Boscoe Holder | Geoffrey Holder

Exhibitions 1 June–27 July 2024
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
Tuesday-Saturday: 10am–6pm

‘Two boys and all they want to do is to dance and paint.’ — Geoffrey Holder

Victoria Miro is delighted to present exhibitions by Boscoe Holder and Geoffrey Holder. Shown in tandem for the first time, exhibitions by Boscoe (1921–2007) and his younger brother Geoffrey (1930–2014) foreground the siblings as painters against the significance of their achievements in theatre, dance and film.

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Boscoe and Geoffrey Holder were true polymaths whose groundbreaking careers in the visual and performing arts led them individually to the UK, where Boscoe settled in 1950, and the US, where Geoffrey made his home in 1953, and wider international acclaim.

Throughout their careers, both regarded the impulse to paint as being intrinsic to their broader creative drive, an embodied painting informed by and informing their accomplishments as choreographers and performers. On view across the two spaces of our London gallery, these exhibitions consider for the first time the siblings as painters in parallel.

A new essay, entitled Vetiver and Turpentine, by Trinidad-born writer Attillah Springer accompanies the exhibitions. Excerpts of the text are featured below along with selected works on view. Read the full text here

Works by Boscoe are drawn principally from the 1990s, made in Trinidad where he resettled in 1970. A focus of these paintings, characterised by their quiet intensity, is the male nude, a significant aspect of Boscoe’s work though one that was rarely exhibited during his lifetime.

Created in New York from the late-1970s into the 2000s, selected works by Geoffrey move from the quiet intimacy of domestic scenes to the lively energy of nightclubs. Equally tender and strong, these paintings display his deeply intuitive understanding of colour, used powerfully to describe emotion as much as form.

The Geoffrey Holder exhibition is presented in collaboration with James Fuentes and the Geoffrey Holder Estate.

The Boscoe Holder exhibition is presented with thanks to Christian Holder, Executor of the Boscoe Holder Estate.

The exhibition is available to view on Vortic

Download press release

Download list of works

Boscoe Holder

Acrylic on board
57.7 x 48.1 cm
22 3/4 x 19 in

Boscoe Holder, Green Background, 1996

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‘Consider this: two black boys living their most audacious version of a freedom dream in Trinidad, a small place with the world shoved into all its corners. And the boys, who live in a small house, are surrounded by love and art and music shoved into all its corners… And it is close enough, if you pay attention, for the smell of the Caribbean Sea to waft into its rooms. And the smell of the sea mixes with the heady musk of vetiver and turpentine.’
— Attillah Springer, from a new essay, entitled Vetiver and Turpentine

Boscoe 2

Acrylic on board
50.6 x 40.7 cm
19.5 x 16 in

Boscoe Holder, Folded Arms, 1993

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Acrylic on board
50.7 x 40.6 cm
20 x 16 in

Boscoe Holder, Untitled, 1996

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‘Boscoe comes first. Prodigiously talented on the piano, he is earning a living by the age of nine, playing classics in the homes of the wealthy. And then comes Geoffrey. He follows his brother around learning to dance and paint and sing like him.’

Boscoe 6

Acrylic on board
91.2 x 43.2 cm
35 7/8 x 17 in

Boscoe Holder, Coiffed Hair, 1990

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Boscoe 5

Acrylic on Board
90.6 x 71 cm
35 5/8 x 28 in

Boscoe Holder, Untitled, 2001

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‘If you want to know what beauty is, go to Trinidad, where the people have been repeatedly beaten for being too beautiful. Joy is our favourite kind of resistance.’

Boscoe 4

Acrylic on board
45.4 x 35.2 cm
17.89 x 13.87 in

Boscoe Holder, Sitting Female Nude, n.d.

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‘Boscoe and Geoffrey learned the art of that beauty and soon it began to spill out of them… It made Trinidad, already a small place, even smaller, too small a place to hold all that talent and range and audacity.’

Boscoe 3

Acrylic on board
65.8 x 94.4 cm
25.93 x 37.19 in

Boscoe Holder, Fret Work, 1988

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‘Looking for Boscoe, is a treasure hunt to find his thoughts or his voice when he is not singing. Those who knew him when he came back to Trinidad say he only talked to you if he felt safe to share. And when he did, it was hilarious and provocative in the most tragically serious way that only this island could make you. “Introvert” feels too dread of a word to say that Boscoe preferred to let his art do all the talking.’

Geoffrey Holder

Oil on board with artist frame
104.1 x 78.4 cm
41 x 30 7/8 in

Geoffrey Holder, Possible Self Portrait, n.d.

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‘Now, put the idea out of your head that one was a painter who danced, and one was a dancer who painted. To compare them, to make them competitors, is to use the coloniser’s yardstick. To put a label on their talents is to deny the freedom they were always making in their songs, in their dances, in their paintings.’

Geoffrey 5 (1)

Conte crayon on paper mounted on black paper
120.7 x 90.2 cm
47 1/2 x 35 1/2 in

Geoffrey Holder, Nude Lovers Embracing, n.d.

