This is the story from musical art
to interactive music boxes told by the artist.
I present to you the narrative of Scott Von Holzen’s artwork. I have spent eighteen years creating musical artworks that I would describe today as portraits of a song. The inception of my artistic journey traces back to the late sixties, when I enrolled in a basic drawing class at the University of Wisconsin Center. I recall that the art class took place in a former automobile garage building, with the models dressed in leotards. Curiously, the one drawing I remember was that of a paper bag for reasons unknown. I also do not recall the reasons behind my decision to choose that class as an elective. No matter, that class is one of only a few college classes times I remember.
I should mention that when I graduated from high school, I did not know what I was going to do next. I told my favorite uncle Walter that my plan was to go to the local Technical College in Wausau Wi. He told me not to go there, but I should go to the University of Wisconsin. Lucky for me, the University I lived at home next door to two your campus in Marshfield, Wisconsin. That made the choice easier. That decision altered my life in every way.
After two years at the center, I transferred south to Madison, attending classes at the University of Wisconsin. While there, I read two paperback novels by Irving Stone, Lust for Life, the Vincent Van Gogh story, and the Agony and the Ecstasy, about the life of Michelangelo. Soon after college graduation, in 1971, I traveled to Europe with my close friend Allen Brock. During our three-month journey, I visited the Louvre, the Van Gogh museum, the British Museum, and other historical sites. Seeing the works of the Impressionists, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, who was still alive, and my greatest influence, Vincent Van Gogh, opened wide my creative drive to explore.
My first art studio was a spare bedroom in a small apartment along Central Avenue in Marshfield Wi. that my new wife and I moved into in 1974 (Barbie reminded me she first met me when she was working as a bank teller. I would come into the bank, probably every other month, to buy a money order to pay for my Time-Life series Library of Art). It was in that spare bedroom that I painted my first artwork on a canvas board of my Mom and Dad in dazzling shocking colors. This was my first and last FAVE painting. In those early years, although self-taught, I grew in skill and technique to be an interesting portrait painter of mostly, friends, and relatives. In the year 1977 Barbara and I moved to Tomahawk to operate a small resort motel. My studio was in the backroom of the motel office, in the narrow electrical room with only a screen door for light in the summer. The studio lighting was bad and the motel’s electrical boxes were only a foot or so away from the easel I built. What keep me motivated was trying different techniques and a small collection of art books. Those books included the Third Edition of The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques. Other important first artbooks included An Invitation to See 125 Paintings From the Museum of Modern Art, and American Masters The Voice and the Myth. My first Impressism book arrived from France sent to me by the mother of an exchange student that my traveling friend, Alan Brock, and my wife both knew in high school and who we visited when we were in Paris. My early art history started with portraits painted on cut sheets of Masonite primed with homemade gesso. It all came to an end in 1984, for a number of reasons, ending with me painting copies of classical artwork portraits on Styrofoam using an airbrush.
My guess is I quit painting out of a loss of interest, subject matter, and the increasing time demands of running a growing motel business that functioned 24 hours, 7 days a week. The creative drive eventually did return, but this time it was landscape photography. My first 35mm was an Olympus OM -1. With the expansion of more motel units, I was able to set up a darkroom in the windowless back of a laundry room. I also returned to writing poetry (this might have started late in college). In time I expanded my landscape photography, eventually becoming a part-time real estate photographer using a larger format camera for a log home builder. All this seemed to keep what creative desires I possessed growing for years.
We left the motel business in 1997 and bought our first house. It was in the basement of that home that I built my best darkroom. I continued my nature photography mostly of trees and waterfalls, stay on for a while as a log home photographer, and worked for an aerial photography company as a large printmaker for several years. I spent many long hours in my darkroom, working with different equipment and films. Surprisingly, to this day my collection of finished prints from that time is small and disappointing. It then is not surprising that my darkroom photography came to a quick end when I bought my first digital camera, a Canon Rebel, in 2003. That may have been influenced by another big change in my life I made a few years before.
