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Portrait of a Transcending Mind: J.J. Graham’s Hollingsworth Gallery Genesis

| July 10, 2010

J.J. Graham painted 'Portrait of a Wandering Mind' in 2004, long before turbulence gave way to his far-reaching creations at Hollingsworth Gallery in Palm Coast's City Walk. (© FlaglerLive)

There’s his past as the son of a strict Pentecostal preacher who didn’t allow a TV in the house. There’s his past after losing his mother 10 days before his 10th birthday, and running away from home a few years after that, to be raised by his grandmother, a NASA scientist who proved his savior on more than one occasion. There are the years in Mississippi, a state that teaches almost anyone who’s lived there in the not-too distant past a thing or two about oppression. There’s a past of dissolution and wanderings around the South and the West, of a broken marriage, of being reborn and redirected through art, and of contending, less than four years ago, with the death of his grandmother after he’d moved to Florida to care for her. And there’s contending with his girlfriend’s brain tumor, diagnosed barely over two years ago, just three months after she’d given birth to their son Gabriel. She has survived. So has he.

And J.J. Graham is just 35.

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In some ways Graham has lived lives enough for characters out of Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Jack Kerouac all in one. In some ways he’s just starting out: 18 months ago he opened the Hollingsworth Gallery (so named to honor his grandmother, whose maiden name was Hollingsworth). He did so in one of the most unlikely places for an art gallery in Palm Coast: in two storefronts on the second floor of City Walk, the strip mall that, back then, was a desert of concrete, glass, asphalt and speculation but for a couple of businesses and the city’s main offices, which had hurriedly moved into the floors above and below Hollingsworth Gallery.

But here’s the thing about J.J. Graham. He doesn’t recreate his world only on canvas. He does so wherever he happens to be. Walk into Hollingsworth Gallery and you might as well have stepped into a loft in SoHo or a small artist colony in Greenwich Village. Your senses are immediately aware of colors and vigor that belie the staid look outside, and more to the point, that are doing wonders to change that very look: Hollingsworth Gallery is its own anchor of change that’s helping to remake its surroundings in its own image.

Graham's 'The Age of Ascension'

As this very story was being written, Graham was hosting the latest of his Hollingsworth Gallery openings—or rather, tonight’s encore—for “Abstractions,” a show featuring some 30 works from 23 artists from Palm Coast, Ormond Beach, Jacksonville, St. Augustine. New Smyrna Beach, DeLand and Orlando. Two hundred people showed up at the opening a month ago. Tonight’s encore was likely to be as lively. Word of mouth has a lot to do with it. But mostly, one suspects, it’s Graham’s making, a reflection not merely of his love of art but of his belief in it the way other people might believe in real estate or shopping malls as engines of development. It happens to be a different kind, and in Graham’s sense a more important kind, of development.

“I’m not going to live in a community without culture,” Graham said. “And the beautiful thing about this city is that it’s new. So in most cities that you go to have an already set culture. Here you can witness the birth of a culture, because there’s very few cities in this country that are this new, and growing as fast.”

“Jim Landon, whose office is right above me, he and I have become friends, and I told him the other day,” Graham continued, referring to the Palm Coast city manager, “I said Jim, you know, towns don’t become great cities because they get a new Walmart or a Target. It’s because they give birth to culture. Every great city that I’ve ever been to had a great culture. And I’ve always been fascinated with how that came about.”

How it comes about is when man like Graham can merge his artistry with a vision and a belief in a place that enables the remarkable work he’s pulling off. “Some people see this as the typical shopping center,” he says of City Walk. “I don’t. You’ve got the Oriental market here, you’ve got a Latin market, you’ve got a Russian deli, the Jewish community that’s coming here, you’ve got two different churches, and just about every nationality that’s here in America is here in this City Walk, so it’s almost like you could experiment in a controlled environment ways that we can work together and we are. We are supporting each other’s businesses. If I go out to eat I usually go out here, and these people are sending their kids to my classes, so we’re promoting one another. Maybe in a metaphysical aspect we’re investing in one another.”

J.J. Graham's top crew: Betty Jo Sansbury to his right, and Mercedez McCartney, with whom he has a soon-to-be 3-year-old son. (© FlaglerLive)

There are a couple of dance studios at City Walk, too, and a martial arts studio. Before long, the Flagler County Art League will be moving its gallery nearby, fulfilling another one of Graham’s principles. “My whole idea of bringing the other community of artists is to get people to work as contemporaries, not competitors. I think any time—and I’ve been a student of art history ever since I fell in love with painting—any time you see artists come together this weird mojo starts to happen. I love regional art movements like the Bay Area Figurative Movement, where artists started to paint together and then all of a sudden, even though their work wasn’t totally alike, something unified it. I’d love to see that happen here.”

