Shop Drop: New Works by James Holmes, Phil Space, 1410 Second St., 505-983-7945; through July 30
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 scaled-down 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.