hero image ARTS MANAWATU

Supporting the creation and appreciation of the visual arts in Manawatu...and beyond

Philip Holmes

Philip Holmes image Auckland-born Philip Holmes grew up in Hawera and Taupo during the 1950s. As a child he drew constantly and from an early age knew that he would pursue an artistic career.
Holmes began painting professionally in his twenties, exhibiting throughout New Zealand from early on in his career.
Having studied Maori art and history, Holmes's early portraits often featured historical Maori figures with contemporary subjects appearing in more recent years. His work is a combination of traditional European technique embracing New World subject matter. Working in both conté and oil, Holmes has long been acknowledged as one of New Zealand's finest portrait painters.
Check out Philips art works at www.internationalartcentre.co.nz

'phone: (06) 355 3862

Portrait painting
Portrait painiting
Portrait painting
Portrait painting
Te Haukino of Ngati Tuwharetoa of Tokaanu, Lake Taupo painting Te Haukino of Ngati Tuwharetoa of Tokaanu, Lake Taupo
30 x 21.5cm
oil on board
Wineera (detail) paintingWineera (detail)
30 x 21.5cm
oil on board
Portrait painting
A Fresh Perspective
an informal chat with the artist Philip Holmes

Philip Holmes is an artist living and working in Palmerston North.
I am no expert, but that is why I volunteered to write this, and it is always special to have such an immensely talented and highly respected artist share his knowledge and techniques with others.
I first saw his work when I visited Square Edge Studio in January of this year, just after moving to Palmerston North.
It was an image that was part of the advertising process for one of his workshops, a portrait of a young woman wearing a denim jacket, Delphine, which really caught my eye.
If the essence of art is in the artistry, then some art reveals that essence in the sensitivity of it's rendering and the artist's deep respect for his subject. I do think that portraiture is perhaps the most demanding of art forms. Do we see that essence in each brush stroke? Or is it in the overall atmosphere of the work; is it something in the face that tells the story and, more importantly, are we invited in by the subject to hear that story? That is how I felt looking at Philip's work for the first time, captured, captivated and invited in.
Philip may wear a beret at times and have the air of artistic eccentricity and wry humour, but he is also an extraordinarily modest and humble man, extremely approachable and keen to share his knowledge about art.

Delphine, by Philip Holmes

Delphine by Philip Holmes

I ask him did he always "know" that he wanted to be an artist?
"Yes", he leans back slightly as he reflects on this, "I was about nineteen I think, yes around about that age. I felt the pull when I was younger than that, but I was around nineteen when I embraced it fully".
Did you go to art school?
"No, I suppose you could say I was a little defiant in that I thought I could go it alone; also in the 70s the dynamic changed in the art world. There was a freeing-up, I suppose you could say, post-60s, and the free expression, which may not always be a good thing. Previous to that era, the way of teaching was entirely different, the approach of the classicist, a basic grounding in drawing skills and I have heard students today say that they have not been given the tools they need, those skills being the foundation. Even Picasso had that grounding, he would have built his foundational skills through being taught the classical approach."
Philip was born in Auckland and grew up in Taranaki. In 1979 he went to live in Tenamu near Opunake. Living off the land "hunks of bacon from the butcher, otherwise self-sufficient".
I sense as he speaks that he is describing a type of apprenticeship with the land, he learned it's history and the events that occurred there. It is an understanding and a sensitivity that still informs his own philosophy of hard work and a deep respect for the natural world and the history of it's people. He grew up with "talk about early New Zealand and the land wars"; over the years he would read and research further. As an example he tells me about the impact the end of the Napoleonic wars had, of the weaponry that was left over being brought here to New Zealand: "Imagine the impact that had on the Maori warrior".
At this point in our talk I begin to understand part of what it is that he captures in his portraits, a cumulative knowledge that translates through his work, the underlying empathy, the respect that is conveyed in how his portraits are composed and rendered. But there is also that extra quality, as we talk of an earlier portrait he says, "she carries the weight of her ancestors on her shoulders". Look at any of Philip’s portraits and you will see the depth he has caught behind the eyes and in each detail of skin and clothing.

Zara, by Philip Holmes

Zara, by Philip Holmes

When was it he began painting portraits?
He tells me he "spent twenty or so years thinking about, and painting, the Manawatu landscape, until one day it did not "hold him in the same way".
I ask him about the process that is his method, known to us as Colour and Carbon. He describes it as "idiosyncratic"; a technique he discovered almost by accident. He starts with a monochrome image in charcoal or carbon or conte crayon. He may use a textured canvas. He then begins the process of removing in order to shape the image; he will also use tints and glazes.
I could say so much more about Philip's work, and how much I have enjoyed looking at it closely with his insights. I am tremendously grateful to him for allowing me to ask him questions, for spending time with me and telling me so much more than can be conveyed in a short article such as this.

Interview by Mhairead MacDonald