All this from an unlikely brine of circumstances. Graham was born in Jackson, Miss., in a house of strictness. There may have been no television. But his grandmother would ship him books, which he’d skip school to read (writing his own excuse notes) and being influenced by what he read far more than anything he might have seen on the small screen. “When I ended up getting to school, because of my dad’s religious practice, I wasn’t really allowed to do a lot of extra-curricular activities,” Graham says. “But art was a way that I could communicate, and I was that kid who got pulled out in the hallway to draw posters that the football team could run through and that kind of stuff. So that became my deal.”

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He was a problem child. But two events mark the key turning points in his young life. The first was when his grandmother took him in: “She opened me. I’ve always been obsessed with spirituality but through my father it was something that had closed me, and through my grandmother, her spirituality or her sense of spirituality was something that opened me to the world. I think up until the point when she came into my life I had pretty much lived in a glass house that I was trying to break out of and have my own set of experiences.

“What it did is when I left it was pretty much all I knew, and it took me a while to realize that by leaving I had created this big hole in me, and when I went to my first year of college I was a psychology major because I was pretty much trying to understand myself and I took an elective drawing course. David Sullivan, the art professor there, just took me under his wing, told me I should change my major, gave me a scholarship, and for the first time I really started to paint. I’d always drawn, pen and ink and things like that, and I think immediately I found something that would fill that vacuum and it continues to the point where it starts to overflow. I think it’s what I use to replace religion in my life, which was a huge, huge thing.”

He ended up getting a small place in Laurel, Miss., where he’d paint eight hours a day. He then went to the University of Mississippi, where Jere Allen, a world-renown artist, mentored him and clearly influenced his work: the ferocity and velocity that is nowhere in Graham’s soft-spoken voice is everywhere in his art. It’s a boldness of color and brushstrokes that amplify an abundance of symbolism without crowding out a playfulness of subtleties that likely hint back at his earliest encounters with Sunday-paper cartoons. Allen, Graham says, “made me loosen up.”

He bartended for eight years after college, making a lot of money in three or four shifts a week to have time to paint the rest of the time, though he also traveled plenty and struggled through a three-year marriage that finally failed. He speaks of self-indulgence. Then he speaks of his second turning point: moving to Orlando to care for his grandmother in the last six months of her life, and ensuring, with an aunt and his sister, that “she never had to spend a night alone in the hospital.”

“I think coming to take care of my grandmother kind of awakened me into the idea that my life wasn’t just about me or my issues,” Graham says. He stayed in Orlando to manage a restaurant, then managed one in Ormond Beach, and met Mercedez McCartney along the way, who worked with him in a restaurant until she was forced to leave it because dating a co-worker was against company policy. The two barely saw each other after that, so McCartney compelled a turning point of her own.

“I encouraged him to quit his job and pursue his art,” McCartney said. “When he was showing me his work before, he had all these snapshots of horrible pictures of his paintings, you know, like flash glares—awful pictures. So I got together his portfolio, because I do photography and also graphic design, so I was able to get it together for him, we got it printed out, and he went to the Hammock Wine and Cheese shop, that was the first place he went, because they have a little gallery there that they were still trying to get together. Before he even had his first piece hung for the show, Michel Roux bought it before it was even on the wall. That’s how it all started. So it was basically the right thing to do—we were on the right path. Then Michel commissioned him to paint quite a few more paintings and he had them sent to his Absolute gallery in St. Augustine.”

The gallery, in part. (© FlaglerLive)

Soon after that he put on a weekend art show for Bagwan Asnani, the City Walk developer, in the space that became the Hollingsworth Gallery (Asnani was trying to drum up interest in the property). He was there among 50 artists, invited by Gena Brodie Robbins, an artist and, at the time, the president of the Flagler County Art Education Association and a teacher at Matanzas High School. Robbins and Jeff Sawyer had organized Art Walk, a four-hour event that turned over some 50 storefronts to 50 artists to showcase their work–and liven up Asnani’s anemic strip. It did both. More than 2,000 people visited in those brief hours. Sensing something more viable than his own development, Asnani decided he wanted a permanent gallery there. Robbins and Graham stayed in contact, and little by little, like a Willem de Kooning painting telling a story out of abstractions, their idea gelled, and the gallery was born.

