A COLOURFUL CAREER
Jan Woolley talks to Donald Holden, who has painted prolifically throughout his long and distinguished time as an artist
In his 80th year, artist Donald Holden is holding a highly successful retrospective exhibition, 80 Years in the Making, detailing the development and evolution of his highly acclaimed work.
Donald, who worked for 35 years as an art teacher, uses various styles and mediums and believes in the well-respected maxim, ‘Evolution rather than revolution,’ to develop his creativity, producing stunning landscapes that evoke the very essence of a place, season or time.
Educated at Nelson Grammar School and the Cheshire County Training College, Alsager, Donald’s parents both worked in the local mill before his father entered the Civil Service: “I don’t recall either of my parents being particularly artistic as, at the time I was brought up, families were more concerned about earning a living, it was the aftermath of wartime. They worked in the mill as everybody did,” recalls Donald.
Having trained and worked as an art teacher at various secondary modern and high schools, Donald painted throughout his career and had various solo exhibitions at local galleries. He retired from teaching at the age of 55. “My health was falling apart. I couldn’t carry on,” he says.
Having undergone major surgery, Donald continued to paint: “I found it extremely therapeutic. It was something I loved and it was a joy to be able to continue to draw and paint. I came up with the idea that I would do a painting each day, recalling somewhere I had been or something I had seen all based on the landscape.”
“When I retired I never took the conscious decision to ‘become an artist’ as it was something I had done all my life. I love experimenting with different styles.”
Five years after retiring, and having recovered his health, Donald continued to work prolifically, using his trademark method of producing an original sketch in pencil or ink, usually done on the spot when out in the countryside, returning to his loft conversion studio, and developing the sketch with the use of ink or watercolour.
A keen fell walker, Donald has travelled the length and breadth of the country but mainly gets his inspiration from the wild landscapes of North Wales, Northumberland, the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and, of course, Lancashire.
“Those are the places I really love. One of my favourite places is Wycoller, but to be honest wherever I am, there is always something to sketch,” says Donald, who continues to work with art societies, carrying out demonstrations, delivering lectures and workshops.
“I have always said that the best place to draw is where you are at that moment. Don’t spend time looking for the ideal place as it doesn’t exist. Go with what you have in front of you.”
A decade ago, Donald held a highly acclaimed solo exhibition ‘70 at 70’ at Pendle Heritage Centre to mark his 70th birthday: “I thought, ‘that’s it, my last major exhibition’. But then I reached 80 and here I am with ‘80 Years in the Making’ at Longitude Gallery in Clitheroe.”
“When the gallery approached me I knew I had enough original work to do the exhibition,” adds Donald, who says as a student, he was inspired by English artist Graham Sutherland.
“He has a lot to answer for! When we were at school we were encouraged to subscribe to a newspaper – printed all in black and white but on one particular occasion, printed in colour on the front page, was a little illustration Gorse on a Sea Wall by Sutherland. There was a series of studies showing how the painting was developed. That really struck a chord – I suddenly realised that landscapes were not necessarily just pretty pictures, there are other approaches. I later discovered that particular painting, plus another Entrance to a Lane, were painted in 1939, the year I was born.”
“It really inspired me to look at other artists of the time, to see what they were doing. I didn’t want to copy them but in hindsight it gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, to take off and be different.”
“Some of my paintings are almost as a result of an accident. In some cases, more recently, I have turned things on their head and added splashes of coloured ink to wet paper, let it dry, then started drawing working on top of the colour, using the colour to guide me and develop ideas. On other occasions, I have obscured colour using white gouache.”
The results of Donald’s subtly-changing technique are remarkable – his sketches on splashes of coloured ink, including Clapper Bridge Wycoller and Craster Gardens, are in some cases vibrant, in others, watery, delicate and atmospheric – all are masterfully detailed.
“The technique has taken me in a different direction, I like working around the colour. I always say if you are going to change how you work don’t force it, let it gently evolve.”
The 80 Years in the Making exhibition can be viewed at Longitude Gallery, Clitheroe until the end of January 2020