Many Americans only remember Geoffrey Holder as 7up’s “Un Cola Guy,” but the Trinidadian-American actor was so much more. He portrayed characters in an array of films and plays including Annie, Boomerang and Live and Let Die. He was a dancer and a choreographer whose choreography was showcased in the repertory of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He won Tony awards for directing and designing costumes for The Wiz. And he published a cookbook.
As a visual artist, he was a virtuoso photographer, painter and sculptor whose works have been exhibited in several galleries and museums. Not bad for a guy who was often teased and discounted because of his tendency to stammer.
Holder’s eldest brother, Arthur Aldwyn “Boscoe” first ignited his interest in art by teaching him painting. (And the younger Holder went on to mimic the elder in many pursuits which goes to show us all how great and important brotherhood is.)
In Holder’s paintings, it is clear to see the constant inspiration provided by his Trinidad and Tobago roots. He was truly in love with the people, the environment, the culture, the colors, the spirit, the beauty of the Caribbean. For example, in The Arrangement, a woman balances a large potted plant on her head. The background is lush, tropical, a fractal mix of blues, greens, and deep browns with instances of red. In the foreground, the woman stands erect. Her eyes averted but her lips are set just so as if she knows she’s being eyed but she hasn’t the time for all the unnecessary attention right now. Perhaps her arms are full and the plant is heavy. Don’t stare when you can offer to carry some of tis rye cheer!
What a magnificent plant. She’s probably carrying it back home from the market to place in her front room or hang on her porch. But from the way it is arranged atop her head, it almost seems like a crown and an intentional accessory. Holder seems to say, “No one swags like a lady from the islands. She swags by accident and she’s still the resounding bell of the ball.”
To learn more about Geoffrey Holder and his work, click here.