Robbins publicized and curated a half dozen shows (some of which are preserved in exhibition catalogues). There wasn’t much money it it. But there was, beyond the art, the sort of commonality without which artists don’t thrive as well.

Gena Robbins with her painting, 'Amusement,' and her husband, Tracy Robbins. (Courtesy of Gena Robbins)

The year of their association proved inspirational to both. “We both had dealt with cancer,” Robbins said, referring to her father, a high school football coach with whom she was very close growing up in Macon, Ga., and who died of cancer. “I’m sure everybody has their own story but loss—talking about loss together, working through, talking to each other whenever we had those days you have remembering loss, people we knew we’ve lost: we were able to give each other insights that you don’t get from the average person.”

There were differences, too: there always are between artists. There has to be, otherwise they wouldn’t artists. And there was that other kind of loss, too: both Robbins, 42, and her husband, who taught video production at Matanzas, were laid off. Robbins had earned her MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006 and had dreamed of working there one day. Now she will, starting this fall. (She’s exhibiting at Savannah’s Gutstein Gallery through Aug. 15, if you’re in town.) The move to Savannah prompted the end of the direct association with Hollingsworth Gallery, though Graham and Robbins, who are preserving their attachment in other ways, will always be its co-founders.

The gallery, never less than a struggle, has been kept alive through Graham’s energy and big infusions of support from several other artists such as Roux and Tom Gargiulo, the Palm Coast artist. It’s a lot more than a gallery, of course. Graham devised it as a place where he could keep things going without having to sell a single painting. His frequent shows generate some income. He runs the Kids Art Renaissance Experience, or KARE program, out of the studio portion of the gallery, as well as a heavy schedule of classes for young and older students (two others teach there as well). Artists can and do rent space there, and after a while get their own key to the place so they can work at any point.

“The reason I did that is because I wanted to show innovative work that was off the beaten path and it wasn’t strategically designed for somebody’s Florida beach house,” Graham says. “It’s worked. I’ve been open 18 months, we’ve done 14 shows, two of them have been international, we’ve had two Pollock-Krasner awards submit to these shows just from reading about us online, and I think that art is moving out of some of the bigger cities. Being culturally creative is being aware of your own community and making changes there, as a group, in a communal effort, and bringing people in and encourage them to go out and do the same thing in their community.”

But not everything is a moneymaker, Graham says. “We have art supplies that we store underneath the desk up there, and at any time of day if you come in there may be five or six high school students sitting on the floor in the gallery, painting, it doesn’t cost them anything. Just come in, any time during open hours, as long as they clean up after themselves and they respect the place, and they love it. The reason I painted the floor that way is because I don’t care if they get paint on it. That’s been in the last three months. It’s one of those things that just felt like the right thing to do. Young kids started coming in here and wanting to get involved, a lot of them don’t have money. This is a town that’s basically built as a retirement community so they feel very disenfranchised, and finding a place, you see the lights come on: they all want to be creative.”

Detail from Kathy Omeara's 'Leonardo Ephemera.' Graham is in the distance. (© FlaglerLive)

To speak with Graham is like looking at one of his big canvasses: there’s no attempt to mask whatever he wants to tell you, whether he’s speaking about his own wrenching past or his ideas for Palm Coast. He tells it all with an intimacy and confidence that belies a demeanor so mellow that sooner or later makes you wonder if he knows he’s opening his veins to a stranger. Asking one revealing question and then another, you feel as if you’re taking advantage of a man who doesn’t know how to be dissimulating. But that’s just the point of an artist’s candor. Art is nothing if not a confrontation with truth. Graham happens to carry the point to his interaction with complete strangers. You want to keep speaking with him the way you want to keep looking at his paintings, because the longer you do, the more you see. If there’s an end point to how much there is to see, it’s not apparent.

His past, which he would no longer want to change for what it’s taught him, his present, which he’s constantly changing in some ways while feeling more uplifted by a serenity he hasn’t felt most of his life (“a feeling of lift,” as he put it), and his future, which he doesn’t seem to tire of remaking in his mind as he would in his art, add up to a wealth of possibilities. There’s the pragmatic. Then there’s the philosophical (or spiritual), which to Graham are two whorls on the same palette.

