Hearing and seeing are not separate senses for Fort Lewis College associate professor Tony Holmquist. In his multidisciplinary approach to art, Holmquist’s visual art informs his musical performances, and his music inspires his printmaking.
As an associate professor at Fort Lewis College, his art career has taken him around the country and across the world. His work in developing processes with art materials that are less toxic led to his being named Fort Lewis College’s Featured Scholar for 2016-2017.
Teaching is an integral part of his art.
“I’m extremely lucky that I can come in and help students with their work,” he said. “Whether it’s at the freshman or senior level, it’s totally gratifying. It helps you to be a much better artist.”
The first inkling of artistic talent came when he was 5 or 6, and his crayon portrayal of Peony Park in Omaha, Nebraska, where he grew up, won a contest and was entered in an exhibit.
“My parents realized I had an attention to detail,” said Holmquist, 37. “And while they never really pushed me into art or music, when a high school teacher said I should be an art major, they were supportive.”
During his second year at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, he was exposed to printmaking and the idea of music and visual art influencing each other in his work was born.
“I loved the look of embossing, intaglio, the cleanness of the paper,” Holmquist said. “I was taking a class about the history of American jazz at the same time, and I incorporated it into my artwork, doing portraits as I learned about musicians like John Coltrane. The drawing and patterning in printmaking is akin to jazz music itself – the negative space between notes is the same as the negative space between shapes and lines.”
The next semester’s studies of contemporary fiction by Native American authors were incorporated into his art, too.
“By the end of that semester, I was developing the type of line work I still use,” he said.
Holmquist didn’t take a direct route to his degrees. In the middle of his undergraduate work, he took a year off, living in Portland, Oregon, where he continued taking classes in art history and more printmaking as well as taking music lessons. He and a friend took off on an adventure to Alaska.
After graduating from Nebraska with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, he spent time in Austin, Texas, drawn by the vibrant music and art scene and an internship at Flatbed Press. Working on contract printing, conducting printmaking workshops and art preparation and installation, Holmquist realized that while he enjoyed working in museums, he missed the daily connection with other artists.
“I missed the way they looked at the world, their sensibility,” he said. “I decided to apply to graduate school with the intention to pursue teaching.”
A master’s degree from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and three years as an instructor at Maine’s public liberal arts college, which added digital art to his repertoire, led him to Fort Lewis.
Picking up fiddle playing in graduate school brought another form of inspiration to his art.
“Bowing isn’t just back and forth,” Holmquist said. “There are amazingly fluid positions, figure eights, ellipses. Music is always helping me build an abstract visual vocabulary, and some have shown up in my work – repetitions, gestures, rhythm, all are music terms that make concepts easy to explain.”
Sometimes his art is inspired by his network of friends. One group of friends in Denver organizes firework shows, and Holmquist has been known to hang out with them at the launch site.
“What you see up close and personal from directly underneath has a lot of similarities to music,” he said.
Part scienceHolmquist has won numerous awards and had work selected for juried shows and exhibits that have taken place in places such as Australia and New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Finland.
His experience in New Zealand introduced him to Mark Graver, a pioneer in creating nontoxic materials for artists.
“I didn’t invent a new type of ink or something like that,” Holmquist said. “But I have developed methods to make the materials work in my shop.”
Printmakers traditionally bathe plates in Dutch mordant, nitric acid or ferric chloride, all of which can be quite toxic, he said.
“Mordant will eat the enamel of the teeth away,” Holmquist said. “They’re both strong and dangerous. I had a student who was pregnant, and I’ve had others who have asthma. I don’t want to put them in a situation where it affects their health.”
Holmquist has experimented with ingredients available at Home Depot or the supermarket, he said, which may differ from what Graver has access to in New Zealand or the United Kingdom. He uses citric acid, copper sulfate crystals mixed with water and salt for etching and has tried other compounds for different stages of the process such as floor polish.
“When I started, I taught what I knew,” Holmquist said. “It takes experimenting as I’m in the process of relearning printmaking materials.”
Music and sound artWhen Holmquist isn’t teaching or creating art, he is performing with the Six Dollar String Band along with bandmates Brendan Shafer, Stephen Sellers and Robin Davis. Dedicated to old-fashioned string-band music, Holmquist generally plays fiddle but also performs on the banjo and guitar.
“It’s the original American music,” he said. “And it’s kind of like printmaking, in that it’s underground, not on the surface. It won’t find you. You have to be exploring and look for it.
With a 7-inch vinyl record coming out soon and new experimentations with sound art as the group approaches its sixth anniversary in January, that side of his life is hopping, too. Sound art is a new concept for many, he said.
“When a garbage truck is outside, and you’re trying not to listen, it’s annoying,” Holmquist said. “But when you actively listen, it’s much more interesting. It’s like looking at clouds, you don’t say ‘That’s a pig,’ you just say, ‘That’s a cloud,’ and let it be just what it is.
At home, he’s working on creating his own print shop – he already has three presses – running and hanging out with his wife, Andrea Martens, an artist in her own right, and their cats. He also sits on the board of KDUR-FM public radio, where he has been known to DJ shows dedicated to string-band music.
The passions he pursues in his life impact the way he teaches.
“I tell my students I want them to be themselves,” Holmquist said. “I want them to be proud of their weirdness, be original, let it through in their work. There’s no reason to be shy, everyone has a story, everyone has something to say.”