in and said, “Wow, that looks just like Charles Eagle Plume!”
Charles was a Native who was one of the most famous of all Indian Art dealers in the last part of the 20th century. He had a trading post at Allen’s Park, Colorado near Estes Park the is now run by Nico Strange Owl. And Antonia was right. He would sit at his front desk and hold that cigarette while he talked to people who came to the store. I never saw him take a drag on it and the ashes would sometimes get two inches long! He gave lectures on Native People at venues across the country and he always wore a head dress like the one in the painting.
The look on the face in the painting is so like Charles that it makes me smile every time I look at it.
This a painting that Leland had inside and needed to let loose. It’s not one of his wonderful animal paintings and it’s not a typical portrait of a Native man, but it is a painting created with feeling and, I think, with a great deal of love and care.
It takes a lot of belief in himself for an artist to step outside of his comfortable zone and reach for a different place. I hope you like it as much as I do.