A dose of irony

Martin Holmes’ playful works offer a tongue-in-cheek critique of the media world

“Famous (Trails)”

“Famous (Trails)”

“They’re obviously all ironic,” says Martin Holmes, with a nod toward two of his works on display in Less is More, an exhibit now showing at Blue Lyon Art Gallery. “But they’re not cynical.”

He gives me a wry smile. With Holmes, you can’t get the seriousness of his work without first getting the joke.

“All of these images are appropriated, mostly from junk mail, whether it’s pushing a product, pushing religion or pushing war,” Holmes says. “Advertising is the main source of inspiration for most people, simply by exposure, not by choice.”

Advertising is perhaps the main source of Holmes’ inspiration, too, but it inspires his provocative, tongue-in-cheek pieces of art—not heedless consumerism. In many of Holmes’ large-scale collages, the images are immediately powerful, if often obscure and not immediately recognizable. The layers of images are complex and visually harmonious, but not exactly comforting.

“Famous (Trails)” is what Holmes calls a cold and impersonal look at sex. The huge (96-inch by 84-inch) work comprises several images, one of which is a photocopied photographic image so enlarged and so grainy that one can barely make out its subject matter: body parts. Behind this image is another magnified image of two gigantic fingers holding what is scarcely recognizable as a pocket watch.

“They’re on the clock,” Holmes says of the sex act going on in the image below. “It’s a business.”

Holmes’ collage works are sometimes made of more than one canvas (so they will fit through doors), with dynamic conglomerations of overlapping text, body parts and geometric shapes.

“They look a bit asymmetrically symmetrical,” Holmes says.

Not all of Holmes’ pieces are collages. “#63: Revival,” painted from a photo taken at a revival service in the 1980s, shows a man and a woman in religious surrender.

Holmes notes that it’s almost impossible not to associate the image with 1930s Nazi posters. The man and woman stand side by side, their eyes closed. Each has one arm raised and, on the man particularly, the position of the hand is remarkably similar to that of a Nazi salute. The woman has a teased ‘80s hairdo and teal jacket. Her expression falls somewhere between rapture and pain. The man looks pasty beneath the thick layers of acrylic paint.

Yet “Revival,” like Holmes’ other works, has a pop art playfulness about it. He packages his razor-sharp commentary on advertising pleasingly, and the works themselves have the visceral appeal of a major advertising campaign. They are vivid, penetrating and, of course, brimming with irony.

But not cynicism.