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Pentaminoes – Doug Holst

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After viewing Doug Holst’s formal abstract geometric works, one might picture an older, meticulously neat man with manicured hands and an immaculate studio. When I practically stumbled over Doug and his 13-year old Italian greyhound, Lucy, sitting on the steps outside his east side apartment, my preconceptions were instantly dispelled. The almost-40-year old artist looks more like a college student, and made me suspect that he has an aging portrait of himself in an attic somewhere. Upstairs, I was met with several rooms jammed with dozens of brilliantly colored paintings. As we settled on his futon, listening to his well-worn Iron and Wine CD, the Milwaukee native apologized for “only” having a bachelor’s degree from UWM. “I first started out doing traditional realist stuff,” such as a hallway in Mitchell Hall and still lifes, “but I knew I wanted to do something different,” he explained. “I started becoming more interested in compositions in color and then transitioned into cubist still-lifes for several years.” Unfortunately, however, these works still somewhat resembled the tabletop settings he was painting earlier. “My subject matter was becoming more like baggage that I wanted to get rid of,” he said. Holst then got into working more with vertical lines and circles, many times painting them with his fingers. “I started moving towards color theory and geometry, but after a while, that got too easy,” Holst said. This phase segued into his series of stripe paintings which “lined things up and then expanded out” into circles on different planes. “I was getting more uptight about color relationships and I wanted more structure with that,” he continued, which led to one type of subdivided striped paintings, akin to those he just showed at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison. Holst also began painting pentaminoes, which “at first, I didn’t even know had a name.” Working on graph paper, Holst explored the 18 possible shapes one can make with five squares, which result in designs similar to the highly addictive Game Boy program, Tetris. A mathematician in Belgium has even emailed him the program that computes the solutions to this formula. “A lot of them have a 60’s feel, referencing places other artists have been,” Holst said, specifically mentioning Bridget Riley and Sol le Witt. “I’ve tried to move away from the retro thing,” he explained. “It’s kind of superficial or trendy and just comes and goes. I’m hoping it goes deeper than that.” He describes himself as a formalist and is “most interested in exploring formal and universal themes as well as color and tone relationships.” “One guy in Madison, however, said that my works were making people dizzy. I don’t intend for that to happen — I’m just thinking about the spectrum and moving from color to color.” “I’d like to do outdoor art, but I should probably ask permission,” he said. Holst’s first big pentamino was on a huge boarded-up garage next to the Brass Light Gallery. He painted the piece by himself on huge sheets of masonite in his basement. One night, he and five friends took it over and screwed the 14′ X 16′ painting onto the garage wall – without permission. It was gone the next night. Unfortunately, most of his wall paintings have been painted over. “It’s not too bad,” Holst admitted. “As long as a lot of people saw it and there’s documentation of it. Otherwise it’s like the party no one came to.” On the other hand, Eric Vogel, an architect who is designing an apartment building near Conejito’s, is interested in using some of the shapes and colors Holst has been using. He also has a “bunch of pieces” at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where, until this June, he had worked as a full time security guard for 11 years. Holst has a painting and four works on paper there, and he just did a permanent wall painting in the museum offices this May. He also recently attended an opening in Portland, Oregon, that features a wall painting he completed in about two days. Holst’s inspiration for his works is “an ongoing thing. Once the ball gets rolling, you don’t even think about it,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for so many years. Now I just follow the work around. It takes on a life of its own. I don’t ask questions – I just do what I’m told.”
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