SPARKED: Don Holder

Mason Gross School artists discuss the elements that fuel their work

The Dutch Masters and Impressionists
Vermeer, Rembrandt, Cassatt, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh and many other painters reveal the world we live in, the people who inhabit it, and the lives that we lead, with such profound poetry and intelligence that it takes my breath away. As someone who works with the medium of light, re-visiting the creations of these extraordinary artists is always invigorating.

Architect Antoni Gaudí
The Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, Spain, is a vast cathedral where the morning sunlight piercing through stained glass windows creates an explosion of color, texture, light and shadow that is truly extraordinary and emotionally uplifting.

The light in the world around us

Some examples: The cool blue light of dawn when the world is revealed only in infinite shades of gray; the golden slashes of light we see on city facades as the setting sun cuts through a multitude of cracks and crevices in the urban landscape; the brilliant violet shadows you encounter on a walk in the woods at twilight.

The composers
Music and light both work in overt and subliminal ways to create the sense of time and place, to tell a story, and to evoke a powerful emotional response. Music and light are ephemeral substances: they can’t be touched, but can only be seen, heard or felt. Both communicate so much to us in non-literal terms, without the benefit of text. Music that transports us, that moves us, that is soaring in its emotional quality and varied in its dynamics, rhythms, and colors is particularly inspiring to me. The symphonic work of Gustav Mahler is so intensely emotional and transcendent that I can almost see the light that I’d like to create for him, especially when I listen for the umpteenth time to his Eighth Symphony, Resurrection, my all-time favorite.

The risk-takers
The stories of people who defy the odds, who have the fortitude, tenacity, and passion to push back against conventional wisdom to see an idea through or to accomplish something they all said could never be done: Many people come to mind, including Lin Manuel Miranda, who created an unforgettable hip-hop musical based on the story of one of our founding fathers—Alexander Hamilton; Christopher Columbus, who almost 500 years ago set out to find a water route to Asia by sailing west over the Atlantic and instead found the New World; Julie Taymor, who reimagined a popular animated film by employing a fusion of African art, music, dance, and Asian puppetry technique to create the groundbreaking musical The Lion King (for which Holder won a Tony Award for Best Lighting Design, in 1998). It’s the endeavors of individuals like these and so many others who give me the courage and the fortitude to continue to take risks and to create work that pushes past my own self-imposed boundaries and pre-conceived notions.

Posted November 2017
Photo by Don Holder

To learn more about Don Holder, click here.