“Art,” he says, “is more important than it’s ever been. I cannot fathom people—when I hear my students say, well, I don’t know what to paint, I don’t understand that. There’s so many things going on in this world now, and there’s so many things that need to be addressed through art, because we’re changing, we have to, and the way that I encourage the spirit of this place is nothing, no idea is precious. I never, ever not have an idea when I walk up to a painting, and I’ve contemplated that. It’s because I have more ideas than I could ever use, so you share those ideas, and by sharing them you open up that doorway for new ideas. That’s the thought process that is going into this place where we’re constantly sharing things. As far as art, I’m not looking for consistency. I heard a quote by Mahatma Gandhi the other day. People really criticized him for changing his views throughout his life, and he would say to them, I’m searching for the truth, not consistency. In that aspect, I love to make this a place where people can get outside the box and take chances with their art. That’s the spirit of this place. I’m from Mississippi, so I know that oppression breeds creativity. In that aspect, this is where it’s at.”

© FlaglerLive

26 Responses for Portrait of a Transcending Mind: J.J. Graham’s Hollingsworth Gallery Genesis”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    The writer is also a great artist, your words allowed me to see and feel what you saw and felt Thanks!!

  2. Tom Brown says:

    Thanks for a compelling story and equally compelling photos. I hope Mr. Graham’s Palm Coast venture turns out to be a profitable adjunct to his St. Augustine work. Also refreshing to hear the art business is gaining a toehold in Flagler County. A contrast to Daytona where galleries have never lasted long. The News-Journal’s policy of seldom, if ever, reviewing art in a commercial gallery is probably a contributing factor. A strange, highly ironic approach for a paper that once upon a time force-fed us classical music and music theater.

  3. Weldon Ryan says:

    What a fantastic article! J.J. Graham is absolutely right in his approach to establishing an art community in Palm Coast. Why can’t we have art in Flagler County? Why should be doubt the phenomenon of art and creativity. Let’s give birth to culture. Support the arts and great things happen.

  4. ginger brodie says:

    Wonderful article about JJ. However, I was there when Artwalk at Citywalk first began. The instrumental
    hard work of this gallery began with Gena Brodie Robbins, and her dream of bringing contemporary art to Palm Coast. She then recruited JJ. Graham to join the exhibition at the very first artwalk at Citywalk, and the gallery resulted from the success of this event and Gena & John’s partnership. As many know, Hollingsworth Gallery has two co-founders,Gena Brodie Robbins and John J. Graham. Gena curated most , if not all, of the international and national shows held there. If you are interested, please look at the catalogs that Gena designed and wrote in order to promote the Hollingsworth Gallery program. Please give credit where credit is due, not only to JJ, but also to the co-founder, Gena Brodie Robbins.

  5. T Robbins says:

    This is a nice article about JJ. But I think people, for what ever reason, don’t want to or will not recognize the efforts of Gena Brodie Robbins. Gena was instrumental in the creation of Hollingsworth Gallery. Had she not planned the first Art Walk at City Walk, not JJ, none of this would have happened. Gena was also the one who marketed the gallery to the national and international artist who have shown in the gallery. Both Gena and JJ poured their hearts and souls into the gallery. Had Gena not put the effort she did into promoting the gallery absolutely none of this would have been possible. So give a little credit where it’s due.

  6. J.J. Graham says:

    That is true. Gena Robbins, and also Monica James, who has probably received the least amount of credit, and myself worked very hard in the beginning to make the first Artwalk at CityWalk happen. Gena and Monica I’m reminded constantly by your loving students about your important role in their lives. After the first citywalk I saw a oppurtunity to open a gallery. Quickly I realized that I needed help. I can never express my eternal gratitude to you Gena, Trey, and Austin, as well as the loving members that followed your lead, the roles you played are every bit as important as my own. Pierre I’m flattered and humbled that you chose to place a spotlight on me, and amazed that you could produce this article over a 4 hour period. Mercedez an I look forward to getting to know you and your wife, and I hope to one day read articles about some of the fascinating people who have become part of my famly through this place. Their lives are every bit as special and interesting to me as my own.-J.J.

  7. Pierre Tristam says:

    Thank you J.J. The words come easily when the inspiration is there. I’m very sorry about not mentioning Genea Robbins and Monica James, and will amend the article accordingly.

