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Maverick Artist Makes His Mark

Colin Holt has become known for his abstract expressionist paintings, but the maverick artist refuses to be pigeonholed. Charles Darwin University (CDU) Art Gallery explores the diversity of Holt’s work over the last 40 years.

Looking back over his career, Darwin artist Colin Holt has done it all – painting, printmaking, music and furniture making, just to name a few.

CDU Art Gallery’s new exhibition, Colin Holt: a survey, features almost 90 pieces showcasing the diversity in Holt’s practice over the last 40 years.

Holt first arrived in Darwin in 1977 and studied Fine Arts at the Darwin Community College, CDU’s predecessor. 

In the 1980s, he lived and worked across Northern Australia including Cairns, Darwin River and on Bathurst Island, before starting a screen-printing studio at Wishart Siding. During the early 1990s he returned to the Tiwi Islands and ran poster and fabric printmaking workshops at Tiwi Designs.

Holt says the exhibition at his old artistic stomping ground feels like he’s come full circle from his days studying at the Darwin Community College.

“The first year I was there that art building opened,” he says.

“When I was there we ended up getting a demountable down at the swamp near where the new gallery is. It feels like I’ve come full circle since 1980 to be back there now – I’m still painting after all those years.”

Since those early days Holt has kept busy with many projects over many mediums.

Colin Holt: a survey features work including the abstract expressionism Holt has become known for and also his prints and large-format portraits.

His series of cheeky portraits of NT Chief Ministers has been updated to include the last three political leaders – Terry Mills, Adam Giles and Michael Gunner. 

The exhibition features 11 portraits from the updated series, 39 Years of Chief Ministers.

“Some of them I had references and some I did out of my head of what I knew of them and their character,” Holt says.

“For instance Adam Giles is riding a white stallion going down in a blaze of glory with a fire lighter burning everything in his path. And the one before him, Terry Mills is being stabbed in the back and the fire is starting. Then you get to Gunner and it’s all calm.”

Other works on show look at Holt’s fascination with the NT’s frontier history and conflicts. 

His interest was sparked while running screen-printing workshops in Borroloola about a decade ago.

“I started reading books about Borroloola including Frontier Justice by Henry Reynolds,” he says.

“I found those stories interesting and the artists at Borroloola paint lots of cowboys and horses from the stock era. It’s so fresh out there – those people remember their uncles and dads getting whipped and chained up – but it’s not all bad, there are a lot about the other good characters out there too.” 

CDU Art Gallery Acting Curator Kellie Joswig says the exhibition shines a spotlight on the maverick artist who she felt was under recognised, despite the quality of his work.

“Colin’s been established in Darwin for a really long time – he’s a really interesting local character who doesn’t get enough recognition,” she says.

“He’s got an interesting body of work and he’s quite quirky in his application of media.”

Colin Holt: a survey | Until  Sat 17 Feb | CDU Art Gallery

See the event listing.

Header image: Colin Holt, ‘Shane Stone, 26 May 1995 – 8 February 1999’ (detail), 2008, acrylic on canvas; collection of the artist

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