Trinidadian artist Boscoe Holder (1921 – 2007) was the consummate Renaissance man. He led a celebrated artistic life as painter, dancer, costume designer, choreographer, dance instructor at the University of the West Indies, leader of an international dance group for nearly twenty years, band leader, and pianist.
Holder began playing the piano at age five, and by his seventh birthday he had begun painting, self-taught. As a teenager, enamoured of his island’s culture, he researched and learned the local dances and songs, and by the late nineteen-thirties he had formed a group of dancers and was producing shows depicting theatricalised versions of these songs and dances of Trinidad. At the same time he gave several solo art exhibits, and became a founder and life member of the Trinidad Art Society.
Boscoe’s work, although it drew on European styles of painting, always depicted his people and place and its culture. He often painted his dancers and musicians, and his interest in dance was inspired much more by local folk and African dance and ritual and music.
Boscoe Holder painted a large number of dynamic male nudes, boasting a deft spontaneity and fluid sensuality. Not exhibited during his lifetime, apparently, they were painted purely for the artist’s pleasure.
As the images here make clear, the best of Holder’s paintings fall into two categories: portraits of members of his family, and erotically-charged paintings of naked men. What these bodies of work have in common is the evident pleasure the artist takes in appearances, in light, in color, in the act of looking and in his ability to make a likeness available to us through the magic of paint. What distinguishes the two bodies of work from each other—apart from their divergence of subject matter and the different feelings of intimacy that this gives rise to—is the separate methods of their making. Each portrait is closely observed, carefully constructed, and concerned with the character of the individual subject. The nudes are different. They look effortless, spontaneous, dreamy. What gives them their expressive force, and what acts as a vehicle for the ardor with which they are suffused, is the untroubled manner of the artist’s approach; the paint is applied swiftly and without apparent revision, making the paintings urgent and carefree.
Many of Holder’s paintings are unsigned and undated. In the captions above, we’ve assembled whatever information was available about the paintings.
On the Chaise, acrylic, 8 x 10 inches, 1995
Asleep, acrylic, 8,5 x 11,5 inches, 1995
Green Background, acrylic, 19,5 x 15,5 inches, 1996
Trini White Cap, acrylic, no date
Portrait, acrylic, 19,25 x 15,5 inches, 2001
Upright, acrylic, 19,5 x 15,75 inches, 1996
Male Nude Study, acrylic
Male Nude, acrylic, 23 x 17,5 inches, 1991
Posed, acrylic, 15,5 x 18,75 inches, c. 1990
Male Nude Model, acrylic on canvasette, 24 x 20 inches, unsigned