  8. J.J. Graham says:

    I often compare what our once beautiful nation is doing to the future of it’s youth to Goya’s portrait of Saturn devouring his young. I just read about the youth ochestra you and your wife are supporting. I hope that 1 day my son Gabe has the oppurtunitty to be a part of this. Today while driving into the gallery I saw a “what would Jesus do?, bumper sticker. For the first time it really resonated…It didn’t say “what would Jesus say he would do. I have heard enough about 5 and ten year plans. We don’t need another banquet hall where people can stuff their face and talk about what they’re going to do. My friends Weldon, and Tom and I want to unite with organizations like the Youth Orchestra to inverst and conserve a future for our youth. Nowhere has to become somewhere sometime. This desert can one day become a creative oasis. Although I find the truth in many religions. I am at heart a red letter Christian. Sometimes when It doesn’t seem like this place is going to make it, and like you I struggle to continue, a voice seems to ride out of the ether and say “give more” I beleive that voice is God, it is comforting that others are hearing it as well. So when I ask myself “what would Jesus do?”,A man with no earthly possessions ,who continued to give I see the faces of my brothers and sisters who often have the least and give and do the most. It is great to have this Gallery written about without being hounded to purchase a $300 ad that it can’t afford. The loving family here at Hollingsworth are huge fans of FlaglerLive.

  9. Audrey Scherr says:

    Art galleries are as different as the people who run them. Some make you feel comfortable; some don’t. Hollingsworth is comfortable. I think it’s because J.J. Graham exudes a genuine desire to share. He says “art is contagious.” I agree, but so is his enthusiasm. Not only that, you get to pour paint on the floor.
    When you visit Hollingsworth as a student it’s about what you want to do, what you want to learn, then it’s about the growth of the art community and its importance to the city, then it’s about the body of work currently showing and lastly it’s about J.J. Graham.
    My friends and I left feeling inspired, exhilarated and grateful.
    Thank you J.J.!
    Audrey Scherr

  10. Austin Keith says:

    This is definitely a nice article but there are quite of few discrepancies in it. Hollingsworth Gallery was created by a group of fellow artists and community members. It all began with Gena Brodie Robbins deciding to find a space to have a exhibition of her works. As she meat with Monica James they had ran into John Graham while he was preparing for a exhibition at the Hammock Wine and Cheese Shop. Graham then suggested the City Walk complex. Brodie-Robbins then visited Jeffery Sawyer of Better Buy Realty for more information on using a space for her solo show. Sawyer suggested that she have a large art show. She then took that idea and ran with it. They proposed this idea to Bhagwan Asnani, Developer of City Walk at Palm Coast, who approved the event. Then the preparations began. Brodie offered her students at Matanzas High School the opportunity to rack up service hours. Then Brodie sent out a call for artists. All artists and community groups were invited to participate in the event. I, Austin Keith work along side with Brodie and James and Sawyer with planning and organizing the event. Many High School students along with participating artists worked painting the units of the second floor of City Walk. The day of the event Bhagwan Asnani the developer walked through the event and met with each of the artists. Then Graham shared his idea of a art gallery that could sustain itself without depending on art work sales to Bhagwan and that was the beginning of Hollingsworth Gallery. Graham decided to invite a new friend Brodie to join him as a partner in Hollingsworth Gallery/Southeast Coalition of Contemporary Artists. During this time Graham and Brodie’s dreams led to bringing contemporary art to Palm Coast. They were told that if they were lucky it would last 6 months. But they proved those condescending people wrong. Promoting this art gallery would serve as a large job, so no one person was in charge it was a group effort. We all had specific advertising duties without any one of these jobs our advertising would not work. As many of you may know JJ isn’t the biggest computer user, but he has amazing people skills, so he went out to our community and networked. Gena Brodie previously interned at Exit Art where she found the right places to advertise calls to artists. Austin posted information about the gallery and the openings on every online source from Jacksonville to Orlando. After months of co-directing regional, national, international exhibitions and teaching art courses Brodie was unable to stay in Palm Coast and pulled out of Hollingsworth Gallery in October 2009 the dream of contemporary art in Palm Coast had ended for Brodie. Although with the separation of Brodie from the gallery JJ Graham, Mercedez McCartney and Austin Keith continued to spread the inspiration of culture throughout Palm Coast. With the different things that Graham experienced in the past this was not one of the hardest issues to overcome.

    This article leaves out many details about the team that caused this movement that created such a great organization in Palm Coast.

    Also, it’s amazing how when someone leaves a business because of issued that they caused then now are trying to make it sound like they single handedly established this movement in Palm Coast.

    There is not one person that could be credited with the founding, or the current success because it was a team effort that created the opportunity for success. but JJ and Mercedez are the ones who can be credited for what happens

    Well there’s my twenty-five sense on this topic.


