Born: Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 1 August 1930, died October 5, 2014. Education: Queen’s Royal College, Port of Spain, 1948 Family: Married to Carmen de Lavallade in 1953. They have one son: Leo. Career: Company member, Boscoe Holder’s Dance Company Trinidad, 1942; formed dance troupe and toured Puerto Rico and Caribbean, 1950-53; United States debut, 1953, Broadway debut, 1954; solo dancer, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1956-57, Showboat, 1957; dancer, Kaufmann Auditorium, 1956-60; performer, Geoffrey Holder Dance Company, 1956-60. Choreographer, Bele, 1955; To the Divine Horsemen, 1956; Dance for Two, 1957; Prodigal Prince, 1957; PaPa Clown, 1959; African Suite, 1959; Brouhaha, 1960; Mhil Daiim, 1964; I Got a Song, 1964; Sybarites, 1968; Pas de Deux, 1968.
Awards: Guggenheim Fellowship in painting, 1957; United Caribbean Youth Award, 1962; Drama Desk Award, 1975; Tony Award, Best Director of a Musical, Best Costumes for The Wiz, 1975; Monarch Award, National Council of Culture and Art, 1982; Harold Jackman Memorial Award, 1982.
Although Geoffrey Holder was best known as a performing artist, he was also a visual artist. He first came to wide public notice as the dry-witted “Un-Cola Man” in Seven-Up commercials, and because of this he had a signature voice. While Holder shied away from being called a Renaissance man, his kaleidoscope of talents has allowed him artistic expression in dance, acting, writing, directing, photography, set design, sketching, and painting, he even published a Caribbean Cookbook. He first found encouragement to pursue painting in imitating his older brother, Boscoe, and the general theme of his drawings and paintings is the Caribbean. His choices of subjects, scale, and colours all reflect his native Trinidad.
Everything about Holder’s work suggests his native land. His subjects are blacks, portrayed with enough fluidity to suggest the Caribbean attitude of “no problem, mon.” In his coloured pencil work Man in Water (1985), for example, a man’s head rises out of rippling water. The man’s head is like an island, as is Trinidad. The piece offers a worrisome yet serene appearance. Holder’s still lifes are exotic, featuring plants with large flowers and unusual leaves.
As in the tropics, where the hot weather allows plants to grow far into maturity, Holder’s subjects take nearly all the space available. For the Broadway show The Wiz (1975), a black adaptation of the classic film The Wizard of Oz, Holder dressed most of the female cast members in large hoopskirts. His work netted Holder a 1975 Tony award for costume design. Later, after the award of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, he painted a thirty-foot mural on the Trinidad Hilton Hotel.
The tropical influence is also apparent in the vibrant colors of Holder’s works. The sun-drenched simplicity of his paintings offers an array of color harmonies common to his native land. Holder has achieved his lustrous palette by working through mediums to find those that allow him to control intensity. He has progressed from oil to using a combination of oil, wax, and grease-based coloured pencils and sticks.
Simple, yet full of personality, Holder invests a focused isolation in his art. As he does personally, his artistic forms need their own space. This is the feeling that underlies Holder’s art.