Hollis Jeffcoat
born to paint

by Carol DeFrank

Hollis Jeffcoat at the
Watson MacRae Gallery
on Sanibel Island.

“I know what I’m looking
for when I start a painting,
but as the process
progresses my emotions
take over and I let it evolve.”

'Eaux Salees'

'Sail On I'

HOLLIS GARLAND JEFFCOAT SPEAKS only one language, one that doesn’t revolve around letters, but instead is made up entirely of color and canvas. For 35 years she has been painting all day, every day. “My work is my life. I’m driven, and I love it,” she admits.

Jeffcoat’s work is widely collected and hangs in several museums in Canada and New York City, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum and the Morgan Library. She’s had 21 solo exhibits, numerous speaking engagements nationally and internationally, and 44 group shows in the United States, Canada and France. Her paintings grace the homes of collectors and the famous, such as the Matese family, Frances Bacon and Joan Mitchell, to name a few.

A fifth generation Floridian, Jeffcoat has lived and taught in Florida, France, Canada, and New York. At one time she owned an art school in Naples, with friend and fellow artist Maureen Watson.

“I met Hollis in 2001 at an art function in Naples,” says Watson, owner of the Watson MacRae Gallery on Sanibel. “I discovered that she attended the New York Studio School, an acclaimed and rigorous institution. I was familiar with the kind of painting their artists produce. As expected, I found her work to be extremely accomplished. She is a great colorist who infuses her paintings with energy and spirit which moves it to a new level.”

Watson continues, “Whenever a gallery devotes the entire space to one artist, it is a big commitment. It’s a statement about the artists’ talent, stature and exceptional work. Since I’ve owned the gallery, I’ve had only a few solo exhibits and Hollis was one of them. One of the things I admire is that she continues to be true to oil painting even though it may not be as fashionable as other forms of art. She carries on the tradition but in a very contemporary way.”

Jeffcoat is an abstract painter. She explains that abstract art is an acquired taste and is not meant to depict any particular thing. The viewer is expected to feel as well as see the image. “One doesn’t walk up to my paintings and have everything spelled out for them,” Jeffcoat says. “It’s not so representational that everyone sees the same thing. My purpose is to take them on a journey.”

“Everyone is always trying to figure out what an abstract painting is supposed to be,” says Watson. “It’s the natural thing our brains want to do. In essence this form of art is meant to be felt. Hollis goes beyond abstract expressionism, managing to create a style that is hers alone. Her work always reflects her love of nature therefore is filled with intensity.”

After spending 25 years away from her native Florida, Hollis returned to Sanibel in 2009. “As much as I loved living in New York, it was no longer conducive to my work,” she says. “I paint landscapes, my work is based on nature. Living in a loft in New York just didn’t make sense.”

Growing up in Southwest Florida infused her blood with the love of this lush nature and she took that wherever she traveled. She explains, “My paintings are based on the contact between my sensibility and nature. I know what I’m looking for when I start a painting, but as the process progresses my emotions take over and I let it evolve.”

At first the Jeffcoat family wasn’t excited about their daughter becoming an artist. “They thought I would starve to death,” she says. “They wanted me to study business. I just chuckled and told them I don’t even speak that language.” She never worried about her annual income. “Maybe it comes from an indifference to security and money. To me, happiness is and always has been, all about art not money.”

Hollis considers herself one of the fortunate few who are born knowing what and who they were going to be when they grew up. “When I was only four years old,” she recalls, “I remember my nanny telling me to get my bicycle out of the way of driveway traffic. At the time, I was coloring. I looked at her with a serious expression and told her that she should never interrupt me when I’m coloring.

“Not long after, I remember looking up at the sun setting and enjoying the various colors in the sky. As young as I was I had the urge to go inside and paint what I just witnessed. By the time I was in the first grade I announced to my classmates that I was going to be an artist when I grew up.”

At 16, Jeffcoat took her first private art lessons from local artist, Gail Bennett, and continued until graduating from Fort Myers High School. She taught art for Bennett while attending Edison State College, before leaving for the Kansas City Art Institute. Her education continued at the New York Studio School in New York City, where she studied with Mercedes Matter, the founder of the school, as well as Philip Guston, George McNeil and other accomplished artists. She also apprenticed with Joan Mitchell in France for three years. Hollis says, “These artists taught me structure and made me aware that even the smallest change in a painting can make a huge difference.”

Jeffcoat’s work continues to evolve and remain fresh and is constantly garnering recognition and admirers. She always welcomes new challenges. “There’s always a painting calling to me and at a certain moment I’m sure a sculpture will call,” she says. “I haven’t sculpted since my 20s but it’s a medium that has always interested me.”

Jeffcoat will be one of four artists in a show at the Watson MacRae Gallery on Sanibel in February. “She has a good set of collectors, a good following of people who patiently wait for new pieces. We are expecting a very successful show,” says Watson. •

January-February 2015