“The flatness, event-less-ness, and openness of the surrounding landscape opens a space to go deep… . The clay pieces in particular take a long time to make, they require patience and determination — I can’t quite imagine making them without the sense of time and space I have here.” Mark Holmes

“I’ve spent most of my life constructing things (furniture, buildings, sculpture) out of hard materials like wood or metal. In fact, the histories of modern sculpture, western architecture and technology are largely defined by construction involving a series of binary operations of cutting and joining.” Mark Holmes

Mark Holmes chairs the art department at Knox College in Galesburg. He is a product of Yale University’s graduate art program, known for its rigorous attention to the legacy of Minimalist and Post-minimalist art, as well as the discourse that dis-assembled it. Mark was in the master of fine arts class of Ann Hamilton and Jessica Stockholder, two of the most staunch advocates of a re-imagined American sculpture – a practice of contemporary art that tested the reductivist narrative of canonical modernism as well as the intellectual resolve of today’s viewers.

Free-standing vertical columns by Mark Holmes, chairman of the Knox College art department, were part of a recent group show at the McLean County Art Center in Bloomington.

Mark also has inherited a late modern legacy that essentially rejects representation yet accepts a more post-modern interrogation of language in all aspects of visual culture. Rather than narrativize or rarify an object like much post-modern art, he drills deep into the material and grammar of form. He abbreviates details of the built environment and lets design instincts override hybrid and multilayered structures. That impulse comes from 17 years in Chicago as a furniture designer and crafter. His more utilitarian occupation informed his sculpture, not only in terms of production but with a commitment to discovering fresh territory when refined carpentry skills met radical, reflexive post-formalism. This is not your grandfather’s meta-narrative. The work has ritual but it’s fragmented and embryonic – an image becoming an object and vice versa.

Mark pushes formalism beyond its constructivist and performative infancy and urges us to think differently about abstraction. He continues to refine his free-standing sculpture to generate ensembles of vertical columns whose color and shape reflect and deflect their occupied site. They’re less architecture now and more artifact – figural, set on shallow rolling pedestals that convey an archeological/museological status. Entering a recent group show at the McLean County Art Center in Bloomington one encountered the life-sized structures in mid gallery pivot. Absent were his earlier constructivist pillars and in their stead danced idiosyncratic forms painted lime green to jet black, resembling something both aboriginal and futuristic.

His work is further animated by the artist’s surprising experiment with clay. Its plasticity clearly affords Mark the opportunity to be more improvisational with form, producing eccentric, organic volumes that wood predictably resists. While his early wall pieces manipulate the inherently smooth surfaces, planar details and polished joinery of woodworking, he now relishes the dimpled surfaces formal twists enabled by the slow hand-building of the world’s oldest art medium.

While still very connected to Chicago, Mark speaks to the pleasure of working independently of the art market and some of academia’s most mystifying polemics. Both labor intensive and intellectual, his work makes a clear case for progressive visual culture amid ordinary life in small communities in inland America.

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