In the studio with Laurel Holmes

13 Aug 2015
Laurel Holmes is a South African landscape and still life artist based in Johannesburg. Her art is contemplative, focusing on still life paintings of everyday objects or moody landscapes of places that she has visited.

Favourite material to work with?

Oils always, but recently have found another fascination: monoprinting (inks and what they can do on paper)

printmaking by Laurel Holmes
detail from Calamus IV, monoprint on Fabriano

What themes do you pursue?

The shrouded natural environment, with a fascination with indigenous trees. How nature creates its own patterns and way of doing its own business.

landscape painting by Laurel Holmes
detail from Purlieus I (sold)

How many years an artist?
I began painting fulltime in 2012 after working in corporate jobs since leaving university and technikon in 1986.

What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
I attempt to use the paint itself to describe my emotional response to the landscape. I am drawn by natural illumination of the landscape. This is transient so each moment, this transient light creates a ‘unique’ view of that specific place on the landscape. It implores one’s eye to hold still, to absorb a view won’t ever quite be exactly the same again, in that place.
The exploration of light and shadow in my paintings is not to replicate exactly but to take shadow to further extremes in an attempt to extend how we see the land.

landscape painting by Laurel Holmes
Berm I, oil on canvas, 80cm x 80cm

Which living or dead artist would you most like to meet?
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

Tell us about your studio. Location, clean, cluttered, big, small, etc?

Upstairs at home. A bit cluttered! Small but with a big window to put work into and view from a distance from outside.



Art school or self-taught?

I managed first year Fine Art through Unisa way back but then kids came along. I have been fortunate in having wonderful teachers (Karin Daymond in 2003-6) and currently Ricky Burnett (2013 to now).

Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?

It varies according to how I am feeling. Music (love rock music!) when I am planning to work for hours but silence is good too. No disturbances – just an absorption with the task at hand. Then a  hadeda lands on the roof like an elephant and I am back in the world!

Favourite brush?
New ones! Filbert in medium sizes.


Where can we find you outside of the studio?
Downstairs in the garden (watching the birds laying claim to what’s there for them to eat), and a lot fetching children from school but that is nearly over! Love doing the gallery rounds too – there is so much really good and diverse art in SA.

If you couldn't be an artist, what would you do?
A nurseryman. Planted things that grow never ceases to fascinate and thrill me.

Laurel's kitchen garden

Interests other than art?

Vegetable gardening and road trips; to find the quietest places I can. Special places are Anns Villa in the eastern Cape or Suiderstrand in western Cape. Travel travel travel around this magnificent country of ours. Trying roads I have never been on is a given every time we hit the road.

Laurel's vegetable garden

What do you collect?
Always on the lookout for the ‘perfect’ stone, seeds/seedpods, bones – drawn in by the colours, symmetry, shapes and often, perfection, of natural objects. And jugs.



What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Just DO. Do and do until something starts to happen. Cultivate a thick skin and trust your gut feel on the quality of your own work.


Lineation II, Etching on Fabriano

Are there messages within your work?

My work talks to the relationship with this living, vigorous, highly complex planet where every tiniest interaction of energy, life, chemical, breathe...  is important and has a reason to be. There is a gnawing and growing unease that the absorption of ourselves with a daily life that has become so removed from any connection or reciprocity with the earth and all its aspects, and so directed by technology, that no matter how seemingly inconsequential our actions may be, the earth’s ability to sustain itself is waning. As our lives become more and more involved with this type of daily life, the further we move from an intuitive connection with the physical, animate earth that sustains us.

What does your art process entail?
Having been somewhere and been drawn to a ‘feeling’ or response to that place. Then to start painting it and to ‘lose’ the reference at a point to allow the paint to begin its own narrative.

Dusk-lit by Laurel Holmes
Dusk-lit, oil on canvas

What are your inspirations?
Quiet places in South Africa that resonate on an energetic level. Places that provide solace from the noise of the city, where one feels the movement of air and sound and smell, where I feel ‘connectedness’. For me, there is there is profound restoration in stillness.

What materials couldn’t you live without?
Linseed oil, charcoal and paper.

Visit Laurel's portfolio to view available work