Intuitive Strokes: Painter Jammie Holmes Is Redefining The Contemporary Art World
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Painter Jammie Holmes is helping to redefine contemporary art by showing the humanity of Black American culture.
Visual arts remain one of the most creative mediums, but what happens when your perspective is silenced? For a long time, the contemporary art space has been predominantly whitewashed with interpretations of the Black experience stuck in a grim and incredibly archaic setting. Thankfully, there’s been a rapid rise of next-generation Black artists who are not only reclaiming their stake but also creating thought-provoking pieces that both captivate the viewer and spark important conversations about the Black experience.
Jammie Holmes, “Zebra in The Room” (2023, acrylic, glitter and collage on canvas), 90 inches by 220 inches PHOTO BY CHADWICK REDMON/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN. © JAMMIE HOLMES
Jammie Holmes is among the recent crop of artists who are challenging the art world’s norms. What makes the proud Southerner (he was born and raised in Thibodaux, La.) unique is that he’s completely self-taught. Learning as he goes along, each piece reflects the genuine truth of his rugged upbringing as well as his community.
Artist Jammie Holmes. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN
“How could I understand how to paint things that I never experienced before? I had never experienced picnics or going to the beach, so I can’t paint those moments. But what I can paint are moments that most people might think are ghetto or things like that,” Holmes explains during a quiet day in his Dallas-based studio. “But everything I’ve talked about is the culture that I grew up around. I just try to make sure those people are still represented. I want them to be a part of African-American history as well as American history. So I felt like it was always important to take them with me and put them on a platform, so people could see themselves.”
Jammie Holmes, “Hymns and Potato Salad” (2023, acrylic, gold leaf and glitter on canvas), 76 inches by 98 1/2 inches. PHOTO BY LANCE BREWER/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN. © JAMMIE HOLMES
“I want [my culture] to be a part of African American history as well as American history.” -JAMMIE HOLMES
Holmes, who refers to himself as a poet rather than a formal painter (“I’m going to find that light in the dark”), first began drawing and sketching as a kid. Growing up in Thibodaux wasn’t easy: The town has a long history of poverty and marginalization, its most notable event being 1887’s Thibodaux Massacre where armed white men killed dozens of Black plantation workers after a labor strike. But rather than dwelling on his hometown’s cursed history, Holmes opted to celebrate its beauty and resilience.
He didn’t jump into the art scene straight away, though. After graduating high school, Holmes spent more than a decade working in an oil field. He relocated to Dallas in 2016 and his life trajectory changed just a year later. In 2017, a co-worker suggested Holmes visit the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth after seeing him sketch at his desk.
Jammie Holmes, “Six Sparrows” (2023, acrylic, oil, gold leaf and gold glitter on canvas), 72 inches by 48 inches PHOTO BY BRAD FLOWERS/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN. © JAMMIE HOLMES
“It was the first time I’d ever even been to a museum of any sort. I didn’t know there were art museums focused on just paintings and sculptures. I always thought a museum was for dinosaur bones, coins, shipwreck stuff, pirates, the Civil War,” Holmes recalls with a laugh. “I saw Kaws’ work and it gave me the drive to say, ‘I could really do something like this.’ I started painting pretty much the next weekend, and I just kept going with it. By 2019, I was able to quit my job and do this full time.”
Jammie Holmes, “I Have A Dream” (2021), 95 by 78 inches. "LEFTY" ARTWORK PHOTO BY CHADWICK REDMON/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN. © JAMMIE HOLMES
In 2020, Holmes made waves with a public artwork display in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement. He hired planes in Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami and New York to showcase banners with the last words of George Floyd. His work has most recently been presented in exhibitions like Los Angeles’ Deitch Projects and New York’s Marianne Boesky Gallery. His work is also included in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, ICA Miami, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, New Orleans Museum of Art, Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Xiao Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.
The universe solidified Holmes’ creative calling: This year, he showed his first solo exhibition in a museum at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Jammie Holmes: Make the Revolution Irresistible (which ran from Aug. 11 to Nov. 26) was organized by curator María Elena Ortiz and humanizes the Black figure. Each piece carries emotional weight with themes of grief, love, race and masculinity. Upon experiencing the exhibit, viewers are left inspired to dismantle Black stereotypes while also possibly seeing themselves or members of their community in the painting. That beautiful human connection is Holmes’ goal.
Detail shot of Jammie Holmes, “Lefty” (2023, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas), 90 inches by 119 inches. "LEFTY" ARTWORK PHOTO BY CHADWICK REDMON/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN. © JAMMIE HOLMES
“I feel like it’s my duty. I would always say I don’t have feelings, I don’t have emotions.
I just shut down. But my therapist helped me actually see [the opposite]. One thing that I remember she was telling me is never have information that can help somebody and not help them,” Holmes says. “So why not use myself and be vulnerable, so people could see that I’m human? [I want to] tell Black men: Open up to your lady, open up to the world and express yourself so people can see how human we really are. We’re not the beasts that they think that we are. It’s important to show us in a softer light.”
“Why not use myself and be vulnerable, so people could see that I’m human?” -JAMMIE HOLMES
Jammie Holmes. PHOTO BY AUSTIN HUNT; COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN.
He continues: “I experienced racism as a kid in modern times in Louisiana. So imagine how stressed out [our parents] were. I come from a long line of people who can’t express how they feel. I’m the first one to decide to go get therapy. I’ve been teaching my family and friends to just let it out. I might not cry, but I still let out how I feel because it’s important. I hug and kiss my sons to the point where they don’t want me to hug them no more,” he says, laughing.
In celebration of his debut solo exhibit, Holmes teamed up with Paper Planes over the summer for a T-shirt and snapback hat featuring the phrase “All We Ask For Is Understanding.”
“Black folks don’t even ask for nothing. We just make it work. I feel like the motto is for the broader world because [they] question what Black people want after slavery,” Holmes says of the collaboration’s meaning. “So just have some sort of understanding. Just try to learn and appreciate the other parts of our culture as well. We have some people who moved past these things and put them to the back. But there’s some people who I love and I care about who are still affected because of those things.”
Jammie Holmes, “Fred Hampton” (2022, signed and dated in ink (verso): [signature], acrylic, glitter, gold leaf and molding paste on canvas), 90 inches by 90 inches. PHOTO BY LANCE BREWER/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY, NEW YORK AND ASPEN. © JAMMIE HOLMES
As Holmes continues to make a name for himself in the art world, he plans to use this newfound recognition as fuel to further explore different facets of his creativity. “I proved to myself that I can do whatever I want to do. Some people have dreams and sometimes things don’t work out for them. Sometimes they lose a little bit of confidence or even give up on it,” he says. “But this gave me a whole different type of confidence going into my next stage of life and my career. I think it was a sign from the universe saying, ‘Now you have arrived.’ My whole swagger changed with this exhibition. It showed me the reason why I’m in my studio all the time. I feel like I’m just starting.”