Printmaker Holch inspired by island’s timeless beauty

Article in The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket, Mass., Thursday, August 14, 2014. Photo by Nicole Harnishfeger.

Artist Eric Holch has been coming to Nantucket since he was a child, constantly drawn back by the water, the boats, and how the island has seemingly stood still through time as the world around it evolves.

His gallery at 10 Old South Wharf features stylized snapshots of Nantucket in the summer, just as it has looked for decades: the view of town from the water, Brant Point Lighthouse, and the beach dotted with beach umbrellas. Holch has been creating original serigraph prints for 35 years, and has never run out of ideas, as the island serves as his inspiration.

“You just drive around the island, go to the beach, do whatever it is you do, and something just grabs you . . . something pops into view and you say ‘Wow, that’s cool’,” Holch said.

Holch’s prints are bold, with strong colors, crisp lines and new this year are some three-dimensional prints that make the image pop.

“I use a few prints to do it, I cut it out and put it on top of another print . . . the 3-D paintings are for people who want a one-of-a-kind piece of art. It’s a fun project,” Holch said.

One 3-D print features a boat in the harbor that comes to life layered over the water, followed by the buildings in the background, then the horizon layered underneath, adding depth to the piece.

He began printmaking as a boy in the mid-1970s, when there were a dozen other printmakers on the island. Now, he is one of the only artists who still uses the technique, giving his art a unique and recognizable style.

He decided to focus on art full-time after giving up his corporate job in advertising, but initially feared he would run out of ideas. “I sat in my mom’s house . . . and spent the whole day sketching,” Holch said. “Every time I was dry out of ideas I would go back to that sketchbook,” as he still does to this day.

The art of printmaking is a very technical process that uses special oil-based paints and fade-resistant inks. Using hand-cut-stencil techniques, an image requires a different fill for each color used. Due to the precision and time required, one large print can take up to four months to finish, Holch said.

Once a print is cut there is no blending, adding or changing. Where a mistake in an oil painting can be smudged and altered, all printmaking work is clean-cut and permanent.

Most of Holch’s work is done in the winter, after he’s had time to reflect on the photographs he took during the summer and his gallery is closed for the season except by appointment only.

Though most of Holch’s prints are of contemporary Nantucket, the way it looks to him as he wanders around the island, he also pays homage to its history. One print is of a whale’s tail poised above the water’s surface, with the word “Nantucket” splashed across the top of the print in white lettering.

“I wanted to do something with a historic feel that brought people back to the essence of what Nantucket used to be all about,” he said. A couple prints hanging in Holch’s gallery this week showed traditional scenes of sailors, first in a whaling boat seeking their prey, then about to harpoon the animal like a scene from Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”

A sailor himself, Holch also created the Nantucket Race Week logo, a scene of colorful sailboats racing to the finish line. Holch has sailed previously in the Opera House Cup, and enjoys spending time aboard his boat.

Also new this year is a vertical painting of freshwater lures, inspired by the print he created last year featuring saltwater plugs. He came up with the idea while putting away his own plugs after a fishing trip.

Holch only makes a few new prints each year, and keeps printing the classics as well. As for his distinct style: “I couldn’t change if I wanted to,” he said.