Multidisciplinary art piques viewers’ interest - Thrush Holmes’ exhibit opens today at Baird Gallery

Published on May 11, 2013
Toronto based artist Thrush Holmes in his studio
— Submitted photo

He was meant to be in Pouch Cove this weekend for the opening reception of his first show in Newfoundland, but Toronto-based artist Thrush Holmes will unfortunately be home in bed instead.

Holmes had a mishap while hanging art last week — he fell over a railing and down a flight of stairs and broke a vertebrae in his neck. His trip to this province had to be put on hold, but the show will go on, opening at the James Baird Gallery Saturday and running until May 30.

Holmes, 33, has been a multidisciplinary artist since the age of 18, and is self-taught: his formal training is limited to two weeks of art school. At age 23, he began selling his work on eBay under an alter-ego.

“I wanted to churn out paintings quickly and without guilt. I didn’t want to tarnish my own name, so I worked under the guise of Truman Couture. I would end up marketing and selling hundreds of these paintings through eBay over the course of 18 months.”

Holmes was picked up by some large American galleries, and at age 27, he opened Thrush Holmes Empire, a loud, bright, large and street-level art studio in Toronto. He closed it for two private settings last year, and has handed representation of his work over to galleries in an effort to strengthen his focus on painting.

This was good news for Baird. Holmes was originally not interested in showing at Baird’s Gallery when he first contacted him, since he wasn’t working with dealers in Canada.

“He did show with a large gallery in the U.S. which also exhibited Rimi Yang and Kevin Sonmor, with whom I had relationships,” Baird explained.

“When Rimi had legal difficulties with that gallery, I made sure Thrush knew what was happening and assisted him as I could. I also helped him in Europe in a minor way, so that when Thrush closed his own exhibition space in Toronto, I finally prevailed on him to send me some paintings last year.”

Those paintings sold out immediately.

Holmes’ work can best be described as frantic and mesmerizing, and he is in constant exploration mode, switching media as he sees fit. He began with painting, started incorporating collage, and also works in neon. He aims to complete pieces in one sitting, since he finds it much more natural, and his pieces are often hung still wet.

“I get tired of any one particular medium, so I navigate between them,” he said “I have been painting nearly every day for the last 13 years, so it becomes easy to develop an urge for exploration. I can achieve a broader range of stimulation when I am not limited to one medium. I can do with neon lights what I could never do with paint, for example.”

Holmes (whose full name is Thrush Keats Byron Holmes, the two middle names added out of respect for the Romantic poets) is fond of large-scale floral paintings, done in spray paint in fantastically bright colours, and in this show, he’s got a number of them.

He’s also exhibiting some colourful abstract mixed-media pieces in resin — using spray paint, oils, pastels and who knows what else — using them to warm up the florals (“They are pure energy,” he said), as well as a series of small neon hearts enclosed in smoked plexiglass and wood boxes, which are more pedestrian than much of his other neon work.

“Flowers are likely the first thing you attempt to draw or paint as a child. They are a rudimentary subject that people have attempted to capture in paint for ages. They pose a great challenge, given their history and connotations,” Holmes said.

“It’s difficult to make a new flower painting; to work within these confines. I’ve always been interested in finding permutations within the same. The restriction gives me a certain freedom. I use the materials I do to execute these paintings because they demand it. I try to push the envelope as much as possible with every painting.”

With his work, Holmes said he hopes to attract the viewer, and keep their attention.

“The work needs to perform on many different levels,” he explained. “I am always revising the ingredients.”

Holmes’ show opens at the James Baird Gallery with a reception from 2-5 p.m. today. More information is available online at

Twitter: @tara_bradbury