Mike Holmes

Modern artist who prefers to work in the traditional style

BORN in Murroe, I have always felt at home in the countryside, and amongst the various characters that inhabit it.

After much travelling, I returned to Doon, where I now live with my family, about 15 years ago. My education began, locally, at Murroe National School, before moving on to Doon Christian Brothers School, and finally to Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).

Illustration was always a big part of my life growing-up.

Art materials were not very plentiful when I was small; so instead, I used to draw on the floor using cinders from the fire, in place of charcoal. I, also, drew on the road, and our concrete yard, with various coloured sandstone pebbles. Any kind of packaging at all, whether that be cartons, or wrapping paper, was always up for grabs. So, using a stub of a pencil, I would cover these with my early impressions of cows, horses and people. Indeed, when I started my primary school education, in 1965, the infant classes still used slates and chalk for writing and drawing. However, I managed to impress the teacher sufficiently that she gave me a supply of paper and colours to work with and frequently stuck them up on the wall. With recognition came responsibility, and from then on, I was expected to do well at art. In this, I was fortunate in that I had teachers who valued art, drama and music, as useful educational tools, and who recognised and encouraged talent in those fields.

Today, I work mainly using oil on canvas, although I have worked in stone, wood and metal, at various times.

Purely in practical terms oil paint is very versatile and convenient, and, in my more recent work, I have tried to capture some of the imagery, and to convey some of the atmosphere, of the countryside. Although, this is where I now live, I, also, like to recall those places that I have been to in the past. Indeed, this was the theme of a recent exhibition I had with Myra O’Reilly, in the old Methodist Hall (now called Central Building One), on O’Connell St. In a collection of landscapes, street scenes and interiors, I attempted to portray the calm and colour of the countryside through its seasonal changes. In all this, a distinction is drawn between the claustrophobia of narrow lanes, and tall buildings, the harsh reflections from angular masonry, glass and the flow of people that give towns their character and vitality. As with all my recent work, I am attempting to recall and record something of my recent experiences. My style might be described as being somewhat literal, with the themes, also, being influenced by the environment and current events.

It has been rightly said that language communicates ideas, while art communicates feelings.

Drawing and painting were always a means of expressing myself honestly and confidently. This process was assisted by an introduction I had, (aged nine or ten), to Benedict Tutty O.S.B. via my school teacher Maureen Fitzgerald. He was a talented sculptor, who also found time to hold informal classes, at his studio in Glenstal Abbey, for those with artistic ambitions. It was an unforgettable opportunity to observe a skilled artist, using a fascinating array of tools, to produce masterful works in metal ceramics and wood. Br. Benedict introduced me to printing, enamelling, pastels and repoussé, and placed a huge emphasis on drawing as an exercise in observation and as a means of exploring visual ideas. So from an early age I saw both the wonder and the reality of working as an artist. I, also, realised that understanding materials, techniques and processes, was just as important an ingredient in producing works of art, as talent.

My work is mainly sold through exhibitions.

As well as being an opportunity to sell, exhibitions are, also, a great social occasion, allowing you to meet friends and fellow artists, alike. In this convivial atmosphere one can discuss ideas and plans. I work from home, so I also feel it necessary, to put my work on show, now and then, so it can be seen, admired and criticised. Of course, sales are always welcome, both to the ego as well as to the pocket, but I would not measure the success of an exhibition purely on sales alone. My own philosophy is that, ‘you are what you do, and you do what you can’. One’s talent, or skill, can lead in various directions depending on the challenges and opportunities encountered in everyday life. I can only encourage others to look afresh at art. It is a fantastic means of expression and communication. Indeed, it is as instinctive to draw paint and sculpt, as it is to sing or dance.

The works of established artists continue to be bought and sold as investment commodities, and for the prestige of corporations and individuals.

However, many of those who purchased works of art for their own personal taste, and gratification, can no longer afford to do so in the current economic climate. While, profit or gain, may not be the primary motive of all artists, it is discouraging, all the same, to find that it is difficult to make a living from one’s vocation. On the other hand developments in technology have opened-up exciting new avenues of exploration for artists. That said, while I welcome the technological innovations of our age, I continue to work in a traditional style. This is because I enjoy physical contact with materials like charcoal and graphite, pastels and the ever versatile oil paint. The latter, in particular, can be used to sketch quickly outdoors, by applying it thickly with a palette knife, or alternatively through the meticulous processes of using glazes in a studio!

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