Ride | Arylic on wood panel 2007

Stories from the Art: Tommy Hollenstein


“The bond between Weaver and I was just phenomenal, as he started to get older, I wanted to have something as a memory of him on my wall other than a photograph. So I kept thinking that someday I’m gonna roll through paint and have him walk through the same paint. It’ll be like tire tracks and paw prints.”

Portrait by: Gene Sasse 2013

Tommy Hollenstein’s studio and home are vibrantly colored spaces; from the paintings on his walls to the brightly colored furniture and accessories that fill each room. The air itself seems brighter in this house of many colors.

Tommy knew from the age of 5 that he wanted to be an artist one day. His love of painting, creating, and making art never diminished from that point on. Forts, mosaics, bike after bike – built from scratch and painted by hand, were added to the work of his later years. He was in love with color and it showed in his brilliantly painted surf boards and cars with fiery red interiors. Tommy looked toward a future filled with excitement and promise, until a mountain bike accident left him a quadriplegic in 1985.

After his accident Tommy thought he would never be the artist he dreamed of becoming. But then he acquired his first service dog, a yellow lab named Weaver. Their bond was amazing, and over the years they became best friends. As the dog grew older, Tommy wanted to find a way to remember the good times they had shared. He made his first painting with his wheelchair by spilling paint and rolling through it, the wheels making distinctive marks, and he led Weaver by his side to walk through the paint and over the canvas to create something new, something memorable. This was when Tommy realized he could make art again. “I was always using my hands, so when I broke my hands I thought art was over. It wasn’t until my love for Weaver caused me to paint that I realized my hands were just an extension of what was within me. I had found another way to express art.”

His paintings are filled with light and color; bright, and dazzling. One painting, named “Ride”, reminiscent of his surfing days, brims with the hot yellows and oranges of the sun and the brilliant blues of the ocean; colors that call you to sit and enjoy the easy lines and movement of his work. He is still in love with color.

Inspiration comes to Tommy in various forms; the sound of waves breaking on the shore, the smell of the ocean - the warmth of sunshine on his face, the laughter of children. Blue skies or gray, Tommy is full of joy and happy to be alive. His appreciation of nature and the simple acts of life are even now, more then 25 years later, still at the forefront of his mind. Thankful and blessed are two words that never seem to be far from Tommy’s mind.

He is a man of great faith, and although he has obstacles, Tommy has embraced a life indeed filled with excitement and promise; a different future then he imagined but in every way as bright. His life and art are an inspiration; hope has no boundaries, and dreams have no restrictions when you have the faith to follow your hearts desire.

Moment | Arylic on wood panel 2005
Insight | Arylic on wood panel 2010

Stories from the Art - Slide Show

Curator: Gene Sasse
Writer: Laurie Morrison
© 2013 Inland Empire Museum of Art
All Art © by The Artist