  11. J.J. Graham says:

    Very well put, Pierre and I had a connection, and he chose to focus more on me. He spent a large sum of time here photographing everything from the floor, to the show, to the student work. There was not enough time for him to interveiw everyone. Gina and I remain friends, although we often disagreed about the direction of the Gallery. A part of her will always be here in the Gallery’s origins. The gallery has now grown into more of the place that Mercedez and I have invinsioned it to be and with the help of it’s members will continue to do so.
    Pierre is a very talented empassioned writer with great scope. I hope that he will write more about us in the future. If so there are many artists and talented people who will have a chance to share their story. My challenge to Gina is to start something as special as this place in her on small communitty in Tiftan, Georgia. Then she will be rewarded by making positive changes in her own back yard. Having a nice article written about you is flattering and encouraging to one’s ego. Making a difference in people lives is the true talent that we all have to work at to enrich and nurture the nature of our spirits. Peace. – j.j.

  12. J.J. Graham says:

    By the way thanks Audrey, you and your group were a hoot. Yaw ladies have a great vibe, Monday nights were gettin’ a little boring til’ ya’ll showed up. -j.j.

  13. Jim Guines says:

    This is like the gift that keeps on giving. It seems to be the story that keeps on telling!!!

  14. Pierre Tristam says:

    This comment thread is turning into Rashomon at City Walk! It’s only fitting: no two perspectives are ever alike, and when it comes to art, no single perspective is ever alike for two successive moments. But as JJ has it, while I originally went to the gallery to write a brief preview of that evening’s encore, I was transported, and let myself be transported, by the more compelling story, which was JJ: this is primarily, as the title suggests, a portrait of John J. Graham and the six days that went into making him who he is before that least restful seventh day that became the Hollingsworth Gallery. Of course the profile is incomplete: regarding JJ alone, I was able to tell about a hair’s breadth of what ought to be told. But this isn’t about giving credit, or making sure that every name is cited (nor is it ever so at this site). It’s about conveying a glimpse of what I hope everyone will see for themselves, and recognizing a new force in town, as fragile as it can be transforming.

    Ironically, I was on the phone with the wonderful Gena Robbins at the very moment when Austin wrote his comment, which thankfully fills in its share of blanks. So the profile has been updated now to include Gena’s important role. Who knows, this profile could very well turn into an eternally evolving work of its own, month after month weirdly, metaphorically representing the evolution of the gallery itself. It’d be a great narrative experiment that might defy the finality of words, which work perfectly well when they imprison politicians and other crooks in time and place but not so well when they imprison artists and other creations. But I’m myself both warden and prisoner of those words: the comment section’s de Kooning capacities aside, on this site there’s never indulging a single tale more than a few hours, however worthy its thousand and one Sheherazads.

  15. J.J. Graham says:

    Pierre, in the final hours of what could go on and on I must shine a light on a few most important souls. Then I’ll have to let my love of words rest and return to the world of symbols and colorful meanderings.

