“It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.”
—John Kenneth Galbraith
Last August, Peoria’s arts community suffered a devastating loss when artist Christopher Holbrook passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Holbrook, a graduate of Bergan High School, earned his BS in printmaking and commercial design from Western Illinois University and his MFA in printmaking from Bradley University, where he went on to become an art instructor, beloved by students and faculty alike. He was a member of the Central Illinois Artists Organization, a former artist-in-residence at Prairie Center of the Arts, and instructor at the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria.
From mid-January to mid-February 2019, Holbrook was remembered for his wide-ranging body of work and eclectic sensibilities at a retrospective exhibition inside Bradley University’s Hartmann Center Gallery.
Entitled “Chris Holbrook’s Private Circus,” the exhibit was curated by his longtime partner and fellow artist, Susanne Nestory. Nestory’s vision—“to recreate the intimate experience of entering his working space”—was highly successful, a tribute to her meticulous work and loving curation.
"In the studio, Chris fed his imagination by surrounding himself with all that he accumulated," Nestory writes. "He was most comfortable inhabiting spaces that were packed with visual information, which he organized according to his own logic."
The overall experience offered entry not only into Holbrook’s working space, but into his unique artistic imagination. The “circus” in the exhibition’s title refers to his accumulation of materials and the ways in which the self-described “elliptical thinker” combined them to create art.
“He loved to explore unusual juxtapositions of objects, words, materials and sounds as a means to express his own interpretation of the world,” Nestory explains.
Chris Holbrook’s body of work encompassed a wide range of mediums, including paintings, drawings, illustrations, etchings, collagraphs, monoprints and ceramic sculpture—incorporating elements of nature, the human form, mythology, political issues and popular culture. His work has been widely exhibited and is included in numerous university and private collections across the country.
“He was endlessly fascinated by the tactile experience, and he gathered and collected all manner of detritus from found scraps and pieces of fabric to rocks, sticks and remnants from the botanical world," says Nestory. "His work was inspired by the possibilities inherent in these different forms, patterns and textures.”
Like an actual circus, there is chaos, color and ambiguity as Holbrook experimented with different tools and mediums, but it all worked together in harmony.
“Any available surface was fair game to explore different possible effects,” Nestory notes. “In this regard, work and play were one and the same, which enabled him to be so prolific. He loved to experiment with tools and techniques in search of the happy accident.” PS
Go behind the scenes and spend "20 Minutes With Chris Holbrook" in this 2015 interview.