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Oil, oil crayon and china marker on canvas
121.9 x 91.4 cm
48 x 36 in

Geoffrey Holder, Untitled, n.d.

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‘Leaving gave them space to spread out their hummingbird wings and beat faster and louder, so the small island could be as big as the whole world… Both mined the audacious beauty they had seen in Trinidad to perform with great success to the kind of audiences that any great artist would dream about.’

Geoffrey 3 (2)

Oil, oil crayon and china marker on canvas
121.9 x 91.4 cm
48 x 36 in

Geoffrey Holder, Untitled, n.d.

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‘They are dancers with a daily painting practice, seeing blackness in the songs and the music and the dance, and committing those moments to the canvas.’

Geoffrey 4 (3)

Oil on canvas
152.4 x 101.6 cm
60 x 40 in

Geoffrey Holder, Woman on Man’s Shoulders, Late-1970s

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Oil on canvas
152.4 x 91.4 cm
60 x 36 in

Geoffrey Holder, Untitled, c. mid-late 1980s

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‘I know the people they paint; I have seen them being present and beautiful every day. I know them. They are me. In the way their skin shines, in the way their eyes smile, in the unsaid words playing on their mouths, in the way their limbs yield and stretch towards the light.’

Geoffrey 2 (4)

Coloured pencil on paper
91.4 x 116.8 cm
36 x 46 in

Geoffrey Holder, Swimmers II, 1986

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About the artists

Boscoe and Geoffrey Holder, London, 1961, courtesy the Holder Family Archive

A painter, designer, dancer, choreographer and musician, Boscoe Holder (1921–2007) was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. A child prodigy, he began painting seriously and playing the piano professionally from a young age. He later formed his own dance company, the Boscoe Holder Dancers, and in 1947 visited New York for the first time, teaching dance at the prestigious Katherine Dunham School of Dance and exhibiting his paintings. Returning to Trinidad the following year, he married his leading dancer, Sheila Clarke. In 1950 they travelled to London, which was to become their home for the next twenty years. They formed the dance troupe Boscoe Holder and his Caribbean Dancers, performing at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Holder spent the next two decades touring Europe and further afield. Later in the 1950s he produced, choreographed and costumed shows at the Candlelight Room at The May Fair Hotel, where he also formed and led his own band. Film and television roles during this time included Sapphire and The Saint. He continued to paint throughout this period, exhibiting his work at venues including the Redfern Gallery, the Commonwealth Institute, the Royal Watercolour Society Galleries and the Leicester Galleries.

Holder returned to Trinidad in 1970, where he focused on painting until his death in 2007. He showed regularly in Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean. In 1973, in recognition of his contribution to the Arts, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago awarded him the Hummingbird Medal (gold) and named a street after him. He also received awards for his achievements from the governments of Venezuela and France, as well as various institutions in the US. Posthumous presentations of his work include the group exhibitions: In the Company of Alice at Victoria Miro, London, UK, in 2010 and Self-Consciousness, curated by Hilton Als and Peter Doig, at VeneKlasen/Werner, Berlin, Germany, in 2010. A new book, Boscoe Holder: Travels in Rhythm, A life of art and dance by his son Christian Holder is published by Rosenstiels in spring this year.

Geoffrey Holder (born 1930, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; died 2014, New York, USA) was a painter, photographer, choreographer, director, costume designer, dancer, actor and composer. Following the lead of his older brother, Boscoe, Geoffrey made his debut appearance with the Boscoe Holder Dancers at the age of seven. In 1953, invited by choreographer Agnes de Mille, he relocated to New York City, where from 1955–1956 he performed as a principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet before embarking on a career in film, which included roles in Doctor Dolittle and the Bond movie Live and Let Die, and later television. His first solo exhibition in New York was held in 1954. By 1956 his work as a painter was recognised with a Guggenheim Fellowship. In New York, Holder found a muse in his wife-to-be, the distinguished dancer, actress, and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade. The couple married in 1955, travelling the world – including a period spent in Paris working with Josephine Baker – eventually settling in Lower Manhattan. During the 1970s Holder won two Tony Awards for his direction and costume design for the Broadway musical The Wiz and received multiple awards for his direction, costume design, and choreography.

Solo exhibitions have been held at venues including James Fuentes (2024: curated by Erica Moiah James, Los Angeles, USA; 2022: Pleasures of the Flesh, curated by Hilton Als, New York, USA); New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, USA; Mexican Cultural Institute, Washington, DC, USA; National Arts Club, New York, USA; Far Gallery, New York, USA; Griffin Gallery, New York, USA; and Randolph Gallery, Houston, USA, among others. His work has been featured in institutional group exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, USA; the California African American Museum, Los Angeles, USA; DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, USA; Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, USA; Museum of the City of New York, USA; National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA, among others. Holder’s works are in permanent collections including the Barbados Museum, Bridgetown; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, USA; Columbia University, New York, USA; and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

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