Growing up I shared a bedroom with my brother Jim and both of us started drawing at a young age. We would sit in our bedroom with music going, first from a transistor radio tuned to a rock ‘n roll station and later from a stereo we shared. We’d spend hours drawing pictures together. When you draw and create art with someone it’s a unique and intimate experience. You get inspiration from the other person and learn new techniques and it’s something that creates a true bond with the other person. I’ve only had this experience with one other person other than my brother and that was with my friend, Chris Holbrook.
Chris and I met our freshman year at Bergan High School. I can’t recall when we first met, but I do know we were kind of known as the two kids in our class that could draw. I’m sure there were others, but I never acknowledged them. I remember hanging out at Chris’ house and he at mine drawing together and creating art.
After high school, he went off to college, I flunked out of my one year at college and promptly went to work. Chris ended up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the early ‘80’s and I went there for a week-long vacation and that’s the last time we ever spent a good chunk of time together. That’s also the last time we ever drew in the same room together.
Chris moved back to Peoria in the early ‘90’s. By this time my passion for art was replaced with a new passion: Writing. I started writing and have never really drawn again. I started publishing, writing and editing the magazine People of Peoria at this time and Chris had a running page that we called, the “Holbrook Chronicles.” Below is his work from the second issue.
In 1993 I moved to New York and Chris and I lost touch with each other. There was no hard feelings or lack of a friendship, we just moved in different directions. I’d see him occasionally when I’d come back to Peoria and we always would share some laughs and stories. I remember him asking me the following question more than once: “So you never draw anymore?”
He always looked amazed when I told him I didn’t. I always recognized Chris as a true artist that literally could not stop drawing even if he wanted to.
Part of me has always liked the attention and praise that art and later writing brings if you work hard enough at it. I don’t think Chris cared that much about that aspect of it at all, he just wanted to create art.
And you’re about to see some of his creations, but first let’s meet a couple of people.
Susanne Nestory is the Curator of this exhibit.
This was truly a labor of love as Susanne was Chris’ partner/girlfriend and soulmate for over a dozen years. Art is what brought them together and art is what’s moving Susanne forward starting with this exhibit.
She summed up Chris and his passion for art in this section from her Curatorial Statement she wrote for Chris’ art exhibit: “As an artist, Chris was born to draw and he engaged this practice every day. His drawing sensibility found a natural extension into printmaking, where he refined his ideas and aspired to finely crafted images that would remain in flux.”
The Director of Galleries
Erin Buczynski is the Director of Galleries at Bradley and she had this to say about this exhibit and Chris: “I think the main thing I should mention is just how much work Susanne put into this exhibition. She poured her heart into this show, and it truly feels like Chris' own space and a glimpse into the inner workings of his mind. He was such a talented and prolific artist, all of us here in the Department of Art and Design miss him so much.”
Here’s the entrance to the gallery with a portrait of Chris and a fitting quote. Now let the circus begin!
Christopher Holbrook: His Own Private Circus
(Note all the following italicized captions from the photos at the exhibit are in quotes and are from Susanne Nestory’s Curatorial Statement.)
“In his ‘private circus’ we enter a highly personal and tactile world where drawing and thinking merge into a single expression.”
“It has been a joy and a pleasure to prepare this exhibition in honor of my late partner and companion, Christopher Holbrook. My vision for the show was to recreate the intimate experience of a working studio where his humorous and playful spirit thrived. He was fascinated by the tactile sense and he gathered and collected all manner of detritus; from found scraps, cutout photographs and pieces of fabric to rocks, sticks and remnants from the botanical world.”
“In the studio, Chris fed his imagination by surrounding himself with all that he accumulated. He was most comfortable inhabiting spaces that were packed with visual, verbal and musical information, which he organized according to his own curious logic.”
“In selecting the work, I chose to focus primarily on his drawing process; my aim was to illuminate his inquiries in a range of media and to accentuate the way he shifted from one image to the next, arriving at varying stages of resolution.”
“Chris often referred to himself as an “elliptical thinker.” The act of drawing enabled him to enter a state of free association with imagery. He loved to play with juxtapositions of language and form as a means of embracing the absurd. Figures morph into animals or botanical forms, while landscape and architectural forms intersect with abstraction. Odd figuration is a recurrent theme as Chris often channeled events in his daily life through characters he invented.”
“In his plates: copper, zinc, linoleum and woodcut, we see the range of his tactile sensibility, the touch of his hand.”
“He was forever in search of the happy accident.”
Happy trails, Chris. Those of us who knew you will miss you but your spirit lives on in those that you’ve taught and inspired through the years. Your artwork keeps you alive here on Planet Earth and will continue to entertain, inspire and make people think and wonder.
Thanks for the friendship, the laughter and your mind-blowing artwork.
1423 St. James
(Please Note: The exhibit ends tomorrow, so you should get over there quickly and check it out unless you’re a complete fucking idiot.)