In the late nineties, I returned to school in a Technical College taking me five semesters to earn an Associate Degree in Computer Information Systems in 2001. I graduated with three certifications, and a student award, which lead me to leave my front desk job at a hotel for a support position in the IT department at a local paper company in Wausau Wi. All of my previous adventures may have needed to come first in order for me to arrive while working at the paper company. That special moment came from I a casual conversation about art with the company salesperson Jaime, a tall and handsome Mexican American. His sales travels abroad representing the company allowed him some free time to visit art museums. He is the one that pronounced my name as “Scoot”, and thought that my last name, Von Holzen, could be that of an artist or be on the nameplate for high-end stereo equipment. His question to me (that changed my life) was why had I quit painting so long ago. I had no answer, but curiously I soon made the decision to return to painting.
I started where I left off in the 1980s by painting a self-portrait, in 2005. After finishing a few other portraits and a couple of flower abstracts in the style of Georgia O’Keeffe, I hit a wall. I had run out of subjects to paint, once again. This brought back those same doubts that ended my art career in the early eighties. The reality was that now I was a 57-year-old dreamer, not so young anymore, trying to reactivate again the thrill of self-discovery in the arts, and finding I had nowhere to go. Then on New Year’s Eve night, it happened.
Late that night, early in 2006, the phone rang, which startled me. Barbara answered the call from work. That awakening moment brought to light what I could do. I awoke to the idea of somehow, unknown to me at the time, I was going to paint sheet music. Obvious not a familiar genre, but understandable considering that music has played a part although my life.
At age seven, my musical education began with accordion lessons (I still have my accordion). Later in high school and into early college, I was part of a rock & roll band singing back up and playing the Farfisa, and Vox organ (John Lennon played a Vox organ). Then while attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison earning a degree in Business Administration, I taught myself to play the folk guitar, Blues harp, and juggling which has nothing to do with music but I thought it was fun. To this day I do not practice music enough to be worthy of a listen. And yet, the little I dabbled with the guitar, the alto saxophone, violin, and my key instrument the piano, all have given me a sense of what a real musician feels and has greatly improved my understanding of Music Theory. In fact, in 2014 I took a first-semester music harmony class at the local UW center and tied for the highest score on the final exam.
Now that I found my subject matter to paint I then had to figure out how I was going to paint music differently from what artists have done for centuries? I knew from my awakening on that New Year’s Eve night that the answer was in sheet music. I just did not know how or what to paint. That is when I realized that all I had to paint was the up and down flow of music seen in sheet music. Finally, on an unfinished self-portrait in mid-January 2006, I made the first attempt at a music theme.
Three days later I finished my first all music painting, titled Bird’s Fly, based on the music Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
It is now 2022 and this musical journey continues. After completing my first great accomplishment the 13-painting series of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons Series in early 2015, that same year I experimented with adding wood features to my canvases. Then my next leap was in 2018, I added my first sound system to a Beethoven artwork.
Where I am going with this art, I can only guess, that what you see today, will be radically different from what will be seen five years from now. Hopefully, before I am gone I will realize this: “did he make it?” There may come a day when I walk into The Museum of Modern art in New York City and enter a gallery and there on the wall, with its distinctive S V H signature, and confirmed by the sound of music playing, I will be in that moment of making it. That is when I know I am close to answering that question.
Starting from when I was young, I had this feeling that I wanted to be something more. As I grew older, I tried to understand what that something meant. Over the years, like a spinning top, my focus turned in many directions. I once felt the need to become a writer to become the next Ernest Hemingway or F Scott Fitzgerald. Then I wanted to become a poet, to be the next Robert Frost, or to become the next E. E. Cummings. Through the years I moved from being the next Ansel Adams, or Picasso to Matisse, and so on. I even found the time to throw in the desire to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Allan Poe, or Edward Weston. But none of these artists painted music. But I do, and unlike them, I am still a visitor to this planet. This is my time. I started this journey once hoping to become the next someone. That life adventure turned into a halting reality moment that I may not be the next any one. Luckily, I found my way on a late-night moment, in which I began what all true-to-yourself artists wish to do: they become themselves.
Scott Von Holzen
Photo by Tom Haley on a New York Visit in 2015