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Tom Holmes: My life’s work is the essential outcome of my soul

It is typical for an artist to become the master of an element or material in the evolution of their practice, creating master works as they harness their chosen medium. To find someone who has mastered not just one element, but many is incredibly rare and awe inspiring. Tom Holmes is one of those artists. His practice is built on the foundation of music, emotion, and the seasonal calendar, creating a diverse portfolio of work ranging from sculpture to photography to works on paper. Here is a look into his thought process.

Half Empty Heart Ice, pigment, water, burnt wood, 18” x 28” x 3” , 2008, ink jet print,, Courtesy of the Artist

You mention that the seasons affect your work and in selecting which materials you work with — “Ice follows the freezing mark of winter, stone and steel the exterior work space of summer. Spring begins the search for materials and fall settles all debts, emotional, physical and intellectual.” Can you expand upon this?

Seasonal change is the world in action. It ebbs and flows and I prefer to adapt approaches, understanding and outcomes to what is possible under each daily circumstance. All materials are best suited to temperatures, malleability, seasonal change, and weather. We must be ready to approach these opportunities and hardships with determination and sublimation.

Ice season begins the night of the first frost. It does not mean I must make ice work, though sometimes I honor the incoming winter. It is important to recognize and intuit the transformation of fall to winter. Ice work is not summer work in a wholistic sense. Ice belongs to the deep and long nights of winter.

I burn wood in the fall and spring when it is most comfortable to do so outside. Stone and steel fills the summer months with the heavy work of welding, lifting, moving and forging hard materials into their potential. Fall is a time to review the work of each season. To prepare for the cold.

What has manifested? What value was birthed into the world. Have we healed our injuries from the heavy work, and paid our respects properly to all those who support us and rise to continue into the dark season. The deep winter. Are our debts paid for who we have become? What do we owe others and to ourselves? Many times it is impossible to know until years later.

Setting Sun Wood, steel, paint, 2011, 19’x19’x19’ Bethel Woods Museum, model for permanent collection town of Hilton Head SC, Courtesy of the Artist

Does your work with sound come into play with this? How so?

Sound is essential to all living beings and structures. My degree is in music, and I am thankful it was not in art specifically. Music is the elixir of life. Every morning I turn on the radio. Set at RTI out of Philadelphia. It plays classical all day and changes to jazz in the evenings at 6pm. To listen is to hear, is to learn, is to know. There is no better teacher than Stravinsky or Miles, or Mozart…. or Bach. The structure of music mimics the structure of life in order, sculpture that is stable, art that matters. The deep relationship of the long term historical narrative, begs the adolescent subconscious to commit. To make a stand. To create only what you can create. To face the life long task of completion regardless of outcome. Sound, music, composition, is like this. Once a life is created, a sculpture completed, a painting dries, all bets are off.

Working in so many different materials and in so many different forms, is there any particular series or style you would consider your signature? Why or why not?

I work in many materials because they are all valid, but I do have a propensity towards stone, steel and bronze. Stone carries the signature of the memory of water. Therefore it vibrates with the historical memory of it’s past. It maintains an energetic imprint of all that washed over and through it for all time. Steel and bronze, the metals; are a manifestation of the mineralization of stone. They exist because we break down elements and manufacture them into stable metals. An artistic vocabulary should not be bounded by the infrastructure of semi-imposed ideologies. I make what I make simply because it is what I am destined to make. There is no other reason. And all good art exists because it is birthed with the proper ethos. Not the improper political, ideological or sociological sensation predetermining meaning. Character exists without interference from us all. Materials exist without our interference.

Burning Branch Stick embedded in ice, back lit by the sun, winter 2006.3"x9"x13", Courtesy of the Artist

What are some unexpected challenges of working with certain elements?

The challenges that present themselves with the monumental materials like stone, metal, wood, and ice are that they are heavy. Work your whole life with them and they will break you. They never relent. The fundamental issues are resources and the ability to access foundries, heavy equipment and hydraulics as an older man. There is only so much you can lift. I am thankful I have all my fingers and toes. I am strong and determined. I work everyday as a laborer would, but with the pride of a highly evolved artist. Capable of carving a path through the treacheries of the every day. A proud blue collar artist as my father would have approved of.

How do you feel your work has evolved over the years?

My work continues to evolve, every day, moment by moment. For the artist who is born into this world, with no socialized intention or calculated ethos, my life’s work is the essential outcome of my soul. It is nothing else. I live and I work. I am now building my final collection. I will only sell to those who understand the purpose of my life’s work and have the funds to scan and duplicate the models into full scale sculptures. The groveling days are over and no one is allowed into my sculptural domain without permission. It is a private territory; hard earned and guarded with impunity.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

Stone seems to be my most familial material. As it should be to everyone. It is the primary source of energetic imprint and flow. Metal in the inner earth is molten, stone is in flux, dust and sand the remnants of all; but stone is the most permanent. It marks time. It predates our sorrowed miscalculation as pre-sapiens. Stone is the solace of the universe.

How would you describe the way your practice operates between painting, sculpture and architecture?

There is no delineation between painting, sculpture and architectural constructions. They are all integrated into the self. The primary driver is the creative. The artist. They are simply manifestations of the same ethos…. the creative self. Stone came first because I was young and strong. Architecture came in midlife because I had more knowledge. Painting begins in old age as I reside on cold winter nights resolved to paint because my heart is some what broken. My days are short. And the brushes are waiting inside.

Jeff goes for a walk and meets David Smith having tea with Duchamp Stone and Steel, 18” x 16” x 14”, 2005, Courtesy of the Artist

How has quarantine affected your creativity and work?

The last four months I have rebuilt the property, cleaned every space and made 450 new sculptures. That is how I respond to tragedy., The whole time making sure my wife Carol and my dog Chloe and anyone else who encounters me is well taken care of and protected.

What’s next?

I am somewhat semi retired now. I build the final collection. I take care of my home. I love my wife. I wake to work and be as whole as possible. That is it. I ask of each of us, “what did you do today?”. The fundamental question—"did you take care of business?”

Nevertheless I know I will build monumental sculpture parks as my life meanders past middle age. A table 2 acres square. The scanning and manufacture of models. Parks that people will visit and weep because stone, metal, wood, water and ice gives our souls permission to breath. The birds will over see this manifestation. They will deliver the Spring as they always do.

If so, that is everything.

Arc of History Stone and Steel, 6’ x 14’ x 20’, 2013, destroyed by disgruntled town members… 2014, Courtesy of the Artist

To follow Tom holme's activity, you can visit his website.

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