Art in Re­view Shop Drop at Phil Space

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Michael Abatemarco

You get the sense when view­ing the work of artist James Holmes that you’re on the verge of ac­cess­ing priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion, as if you could fit the pieces to­gether in your mind just so and thus wrest some un­der­stand­ing from his ar­cane syn­the­sis of the sur­real and the ver­nac­u­lar. Re­ly­ing on a blend of found ob­jects, com­mon­place ma­te­ri­als, met­al­work, wood­work, and minia­tures, Holmes crafts sculp­tures meant to be ex­plored, filled with de­tails that sug­gest mean­ings but that can re­main stub­bornly in­scrutable.

In Shop Drop: New Works by James Holmes, Phil Space presents a se­lec­tion of in­trigu­ing works that carry themes of jour­ney­ing and do­mes­tic­ity, along with ref­er­ences to his­tor­i­cal events. The mo­tif of a log cabin — ren­dered in re­lief sculp­ture with a flat­tened per­spec­tive or in the round — ap­pears through­out the work. In some pieces, such as one ti­tled sim­ply Log Cabin and an­other called

Bird­house, the cen­tral hep­tag­o­nal shape of the com­po­si­tion is echoed by the form of the sur­face ma­te­rial on which it sits. The shape makes its way into other pieces, such as Four Phases of the Moon, where each of the four el­e­ments of the work has the same seven-sided con­fig­u­ra­tion. It is most ev­i­dent in

House in House, an im­age of a home sur­rounded by a wooden frame that echoes its form and is set onto a panel with a sim­i­lar hep­tag­o­nal shape.

Holmes’ sub­ject mat­ter is com­pelling, and so is his use of ma­te­ri­als, a mix of rough-hewn and pol­ished wood, cop­per, alu­minum, lead, linoleum, fam­ily pho­to­graphs, and other me­dia that give his works a steam­punk-meets-Western art aes­thetic. But Holmes toys with our ex­pec­ta­tions. He ren­ders fa­mil­iar ob­jects and scenes from a skewed per­spec­tive, adds un­ex­pected el­e­ments, or lay­ers pieces with mi­la­gros and other small enig­matic trin­kets to pro­vide sym­bolic weight and coded mean­ing, as in his witchy and darkly comic Con­quis­ta­dor Dunce Cap. A thread of hu­mor runs through the work. Many pieces com­bine sculp­ture and paint­ing and in­clude painted land­scapes re­plete with nos­tal­gic mid­cen­tury de­pic­tions of travel by air and land. Ships at sea are an­other re­cur­ring mo­tif. An un­ti­tled piece from 2015 shows mar­itime im­agery sur­round­ing the fa­mil­iar hep­tag­o­nal house shape. His­toric ref­er­ences come into play as well. One piece, July 18, 1969, could be a ref­er­ence to Ted Kennedy and the Chap­paquid­dick in­ci­dent, which oc­curred on that date, or to the Apollo 11 moon land­ing two days later. Such in­con­sis­tent de­tails and in­con­gru­ous jux­ta­po­si­tions cre­ate a sense of the sur­real.

An­other Log Cabin, from 2015, de­picts Abra­ham Lin­coln at the cabin win­dow. The home is painted in the col­ors of the U.S. flag. It’s a bu­colic slice of Amer­i­cana show­ing the U.S. president at his most iconic. This work, as well as oth­ers, re­calls Amer­i­can folk art and out­sider art. It is among the less com­pli­cated pieces in the show, but not quite as sim­ple as Brick Sar­coph­a­gus, a pol­ished wood box con­tain­ing a chipped clay brick stamped with the word “Egyp­tian.” The piece fetishizes the com­mon­place ob­ject by plac­ing it, rev­er­ently, within its hand­some wooden box.

Holmes is trained in cab­i­netry. He is a skilled crafts­man, but some pieces are only min­i­mally worked. Some, such as Trout Shadow, with its hid­den com­part­ment open­ing to a nar­ra­tive scene, in­vite you take a closer look and step into their scaled­down vis­tas. Oth­ers, such as the log cabin sculp­tures, beckon you to peer through win­dows into their in­te­ri­ors, and per­haps to re­flect on what it means to be at home in the world.

Top left ,J ames Holmes: Log Cabin ,2 015 ,l ead, steel, tin ,l in­oleum, and wood; right, July 18, 1969 ,2 015, red­wood, pine, stee l,l ead, linoleum, plas­tic ,l eather, and pa­per; bot­tom, Con­quis­ta­dor Dunce

Cap ,2 011, pine ,l ead, steel, cop­per, and brass

SHOP DROP: NEW WORKS BY JAMES HOLMES, Phil Space, 1410 Sec­ond St., 505-983-7945; through July 30

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