Saturday, September 21, 2013

Jim Holyoak: A portrait of the artist as an ink-stained bat

Posted By on 09.21.13 at 09:00 AM

A bat, an ant, and Jim Holyoak
One of the oddest, by which I mean awesomest, artists showing work at Expo Chicago is Jim Holyoak. Holyoak, who is represented by Galerie Donald Browne out of Montreal, can be found in the very back corner of Festival Hall. His booth is the one with two and a half quarts of black ink dripped down the wall. The effect is like being in the middle of a dense forest.

This is entirely appropriate. Holyoak's medium is ink, and his inspiration is the rainy forests of British Columbia where he lives. His largest and most striking pieces are portraits of the animals who live in the forest, rendered in ink applied with a brush and with parts of his body. A lot of the time, he uses his hands. Once, though, to produce a snake, he used his tongue.

"The ink tastes really bad," he says, "but it's not poisonous."

Holyoak found his form almost by accident.

"I'd been drawing my whole life," he says, "different kinds of drawing. Once I dyed my hair black and made a drawing with my hair. One night, I was messing around and printed my face on paper and I made it into a pig. I was thinking about how humans relate with other species. You often forget about pigs. Or you don't see the pig, you see a ham. I wanted to relate."

Holyoak traveled to Yangshuo in southern China to study traditional ink painting, which he prefers to European-style oil painting. The scenery of that part of China reminded him of home. Once he returned to British Columbia, he began working with a friend to re-create the forest in ink. His friend, who makes ink paintings using tree stumps, would provide the trees while Holyoak would produce the animals. When his friend unexpectedly moved to Finland, Holyoak decided to continue to make animals on his own. Most of them, except the cougar, are done from life. The spider was inspired by the ones who live in his studio. All his work is premeditated: he never makes random ink prints, studies them, and says, "Hey, that looks like it could be a bat."

Last winter, Holyoak visited Norway and Finland and began experimenting with landscape painting. "I'd flood the canvas with ink and watercolor," he says, "and then I would draw [with crayon] with two hands as fast as I could." The mixture of dry and wet created an eerie effect. There are a couple of those landscapes on display at Expo, too.

If you want to find Holyoak, just look for the guy whose hands are covered in black inkstains. "You can tell when I'm not working," he says. "I lose the stains."

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