The first painting Brad Holt sold began as a photo he took of some wild horses near the Morley reserve west of Cochrane. Much to his surprise, it went for $300. That was three years ago.
“I thought, ‘Wow, 300 bucks! I can really do this!” Holt recalls. “Then, my dream was to sell one for $1,000. Now, they are just skyrocketing.
“It’s not about the money for me, though, because it’s my passion,” he adds. “But, it’s awesome that I can make both work.”
Creations by the Airdrie-based mixed media artist now can fetch upwards of $20,000 for a single piece. The born-and-raised farm boy paints beautiful landscapes of mostly Alberta rural settings, bringing the province’s stunning country inside to private homes and a growing number of boardrooms in downtown Calgary.
For the past year now, the 33-year-old former construction worker has been working nine-to-five in his garage trying to keep pace with the demand. He also shares a studio at Spruce Meadows with two other artists. He sells at art shows but also is regularly commissioned by horse owners to produce paintings of their prized possessions, which he says he loves doing.
Holt is extra busy these days because he has been chosen to be the featured artist for the 2015 Calgary Stampede dream home. He’ll have 30 to 40 pieces on display for the thousands who take the tour in July. All will be available for purchase.
Holt will also need to have around 60 other pieces ready for the Stampede’s Western Showcase, where he will set up shop for a full 10 days. It was at his first appearance there last year that his work really began to blow people away; during his four days there he sold all 25 pieces of his displayed work.
“The Stampede was a huge breakthrough last year; people started taking me more serious as a professional artist,” he says. “But my first couple of years (doing this) I said: ‘I’m going to do everything,’ and I went to every little show I could find and it really started the ball rolling. Last year I sold over 100 original pieces.
“It’s just awesome to sell that much and do what I love,” he adds.
While the muscular Holt – who will admit to looking more like a jock than an artist – has been seriously pursuing his passion for just three years, he has been dabbling in photography and mixed media since childhood. Both his mother, Leanne Holt, and late grandmother, Edith Holt, were hobby artists, he says, and he was inspired greatly by an original Georgia Jarvis painting his mom had on display in their home near Strathmore.
“I would just stare at it and be amazed. That sparked my interest, and I was in 4-H club growing up and we’d show cattle during the Stampede and I would just sit in the Western Showcase all day and look at the art and say, ‘One day I’d like to be here,’” he says.
Holt was also pushed to get serious about his art by his wife, Amber, who is a popular Calgary-area baby photographer.
“Amber said: ‘You need to do this; you need to do a couple of shows because you are really good.’,” Brad says. “So I did one show at Spruce Meadows and sold out. Then I switched my career path and took the dive.”
Aside from the paintings themselves, potential buyers are also drawn by the frames, which are all handmade from reclaimed wood that Brad and his brother, Dave, find in barnyards, old homes and antiques stores. A carpenter/home renovator who worked in Strathmore for years and now resides in Penticton, Dave now helps his brother build the frames, thus giving Brad more time to paint.
“We actually built this together,” says Brad, slapping the top of his beautiful dining room table, which was made from wood salvaged from Vancouver’s Stanley Park docks.
Among the paintings the artist has in his home is one of a scene from the Okanagan with a frame made out of an old wine casket; plus another of a grain elevator with a frame made out of a railway tie, with spikes inserted into the wood.
In the Holt living room is a humongous mural of an oil rig setting, with a frame made from a rig mat, with old oil cans added to the frame to complete the theme. It’s for sale and when it goes it will take Brad and a couple of his friends to get it out the door because the whole thing weighs more than 200 pounds.
“The first one I did like that I thought, ‘Why did I do this?’ But it sold, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll have to do some more.’
“It’s something no one has seen before, so I’m not surprised,” he adds.