Tom Holmes Interview - The Hopper Prize

Tom Holmes

Tom Holmes on early influences, new work, Halloween decorations as Memento mori, & our limited and isolated understanding of our own mortality.

How did you get into making art?

As I’m from an unusually isolated, evangelical, upbringing, the first art I ever saw in person, as a teen, was Donald Judd’s Chinati in Marfa, TX. It was a genuine tabula rasa moment. I thought “Oh, this is what art is, I guess.”

If unfamiliar, Judd left NYC to make, in essence, his own museum in the desert, housed in an old calvary fort used in WWII to house German prisoners of war. Now, it houses his minimal sculptures, prisoners of a hard-edged ideology that metaphor can’t exist after the holocaust. But, heads up, persist it does.

Soon after, I fell under the sway of endurance performance artist Linda Montano. So, I never made a single painting in school. Mine was a dematerialized conceptual program.

Look at me now -a regular cave painter, just toiling away in the studio.

What are you currently working on?

Aw, you’ve caught me between projects. I’ve just put up a show in DC at von ammon co. gallery. The works in the show represent a great deal of what I’ve been up to for the last couple years, a nice broad survey of my pandemic mind.

Headed to a 10 day silent meditation retreat soon, to reset.

I’d like to tackle some sculptural projects I’ve put off. For instance, I’ve an idea for marble urns that riff on Egyptian canopic jars. Think half gallon milk jug topped w Trix® cereal rabbit head. Y’know, something tasteful you’d keep on the mantel.

I find these temporary monuments, at a metaphoric level, really speak to an American psychology -our limited and isolated understanding of our own mortality.

Tom Holmes

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

You’ll see the DC show started with a pretty Str8-ahead idea -Halloween decorations as Memento mori.

As I see the show now, it really isn’t one thing. There seems, in the aggregate, a gentle appeal to lean-into
a discomfort with the subject of mortality as well as a spirited call to resistance.

I’ve done a deep dive into the makeshift memorials that spring up at the site of a tragedy like a mass shooting. These accumulative markers of a civic grief have informed the work greatly. Especially a rather consistent urge to infantilize the victim w stuffed plush animals. I find these temporary monuments, at a metaphoric level, really speak to an American psychology -our limited and isolated understanding of our own mortality.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

In the studio what is primary are compositional decisions and paint application. Those kind of choices are specific to the work at hand. But, there is another part of the practice, constructing metaphor, that is a broader arch across a body of work. There’s often a consistent subject (i.e. Halloween decor, Temp memorials, auto-drawing) that is developed in variation one work to the next. I should say, the artist is in a position of service to whatever the work demands. Knowing the difference between “your needs” and “what the work needs” is the name of the game, in the studio.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

I keep banker’s hours. I spend the morning pretty lazy, on my phone, computer. Come noon I’m headed to the studio until the sun goes down. I rarely have anyone in the studio so its a bit of a mess. It never occurs to me to listen to music, I work in silence.

I mean, the real liability of a conceptual practice is you’re often just kicking around waiting for a “good idea.” With a painting practice, there’s always something to be done, a task at hand. I’m never really at a loss for what’s next. Now, I get distracted on occasion, but my concentration has sharpened over the years. Starting and completing a work can feel like moving through molasses sometimes, but when you’re in it, noting better. If there were a surveillance camera on me you’d see a great deal of time is spent looking at the work, punctuated by relatively quick decisive gestures.

Who are your favorite artists?

Well, I could give you a laundry list of names you’ve heard of (i.e. Rachel Harrison, David Hammons, Cady Noland, Richard Tuttle,) but perhpas its more useful to turn you on to some lesser known names:
James Suzuki
Jean Capdeville
Vincent Mariani
Fritz Scholder
Allison Miller
Katie Grinnan

Where do you go to discover new artists?

Ugh, I don’t really. The Art World has been pretty abysmal for about five years, in NYC at least. I’ve, however, always got eyes peeled for gems in the museum setting. In Berlin I came across this late 19th c. tradition of painting “sky studies.” In Frankfurt, tucked in the corner, was an Ensor so charming I had to make a work of my own in responce (see self portrait in current show.) The National Gallery had a lovely unassuming Carolus-Duran. So many American impressionists I’d never heard of. I could spend a lifetime in the quick edges of a Frans Hals or Gilbert Stuart -or Boldini. It’s the ol’ artists that I’m out to “discover.”

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