TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER, who has always been known for grandiloquent exaggeration, might possibly say he began painting—or thinking about doing so—in the womb, but the toxicity of the components in a tube of oil paint might prove that claim as preposterous as it sounds. Still, there is the possibility that his mother was immune to such a malady, as Travis’ earliest memories involve sitting in rapt awe at his mother’s side as her graceful hands created the most astonishing watercolors he has to this day ever seen created.
By age 8, the time Travis was beginning his career as an actor, he was also painting himself and, by age 13 and with his mother’s blessing, became the youngest person ever accepted to study life drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago. Through his early years, he won numerous scholastic art awards and subsequently two extremely successful showings of his work were mounted while still in his teen years, first at a well-known gallery on Chicago’s Rush Street at age 16 and another in the Old Town area at age 18. By that time, some of his canvases were already gracing the walls of, among others, Katharine Hepburn and Phyllis Wilbourn, Joni Mitchell, Ginger Rogers, Jerome Robbins, and Tennessee Williams, who also in turn painted Travis at the ripe age of 14.
Travis’ early works, surely inspired by his mother, were watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings, many mentored by abstract artist Eleanor King Hookum until noted Chicago artist, the late Barbara Lewis, guided his hand into the world of oil painting. His first oil was a portrait of Rudolf Nureyev, a canvas the dancer quite vocally made clear he totally despised.
Over the years, Travis’ passion for art dwindled in the shadow of his careers in acting and the music business, something not only due to having no time to paint but running out of space to display his work in his collection-obsessed home and also running out of friends with empty walls to gift with his artwork. One of the things that led him back to the studio was the encouragement of the late legendary playwright/scholar Dr. Leon Katz, who fell in love with his work and, when mounting his play Beds in 2000, asked Travis to create a portrait of Oscar Wilde to adorn the program for the play’s debut, a production in which Travis appeared as the dying literary genius.
Between that new beginning and other factors, including a newly discovered passion for photographing and painting the colorful scenes and equally colorful denizens of New Orleans’ French Quarter, as well as the lack of roles being offered him in his later years unless a script called for an erring priest or mentally-challenged adult, Travis again took up his brushes and started to express himself with the passion he had fostered in his youth.
Thanks to the advent of social media, his work became available to a whole new audience not only incredibly complimentary and encouraging towards Travis’ ever-fluctuating confidence in himself as an artist, but willing to shell out a few ducats to help finance his sorrowful lack of retirement savings. In 2017, the rights to several of his paintings of N'awlins street scenes were secured to feature as part of the set design of "Queen Sugar," creator/director Ava DuVernay's NAACP Award-winning TV series co-produced by Oprah Winfrey for her OWN Network.
Interestingly enough, today, when Travis creates a new canvas, his paint-splattered hands bring him a great sense of contentment and a long-missed sense of being in the right place, as his own hands so remind him of his mother’s as he sat quietly all those years ago at her side watching her create magic right before his very eyes.