Laurel Holmes is a fine artist based in Kommetjie, Cape Town. Her work is drawn from a strong attachment to the South African landscape and her deep love for nature and natural places, acknowledging its role in spiritual restoration.
In this film, we visit the natural areas surrounding her home and studio - including a rare Milkwood forest and the beach where she collects items to create and inspire her monotype printmaking - and learn about visual loss and the impact of environmental degradation.
For the last few hundred years, humans have been party to environmental degradation and a loss of biodiversity, that is just gaining momentum. Globally, urban populations now outweigh rural populations. With this comes a loss of skills and knowledge around stewardship of these natural environments, a loss of access to these environments. Unique natural areas are being destroyed purely for commercial gain, and societies are forgetting the value of an aesthetic that a natural landscape holds.
So we begin to lose not only the actual mechanisms of support (rich landscapes) but also the visual aesthetics. This visual loss can only contribute to an alienation from environment, a reduction in general quality of life for all, in a world where daily life is less rich than it could be. Green is replaced with grey. Clean with dirty.
Much has been written on the (vital) role of natural beauty on the human psyche. Rachel Carson captured this intuitive sense when she states that “there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.” We now even have nature-deficit disorder which describes the detrimental effects on humans as a result of this increased divide between people and nature.
The imagery Laurel works with is that which, in time, we will rarely be able to see. A concern is the natural areas and the fauna and flora of the areas she has access to, will be only available to those who are privileged to have the resources to enable them to travel to these areas."
Tell us a bit about your background and your journey to where you are now?
A deep love for indigenous flora has been part of my life since my early childhood as was some exposure to various forms of art. My mother, a ceramist, was a keen indigenous gardener many years before the majority of gardeners began to explore the beauty of our South Africa plants and trees. Long road trips with my family engendered a love for and connection with the open places and wild spaces that is this country. Or maybe that was just there anyway.
I left the corporate environment in 2012 to work as a full time artist, and recently relocating from Johannesburg to Cape Town. My painting training has been with Karin Daymond and Ricky Burnett.
With painting, it has been oils on canvas but recently experimenting with wax encaustic and mixed media. In 2014, the seductive processes of printmaking came into the mix.
Favourite material to work with?
At the moment, its paper. Charcoal, ink, print…
Are there messages within your work?
I work in response to the beautiful things that nature produces, and in that is a deep appreciation for but also a concern for earth and environment. Natural areas are disappearing and fewer and fewer people have access to them. We want people to have an awareness of how amazing and essential nature is to our wellbeing, but cannot expect that if they don’t know what it is or have never experienced it.
What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
That my remarkable father, who is in his 90s, precision-makes some of my canvas stretchers.
Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?
Either of those. I love orchestral and instrumental music. But I have discovered audio books, which have allowed me to get to books I have wanted to read for years. The Evolution of Nature is the most recent title.
Where can we find you outside of the studio?
Most often walking on the beach or on the hill behind the village or at Cape Point. I used to feel guilty (I have to consciously fight off that ingrained ‘office hours’ programming) about time out of the studio but it has come to be so restorative and provides ‘headspace’.
When you start producing an art piece, do you work with some sort of plan?
I do have a plan but it nearly always evolves as the work progresses, where the paint itself ‘takes over’ or the ink on the plate starts to do interesting things. I try to keep to the colours I initially wanted to use but sometimes unanticipated decisions are required.
How do you overcome fear, insecurities or artist's block?
The discipline of just starting to work is the best way, as something happens along the way – suddenly the brush (at the end of your hand, your arm, your emotional involvement) does something with the paint that would not have happened without the build up to that point.
Sometimes the fear of ‘not doing’ is the best incentive.
The constant questioning of why and how one makes say, a brushstroke, can be tiring but that working and working at it until that little bit of magic (for me) starts to happen, is the thing. With printmaking, I am combatting the ‘quality’ insecurity by trying to recognise when the work comes off the press and feels right, first time round. To counter artist’s block, I sometimes turn to another medium (like charcoal drawing) where there is nothing vested in the outcome, but often this can influence the other media one is working with.
What do you dislike about the art world?
This is a hard question and so complex. So perhaps its more a sadness that there is insufficient exposure to good art practices and appreciation from our early ages, through school and society, that would enable more consumption of ‘art’ – be it theatre, visual art, poetry, etc. Good art connects people to their senses. Among many things, art can mitigate intolerance, develop awareness, engender more empathy.
What does success look like to you?
A work that ‘feels’ good to me, a gut response. So perhaps that’s ‘authenticity’? It shows in the response from the viewer.
When nothing is certain, everything is possible.
Favourite artist to follow on Instagram?