Neil Holloway has been painting in the basement of his Sunnyside home since the 1970s. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
When Neil Holloway was a young boy growing up in Bloomfield, Bonavista Bay, he was fascinated by comic books depicting battles in the old Wild West.
But it wasn’t always easy to scrounge up the funds to purchase such items, so Holloway began sketching his own stories to keep himself occupied.
“Because I came from a big family, my dad couldn’t afford to buy the 10-cent comics,” he said, seated in the basement of his Sunnyside home where he has lived for the last 38 years.
Holloway could not have imagined back then a youthful hobby would later become a passion for the 62-year-old retiree, who has devoted countless hours over the last number of years to painting landscapes, historical scenes and biblical events.
“My mom said I was born with the God-given talent to draw. As the years progressed on, I said, ‘Well if I can draw, why can’t I paint?’”
And so he did, beginning in 1977. His first effort still hangs on one of the walls in his basement, depicting a small town setting with a trio of homes.
Holloway improvised when it came to finding art supplies, borrowing a cup of paint from a friend if they were touching up the exterior of a house and getting by with five-cent brushes on most of his early works.
He now makes use of fine oil paints and expensive brushes he purchases on rare trips to St. John’s. Holloway is a self-taught artist.
“I’m the kind of person where if I can’t see it on canvas, I don’t paint and I don’t sketch,” he said, preferring to have a clear vision of what he sets out to accomplish prior to starting.
“By the time I start painting a picture, I‘m almost bored with it, because I know what it’s going to look like before it’s finished.”
The largest project undertaken by Holloway was a group of 21 paintings he made for St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Sunnyside. The paintings depict moments from a variety of stories told in the Bible, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the journey of Noah’s Ark.
He began painting them in 2006, with the final piece completed two years later.
All 21 paintings adorn the walls of the church, adding a visually compelling component to the interior of St. Andrew’s.
“When I started these paintings, I had never painted a figure, a man’s face or hands before. It was a whole different ball game,” Holloway said.
Starting with the story of the good shepherd from the “Book of John,” Holloway worked at a pace that at times bordered on obsession.
Some days, he would paint in his basement for 17 hours straight, working as fast as ideas and research would allow, even taking his meals downstairs.
“I found my verses and chapters and what I wanted to express, and it just went from there,” he said.
Within each painting, Holloway chose to hide a cross.
He did so as a way to engage young people, for telling them there’s a hidden object would encourage viewers to look more closely at a painting.
Holloway said that detail has also proven popular with adults, some of whom will spend a lengthy period of time searching for all 21 crosses.
“You not only study the painting, but you study the message that’s being sent. You’re looking for the cross, but in the overall picture, you’re seeing more than just the picture on the wall,” he said.
When a painting gets to the stage where the inclination to start adding little excess details presents itself, Holloway knows it’s time to let go of the piece and move on to another creation.
His interest in being creative has since stretched to music — he learned to play guitar and banjo two years ago.
“I don’t know if it’s talent or whatever, but I enjoy it,” Holloway said.