Frame 61

Adam Holmes-Davies

Frame 61
Adam Holmes-Davies

"Simply put I am trying to express my experiences of life, sometimes quite literally I feel like I’m attempting to paint the experience of being sat in a little room trying to make sense of the world."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?

I was born in Croydon and fostered at an early age, because of this I lived in a number of homes across London and the South East. I eventually ended up living with my grandparents in a small rural village in Sussex and remember this being a real change in environment from estates in inner London and suburbs, to suddenly living in the countryside. Because of this I’m not sure as a kid I had a sense of place and didn’t really feel that I was from anywhere in particular.

I wouldn’t say that I’d always wanted to be an artist. At the time I suppose I didn’t even know what an artist was, though looking back I do remember enjoying spending my lunch breaks in the art room at school. One of the advantages to my upbringing and probably the reason why I’m an artists today is that there was really no one to tell me that I couldn’t.

After finishing school I went on to do a foundation course and then a BA in Fine Art at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. After graduating in 1996 I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so decided to go traveling, I ended up living in Prague then Toronto and then in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After moving back to London a number of years later I decided that maybe I should start taking art a bit more seriously, so got myself a studio and started to make work. A couple of years after that I was offered a place at Chelsea College of Art and Design on the MA Fine Art course and since graduating in 2006 have continued to make work.

Compared to your earlier works your more recent paintings are freer with loose brush marks. Could you talk about this progression and what this change brings to your work?

Yes I used to make detailed paintings from observation of still life arrangements on my windowsill and self-portraits in the studio. A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to make a change to the way I approached my paintings. At the time I remember feeling frustrated with how ordered the process of making my work was. I remember being preoccupied with how long it took to make a painting and wished that I could be more spontaneous. I also wanted to work on a number of different canvases at a time instead of having such strict starting and finishing points in the painting. I suppose I had adopted rules for making my work without really understanding why and so decided to make a change. 

I started by making paintings and drawings on paper, which I still do, these works have helped me to develop new ideas and images and create a more gestural attitude towards the work. I feel that my paintings can now skip between abstracted or figurative forms, observed or imagined spaces. I’m seeking a quality within my paintings rather than having to be descriptive of subjects. I now work on a number of canvases and surfaces at a time with ideas shared throughout multiple works. Ideas and subjects for my paintings can emerge and disappear with the starting and finishing points fluid. 

Girl, 2016

Untitled, 2016

Do you dwell less on subject matter and focus more on the craft/act/ritual of painting itself? 

I am interested in painting as an intuitive act I enjoy its labour and sense of history and time. Subjects for my work are influenced by my everyday experiences, emotional and personal histories. I am interested in the history of painting and historical genres, in particular portraiture and still life painting, which I use as entry points into making my own paintings.

I try not to get hung up about what I’m painting or what ‘they mean’, whether that be painted from observation or imagined. I suppose without trying to sound to corny I’m more interested in trying to find a reality, an attitude and power to the image. Simply put I am trying to express my experiences of life, sometimes quite literally I feel like I’m attempting to paint the experience of being sat in a little room trying to make sense of the world.

There is plenty of humour in your work, with the smiley faces and use of colour. Is this your intention and if so could you talk about the thoughts behind it?

I’d like to think that I’m a funny person but I don’t personally see that in the work. In fact I would say that my work is actually quite deadpan and melancholy. As you have mentioned I have painted people with smiley faces and used strong primary colours but I suppose these come more from an anxiety than humour, I always see it like a dumb anxiety, a bit like when someone takes an awkward photo of you. If there is humour in my work it is more than likely self-depreciating.

Head, 2016

Waiting Room, 2016

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?

My studio is pretty simple really, an old victoria warehouse with lots of cast iron windows and wooden floors. I have a small space on the top floor, which overlooks lots of people’s gardens. Since being in this studio I’ve become quite familiar with all the coming and goings of people around. There’s karate guitar man, a man who plays guitar in his garden and sometimes does karate. Pigeon man, his a guy who has homing pigeons which fly in unison around the studio. He’ll call them back in a repeated tone “come in, come in, come in”, which I always think is a bit like calling a sheep dog ‘come-by, come-by’. Other than that its pretty quiet, I usually spend long hours in the studio and some times feel like I’m a bit to obsessed. I have a chair and a big long pallet with wheels on it and two plans chests for drawings and paintings on paper.  I have a few stacks of paintings, which are in various stages of completion, usually facing away as not to confuse me.

When I arrive in the studio I don’t usually have a particular plan, I tend to just start with what ever feels right. I make my own paint from pigment and tube it up, which I started doing a year ago. So sometimes if I don’t feel like painting or just want to be distracted I’ll mix up a cadmium yellow just so I can feel engaged with the material. I paint over a lot of my work and so the surfaces of my canvases are usually quite built up, so sometimes it does just feel like I’m in the studio adding paint to a surface and then taking it off.

What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?

I don’t usually think about the viewer when I make my work. I suppose I’m far more interested with my own selfish desire in making it. Though I imagine a viewer would gain some insight into the attributes that I admire and value in other artworks, such as a sense of time, place and emotional fragility.

I know it’s probably an overly romanticized view but I’ve always been interested in understanding an artist through their work and see the act of making as a reflection of an artists attitude and approach to life and hope that this also translates through my work.

How do you go about naming your work?

Titles or names for my work usually arrive while I’m making the painting. My titles are pretty descriptive and tend not to have any particular meaning in the work. For example I’’ve been painting a lot of portraits or heads, of late which I kind of see as being different versions of me. I’ll title this ‘Head’ or ‘Portrait’. I am always wary of overblown or pompous posturing in art, particularly in painting and so try to keep my titles simple and to the point.

Reflection, 2016

Untitled, 2016

Black Sun, 2016

Window, 2016

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I recently went to see Carlo Carrà, Metaphysical Spaces at Blain Southern, which I really enjoyed. I was surprised by the stillness of these pictures, particularly the landscapes and remember wondering if these were imagined spaces or places where he would have visited. I was also interested in the surfaces of his paintings as a lot were quite heavily painted and though probably not intended had started to seriously crack. It seemed as if the image and the physical qualities of the paintings were indivisible.

The other thing that sparked my imagination was that none of these works had been presented together in over 50 years; in the world of images that we live in today this seemed special.

What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about? 

As I have changed my work in the last two years I suppose it is still relatively new to me and as such I haven’t actively searched out opportunities to exhibit. I suppose I still feel like it’s important for me to focus on developing my work in the studio and trying to build up a greater body of work. There are a few opportunities coming up that I’m pursuing, though nothing confirmed yet, but hopeful I’ll see this being developed further in the next couple of months.

Artist website

Publishing date of this interview: 12/08/16