    There is Tom Gargiulo who has treated me like a son. Had he been born in the Bay area we would be reading books about him. He is full of stories, most of which I know by heart. He is prolific and powerful and opinionated and occupied by his beutiful wife Arlene who like Mercedez has a fulltime job keeping her man in check.
    There is William “Bill” Brandt the retired Professor of painting from Mass Art who is not a retired artist. He has one good eye that is loaded with brilliant color and penetrating whimsy. His adoring wife Amy who lends him her eyes and although she sometimes has trouble parking her car, she has had no trouble parking herself in my heart.
    There is Richard Shriener the Cinderella man of painting who thought he had hung up his brushes when his prophetical political paintings became to strong for eyes that couldn’t bear the weight of thier message. Now is your time Richard scare us into facing reality so we can change it.
    There is my beautiful loving Mercedez, a brilliant artist, together we crafted our son Gabe who has a heart like a giant train.
    There is Bhagwan Asani, the developer who once lived in his car and rose to give us this oppurtunitty. I will be eternally gratefull to you sir. I appreciate you and I can’t wait to hear you play some Beatles songs for us.
    There is Austin Keith who almost single handly staged the second CityWalk. I’m sorry Austin that I was too inspired to paint, to be much help. You deserve all the credit. I hope you will do it again this year. You are a brilliant young man. When you can learn to take compliments like this and not get a swollen head and try a
    little harder to aviod drama the future will become yours young man.
    There is Kris Keiser who is away learning some things I had to learn. Kris you’re cRazY and beautiful talented and golden hearted vunerable. You’re my Chet Mortan. Frank and Joe Hardy would have never solved one mystery without their good friend and his nice car. Two bad his mom didn’t have a van. You’ve always been there for me Brother I understand you better than you will ever know. Together we can heal.
    There is my new friend Weldon Ryan. He walkes with a cane, and there is a whole universe inside of him wainting to give birth to new light, I have seen it. He is the president of F.C.A.L. I’m a member. He is a member here. Together with the help of our members we are going to build a field of dreams. They will come Weldon.
    There is Harrison Huijskens and Sahaquira Moye to beautiful kids. Harrison you and your parents will never have to buy one of my paintings a family that has given as much as yours has to orphaned kids in Haiti, deserves to get a peice of my heart for free now and then. Shorty everything you make here hangs on the fridge in my heart girl. I hope I didn’t mispell your names again…I’m on a role can’t get up to consult my folder.
    There is Sandy Peirce and Sally Witty the only 2 sofa painters I’ll allow to hang in this gallery. If I ever get enough money to afford a beach house I’ll adorn its walls with your work. Kip if you and Bob and I end up in P.E. class in the next life I want you on my kick ball team.
    Gail Holt. you know what you did for Merc and I. I can never repay. You’re my angel.
    Gary and Diana Rosenow, thank you too.
    Thank you Sandi Branch for sending me checks for a Studio space you couldn’t use for 3 months. Welcome back.
    Thank you Lenny Stan. I miss you.
    Thanks Linda Kockenspurger, who like me believes in miricles.
    Thanks to Gary and Damion Collins and Michel Roux. Michel you’ve done alot to help me, you should come to our shows. You need too get some more art to replace your Warhols. Sorry I’ve never been a fan of his. The only thing they say about their owners is that they are rich. If I had one I’d sell it and buy a Gargiulo.
    Thank you Valerie Carruthers. One day you will teach me yoga, and I’ll finally quit smoking. How fitting that your birthday is the day of the long breath. I have so much respect for you and your husband Roy.
    Chris Sullivan get your ass home. I miss painting with You.
    Eva bishop your so happy to be here your trying to paint a hallelujah. I love it.
    Thank you Mike Ingram. You are so unique. Bill sees it to.
    Thank you Diana Gilson you’re a wonderful painter, and I love to paint the gallery walls with your friends work. Enjoy France , bring me home some of their fries.
    Thank you David Demiranda and all the young people who are now planting their ideas beneath the S.E.C.C.A. tree. Thanks Everyone!
    Last of all but not least I want to thank Betty Joe Sansbury.
    Betty Joe you are the mother of this gallery. You have a love that seeps out of every pore of your body exspecialy your eyes, some times I have to look away because i can’t even begin to fathom it. Your husband David fixed this old laptop I’m typing on, it’s special to me now, I would not trade it for a new one.
    Betty Joe you are the Christian I’ve heard about all my life and finally met. You have done something that I thought no one would ever be able to do. You have reawakened the candle of Christ in my heart. Because of you I am reading my mother’s Bible again.
    About myself. I am just the Blissfull Wizard trying desparatly to keep all this magic from dying. Palm Coast has enough golf courses my friends. Some of the peop[le who are bouncing balls of my rooftop need to sink some art on their walls and support the infant culture that has been born here. For less the one round of golf they could give support to the arts here in Palm Coast. The seeds that would grow out of their generous hearts would one day bring them more satisfaction than a hole in one. -j.j. graham

    ps. Pierre now I’ve said what I had to say. I’ll leave the writing up to you for awhile. Once I aspired to be a writer. There is a reason why I will never encourage to paint. We need writers.

  16. J.J. Graham says:

    There is reason why I will never encourage you to paint Pierre. Slipped into morning last night. O.K. now I’m really done. Took a Power nap. Peace.- j.j.

  17. Mercedez McCartney says:

    Wow, JJ! If all of that was one of your paintings, I wonder what it would look like?

  18. Rachel Lynn Graham says:

    Dang John have you been sippin on the vino again? … lol just kiddin you always have alot to say after wine, I saw the book you wrote up there.haha ____ This was such a wonderful article on my brother who has been not only such a major part of my life, but who has also been one of the most encouraging and inspiring people in my life! It is so nice to see him recognized for all the heart, soul and very hard work he has put into the galley, his art , and his teaching at Hollingsworth Gallery, in which he named after a very special person in our lives our 2nd mom Lois Hollingsworth Graham. It has been so rewarding to see the gallery come so far, and to see my brother living his dream. It is also nice to see the gallery surrounded by so many beautiful people, and wonderful friends which have turned into family. I think it’s so awesome to see the K.A.R.E. program growing so well, I know how much this means to John after working side by side with him in the College for Kids program he taught at Meridian Community College for several years in Mississippi. My brother once told me “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a childs face light up after completing at piece of artwork that they have worked so hard on “. I hope the K.A.R.E. program continues to bring in more smiling faces!!!!!!! Thumbs up to the author =-) and to Hollingsworth Gallery!!!!!!!!!!

