Holton Appointed to Permanent Position at Driskell Center

As you give up illusions of power, you become more powerful, he says

Curlee Holton. Photo: University of MarylandThe University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities has announced the appointment of Curlee R. Holton as the permanent executive director of the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora and senior artist-in-residence in the Department of Art.  Holton has served in the position as consultant and interim executive director for the center since July 2012; his permanent appointment was effective July 1, 2014. He previously was the David M. and Linda Roth Professor of Art and founding director of the Experimental Printmaking Institute at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. 

”I’ve been impressed with Curlee’s performance in his interim executive director role over the past two years," said Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean for the College of Arts and Humanities. "He is a wise administrator who understands the many aspects of arts management from the perspective of a scholar and an artist. I’m pleased to work with him to institutionalize key projects that will help advance the center’s mission.”

Holton will also serve as senior artist-in-residence in the Department of Art, engaging with faculty and students in collaborative projects between the department and the center. This dual appointment serves an important role in advancing the visual arts at Maryland.

An artist-scholar, Holton is a renowned printmaker and painter whose work has been exhibited for over 25 years in more than 60 one-person shows and over 100 group shows in this country and abroad. He earned an M.F.A. with honors from Kent State University and a B.F.A. from the Cleveland Institute of Art in drawing and printmaking.

Why Holton?

In addition to artistic knowledge and administrative ability, personality is a factor in Holton’s perfect fit in the position. Like David Driskell and former Driskell Center director Robert Steele, Holton's outstanding professional achievement has a counterpart in his outstanding lack of conceit. Graciousness, not swag, is a factor in the successful leadership of all three men.

We learned about Holton's qualities of grace when we were preparing an article on him for the "Asian Persuasion, African American Artists Look East" issue of the IRAAA (“Art As A Sacred Sword," IRAAA, vol 21, no 3, 2007). The following excerpts from the Curlee Holton, The Shadow of Contemplation, 2005, acrylic, 62 x 60article show how Holton’s art and consciousness have been shaped by his interest in the philosophies of Buddhism, Islam and shamanism:       

“(Spirituality) is not necessarily a search because the truth is already there,” says Holton."

Holton’s first steps along this path were taken in Mississippi, his birthplace, where he absorbed the messages of the blues.  This awareness of a homegrown life force remained in him when his family moved North and it prepared him to appreciate the wisdom of other cultures.  Opportunities such as a 1992 Fulbright Award took him to Asia, Ghana and Mexico and these journeys were illuminating on many levels.

In particular, Holton’s trips to Japan in 2002 and 2003 introduced Asian philosophy to him, he says, in a way that supported his work.

Five circles containing enfolded hands are scattered around The Shadow of Contemplation. At the upper left corner an image of the Buddha can be glimpsed through the darkness.

“I’ve always seen the work of an artist as having a spiritual component,” Holton says. “It helps you… realize — or to resolve — personal, emotion, spiritual, psychological challenges: Why am I operating this way? How do I deal with the challenges I face in personal relationships? How do I resolve issues that I confront?  How do I deal with my longing?” 

Curlee R. Holton, Manifest Ego 111, 2000, acrylic, 72 x 48The central figure of Manifesto Ego 111 is the ancient Hindu goddess Kali whose crown of skulls symbolizes the attachments of ego and mind through desire. She generally is shown brandishing swords to sever arms which she strings around her waist. The revered, fierce mother, fondly known as Kali Ma, flaunts the bloody human parts to illustrate her teachings about freedom from attachment — either her children achieve liberation on their own through spiritual practice or the instruments of desire (arms representing acquisition) will be forcibly ripped from their bodies.

"Indian mysticism and shamanism," Holton says, also brought him “closer to an understanding that the universal (world) is embodied in the particular (self) and the particular is in the universal."

In his ongoing explorations of consciousness, Holton has learned that “drugs are an artificial door-opener — escapism.  A different leave than meditation.  It’s forcing the door open.  Forcing is… overpowering control of the body. The drug was never attractive. This thing happening to your body can make you believe you are great. When one has reached (enlightened) consciousness, one has great power. As you give up illusions of power, you become more powerful."