Joaquin supports local artist

01/03/2011 | By

A broken neck hasn’t stopped Tommy Hollenstein from living his dream of being an artist

Local Artist Keeps Rolling Along With His ‘Wheels of Hope’ Charity

A broken neck hasn’t stopped Tommy Hollenstein from living his dream of being an artist.

Despite being a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, artist Tommy Hollenstein is giving back by donating 40 percent of the proceeds from his current art exhibit to six charities he has chosen.

Hollenstein’s “Wheels of Hope" exhibit can be viewed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Encino Terrace Center, 15821 Ventura Blvd. The exhibit runs through March 25, but a closing reception is being held on March 16, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The six charities he has chosen are:, which benefits the homeless; Dream Center, benefiting inner-city families; Shane’s Inspiration, benefiting children with disabilities; Canine Companions for Independence, benefiting the disabled; WYNGS, benefiting those with spinal chord injuries; and the Los Angeles Art Association, which supports emerging Los Angeles artists.

"Since I was a kid I really wanted to be an artist. The spinal cord injury groups knew that and they tried to teach me how to paint, using a mouth stick. I hated it. It was just too confining for me,” Hollenstein said.

The Canoga Park resident broke his neck in a mountain biking accident in 1985, when he was 24. He told Encino Patch it was his love for his devoted dog, Weaver, that brought art back into his life.

Hollenstein wrote on his Web site, “the best friend that I ever had was Weaver, my Canine Companion. Weaver was much more than my helper. He helped me recover mentally from my injury. I talked to him when we were alone and told him everything. Somehow I think he understood, because he always found a way to make me laugh."

Hollenstein said he acquired Weaver from Canine Companions, one of his selected charities. As Weaver got older, Hollenstein said he knew he wanted something more than a photograph to remember the dog that had made such a difference in his life. He said that’s when he got the idea to make a painting using the tire treads of his wheelchair with Weaver’s paw prints.

After choosing a nontoxic paint that was safe to use on Weaver’s paws, he created his first two paintings, which led to more.

"I had always gone to galleries and began to self-promote," Hollenstein said. "I sold nine paintings at my first solo show with prices of $1,600 to $4,800. Actor Joaquin Phoenix walked out with two paintings that night."

Hollenstein said Slash, the guitarist for Velvet Revolver, became a client and later helped him collaborate with rock musicians including Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh, who donated their handprints to create a painting called Helping Hands. The proceeds went to Shane’s Inspiration.

“Tommy is an incredible living example of finding grace and gratitude in all things," founder Aileen Getty told Encino Patch. "His victory over obstacles to maintain his creative efforts and caring for others inspires me.” plans to use the money it receives to continue helping the homeless by offering hands-on, companionship-based care to secure permanent housing.

Hollenstein said he has been personally involved with all of the charities he has selected for The Wheels of Hope and is happy to give them an opportunity to set up tables to explain their works at the March 16 event. He said he expects some big names to show up, but didn’t name them. The paintings will range in price from $450 to $1,600. Whoever purchases a painting can select which of the six charities receives the donation from the sale.

Peter Mays, executive director of Los Angeles Art Association, said he plans to put any proceeds that come his way to continued good use supporting 260 local artists with exhibition space and other resources.

“Tommy represents an uncommon level of commitment and achievement that is amazing and inspiring,” Mays said.

Hollenstein said that each painting takes a minimum of a couple of weeks to create and some take months because he has to let each layer dry.

"I have an attendant apply the paint on the tires, then I have to kind of dance around to keep the paint where I want it," Hollenstein said.

Hollenstein said he tried many paints but settled on Behr Paint. One day he received a call from the president of Behr, who after hearing Hollenstein’s story wanted to supply the paint for free, with no strings attached. Hollenstein said the company has continued to provide his paint for the last five years and has even donated palettes of paints to his large charity events.

"I’m just really fortunate to be living the dream…that I thought was stolen away by the injury," Hollenstein said. "I don’t take it for granted either. I paint every day."

LINK: Encino