Capturing the West: Moffat County artist Israel Holloway exceeds expectations with prominent showcases |

Capturing the West: Moffat County artist Israel Holloway exceeds expectations with prominent showcases

Artist Israel Holloway gazes at a portrait of Ben Nighthorse Campbell that hangs in the director's office at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Sasha Nelson

Artist Israel Holloway

Already 2019 has been a banner year for local artist Israel Holloway. His art has exceeded expectations at two of the biggest art shows in the west.

In January six of his paintings were shown at the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale in association with the National Western Stock Show. Three of the artworks sold during the opening reception that Holloway attended with his wife, Jennifer.

Israel and Jennifer Holloway at the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale in January.

His work “Humbled and Patient” — painted with Merlot wine on watercolor paper — was accepted and sold at The Russell Auction at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls Montana in March.

“I believe this is the first time the auction has offered this medium (wine) to the crowd of western art collectors,” Holloway said.

The Russell generates $3 million to $10 million in sales with approximately 225 paintings sold across two days of auction. Holloway’s painting had an estimated value of $4,000 to $6,000 and sold for $8,190.

“Both shows were very humbling for me to get into. Many of the famous artists I look up to exhibit there, and I’ve applied for several years,” Holloway said.

Jace Romick Gallery in Steamboat Springs also now represents several of Holloway’s pieces.

Craig Press had the opportunity to find out more about Holloway’s path to becoming an artist.

Craig Press: The myth is that artists are starving. Would you say you’ve found a way to support yourself and your family with your work?

Israel Holloway: Well, first off, my wife Jennifer and I have been a strong team for a long time and we grew up working together. We always wanted our kids to have a parent around and knew we would have to make career sacrifices for that to happen. Supporting the family is more than just a financial accomplishment. I was a builder in Steamboat Springs for over a decade thinking that I was supporting my family when it was really my wife at home doing the hardest part — supporting our kids’ development.

I was injured on the job in 2008 and after two surgeries and eight months of physical therapy I couldn’t return to what I knew how to do. We sold our house, downsized, and my wife took the reins at bringing in the paycheck. I did return to construction for about a year when I thought I was healed, but my body couldn’t do it and my ego finally had to give up.

Staying at home and doing all the things that you haven’t really given your wife credit for is very humbling. I started painting again at home while I was home-schooling our daughter. Shortly after, I was approached by CNCC to teach a watercolor class which eventually led to teaching several different art classes. Throughout that time the artwork started selling, more shows around the country started accepting my work, I received some awards and I received several commissions.

Now I’m fortunate to be in a few of the top Western art shows, galleries are approaching me, the sales are more frequent, and the prices are steadily moving up. Making a living from art isn’t as guaranteed as another choice might be but I’ve heard that if your path ahead is obvious and clear, it’s probably someone else’s path.

How did you get your start?

Probably influence from my mother and other family members growing up. My grandfather was an auctioneer and sign painter, which led my uncles into the sign business and graphic art. They offered encouragement and I always seemed to have a good set of colored pencils.

I was also a sign painter for several years in Boulder while my wife attended the University of Denver. In 1994 I was hired by a prominent Denver artist to sculpt out some of his ideas for the Coors Field project. This was probably my first realization that someone could make it as an artist.

Were you always good at it?

Well, I feel good when I’m making art. I guess we start to determine what we are good at based on our successes and feedback from others. Drawing or painting something to look real is a technical skill that is probably easier for some but in the end, a camera will do it the best.

Honestly, I don’t know that I am good at making a piece of art. I’m just happy to be on the journey.

How have you perfected your skills?

It has taken me several years of reading, observing, teaching and participating to start understanding what visual art really is. On one hand it’s knowing what the eyes like to see, drawing the viewer in and keeping them there, using restraint and color harmonies and how specific lines or colors affect our reactions and emotions.

The other hand is expressing who I am and what I want to say to the world. I look for subjects and human expressions that show self-reflection, humility, honesty, beauty, perseverance, and certainly love, because those are attributes that I want to see in myself and humanity as a whole.

What do you do to continue to grow as an artist?

Observe, slow down and really look. It’s amazing how many years I’ve been looking at things but not really seeing them. Also experimentation, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone sometimes.

Who has influenced you as an artist?

Being an art teacher at Colorado Northwestern Community College for five years, all the wonderful students I was fortunate to interact with, and the artists who have been kind enough to publish their knowledge, observations and methods over the years have certainly influenced my work. Harley Brown, Burt Silverman, Steve Hanks, Norman Rockwell, and Edward Curtis are a few that I look to for advice.

What medium do you work in and why?

I’ve worked in transparent watercolor for a while now and that really feels like my voice. I use three tubes of paint and the white of the paper. No black or white paint, and I no longer use masking fluid.

Painting watercolor on archival clay board is something I am experimenting with because it can be varnished in the end eliminating the reflective glass or acrylic glazing. I am also now aggressively working in oils. I love the transparency of watercolor, but collectors favor oil paintings. 

What was the inspiration for using wine, and does it create challenges for your work?

I always donate a piece of art to the CNCC Foundation yearly fundraiser, and several years back they combined that with a wine tasting event. I was just hoping that creating a painting using wine would catch some attention and raise some funds for the foundation.

It is challenging compared to watercolor because it stains like ink and can’t be lifted out or moved around. I think people relate to the wine paintings because they are familiar with wine. It makes a good conversation piece when you have a glass in your hand. 

“Humbled and Patient,” made with Merlot wine on watercolor paper by Moffat County artist Israel Holloway.

What themes do you enjoy exploring with your art?

Most of my work is Western-themed because we are surrounded here by the real west. This is where it happened and is still happening. I need references when I draw or paint and we have real cowboys and cowgirls, wild horses, incredible museums, etc.

I am also experimenting with blending figurative realism with western symbols and repetition. I think this might connect with some of the younger collectors. If I asked myself, “What’s the most beautiful thing I could paint?” it would certainly be a child. Children have an innocence and honesty that is so authentic and real, it can’t be modeled.

To what do you attribute your recent successes?

Having a supporting family, persistence, luck, and just trying to be in the present moment.

What else would you like readers to know?

Although I would have rather had a horse, I grew up riding a bike and skateboard, and it was difficult to find somewhere outside where we were welcomed or allowed. I’d like to encourage the city to bring back the skate park. Many of my past students used that park as well as my daughter and myself. Please bring it back, and with a smooth surface this time — I’m getting older and falling hurts worse.