  19. DG says:

    I really enjoyed this article. It’s places like these that provide a special rare sentiment in our lives. I remember a scene from my childhood where I stumbled into a little chicken farm, that served as both a little chicken farm and also a small gallery and art center. I remember that warm, whispy day, where I picked up a charcoal for the first time, given to me by the teacher, this 8 1/2 months pregnant women who simply asked I mingle with the others to find my inspiration. When I walked into Hollingsworth gallery for the first time, that feeling returned. My mind immediately begin to wonder through the art on the walls, and continued to the easels with half-finished paintings and the stories behind them all. People of all ages shook hands with me and the conversations were like a wild, magic carpet ride through people’s minds. Inside this relaxed, unstructured atmosphere of stimulation and engagment, you’ll find it’s keeper, J.J. I still remember discussing some ideas and how J.J. was quick to respond “I have an idea of how we can make a show of that”. I remember his 3 foot long paint brush. I also remember the different mediums and canvas he used, including his own painter’s palette he later turned into a work of art. But most of all, I remember his philosphy of openess that daily continues to materilize in the gallery. But don’t be fooled by his free-spirited philopshy, as JJ remains a careful sentry, guarding these walls from the galleries where no one’s interested in your art, and where hanging out too long is considered loitering. There’s an interesting quote that comes to mind: “I’ve been things and seen places”. Hollingsworth gallery is like that. I can’t wait to visit it again.

    There seems to be some comments here that think this article was to mainly focus on the specific marketing or specific events that took place in the creation process of the establishment. However, I find the writer to be captivated by the ambiance of the gallery, and the life and presense of it’s active owner and curator. The article is transcending us to that place. If the people in these comments would love to share with me a link to an article about the studio they maintain, I’d love to read and visit so I can share my experience about it there. As for now though, I’ll stretch my canvas, grab some brushes, and remember a place where the drops can hit the floor. Thanks J.J. and keep those doors open to strangers!

  20. melissa says:

    Hollingsworth Gallery is a special place. Through the people, the art, and passion the gallery has adapted its own pulse. Once you have been a guest, it is easy to realize the life it has given to palm coast. What a wonderful place to find understanding, inspiration, expression, and most important yourself. I am a former student of J.J. Graham. His classes go beyond the teaching of art, he teaches you to find your voice. I would still be a student at the gallery, if it wasn’t for moving some six hundred miles away. Never the less, J.J. and Mercedez will always be in my thoughts and heart!

  21. eva bishop says:

    there is an old saying…”when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”…as you need things, ideas, people, they will turn up, exactly at the right moment…. thanks sandy p. for introducing me to hollingsworth gallery and classroom…… was exactly the right time……..i wanted to paint with my hands……jj said no paint with your body…….and to the music………i then tried to paint with my arms……and to the music…..he said no with your body…..finally i understood what jj meant when he said……be free with your painting… loosen up…..i am doing things i never thought i could do……..i still have a way to go but i am hanging in there…….every day a new light comes on and i say “oh that’s what you mean jj.”…… i learned to back my own painting……what a good feeling to accomplish that………..thanks jj …and mercedez for all you do………and all you encourage me to do…….yep the teacher appeared just when i needed him…………

  22. eva bishop says:


  23. Chris Horton says:

    The Gallery is JJ.He is the pied piper with the kids program. He is the professional artist with the body of work that other artists respect. He is the humble community organizer who KARES about opportunity for others above his own recognition. It is not complicated to see who is the attraction.

  24. Rudy Smith says:

    Oh please….. to much. The art is boring.

  25. Dave D says:

    Rudy your work is trendy and boring, your last name is generic, and your first name denotes your personality. Fitting. You’re just another demented soul trying to play the weird card and come out looking like a cool hipster. I hope you grow up one day and replace your colossal ego with true confidence. Your an amateur appreciator at best. Good luck surviving yourself.

  26. Alison Wolf says:

    Thank you, JJ for reassuring my son that art is ‘cool’- and not just because his mom says so. It was easy for me to encourage him to express himself through a medium that I love, but to have that passion affirmed and encouraged by a ‘big brother’ is priceless….thank you so much for your mentoring. We will continue to support Hollingsworth for the long haul. xx

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