Passive observation doesn't work for Kurt Holyoke. If people like his art, he'd like to know. If they dislike it, he'd like to know that, too.
What matters most, says the Tampa artist, is that there is a reaction to his work — that the message becomes a medium. Which is why, when viewers see the collection of Holyoke's acrylics at the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery, they are likely to be captivated by images that explore what the late pop artist Robert Rauschenberg called "the gap between art and life."
Rauschenberg, who was well known for compiling everyday images into provocative montages, is one of Holyoke's heroes and a major influence in what he calls his "fragmented form" style.
Using bold, bright colors, Holyoke fuses visual elements into vibrant collages that are often emotion-filled, and perhaps even a little disturbing to some observers. That combination of aesthetics and philosophy adds to the thrill of the creative process, Holyoke said.
"Placing objects into different contexts creates exciting prospects for me," Holyoke said by phone this week. "People can look at a tree and see that image a certain way. But if you rip things apart, deconstruct them, you also change the perception of them. It's the search for those possibilities that drives me to do what I do."
The 48-year-old artist, who teaches drawing and painting at Hillsborough Community College, had no real interest in an art career until well after he graduated from high school in Tampa. With his sights set on earning a degree in pharmacology, Holyoke rediscovered his childhood passion for art while studying drawing with HCC art professor Steven Holm.
"All of a sudden, I had a passion that needed to be fueled," Holyoke said. "After a while, I just realized I didn't want to do anything else."
Although considered for a full scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, Holyoke chose to remain in Tampa, where University of South Florida professor Theo Wujcik helped him to cultivate his interest in philosophy in the artistic realm.
After graduating from USF's honors arts program in 1995, Holyoke went on to earn his master's degree in art at California State University before returning to Tampa to pursue his career interests.
Though he works occasionally in oils, Holyoke prefers acrylics because of the vibrant hues they deliver.
"They can be a bit of a challenge to work with," he said. "They are a bit opaque when you first apply them. But they come out more as they dry. I always caution my students to be sure to allow for that."
Holyoke's own creations have been featured at several Tampa Bay-area galleries, including Pasco-Hernando Community College, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Hoffman Porges Gallery in Ybor City. He has also exhibited at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Ga.
In addition to being a devotee of the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi chuan, Holyoke enjoys teaching art to a variety of age groups in diverse settings such as homeless shelters and inner-city elementary schools.
"I love teaching, period," he said. "Art gives people a vital outlet, a unique voice that speaks to others about themselves."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.