Nancy Holmes creates scenes of anxiety and drama with abstract imagery taken from the world around her. The anxiety has several centers of tension. Nancy is interested in a confusion between danger and humor, a contradiction of useless and excessive activity, and a visual tension in the recognizable but surreal renderings of the imagery. Nancy uses imagery such as noodles, pencils, canvases, bowls, lamps, exaggerated limbs and joints to create a sense of drama. That drama is pushed further with the repetition of the imagery and speed of their actions as they become characters in a narrative. Almost every object or "character" is portrayed mid-action. The actions performed by these objects, whether it is cracking, falling, eating, piercing, flexing, swinging etc., are more important to the tone of the painting than the actual object. For example, the noodles could be substituted for string and the chopsticks for needles. The tense situations created by the overlap of these actions convey a senseless restlessness. There is a stressful need to keep moving, making, and performing even when there is no clear reason.
How do you go about starting a piece? What's your process in mentally conjuring up an idea and physically beginning a piece?
An idea that I use to start a piece comes from writing in my sketchbook. I write down something I've been inspired by and elaborate on it until I have a phrase or sentence that I can turn into a drawing. It usually includes a lot of verbs as you can see there is a lot of action and movement in my work.
The noodles/string pattern reappears in all of your pieces? What do these represent in the larger message of your work?
Repetition is important in my work, it helps convey a sense of urgency and it can overwhelm the viewer (and myself). Images occur throughout a series of paintings because I find the more I wrestle with an image, drawing it over and over, the more it takes on different meanings and might even morph into something else. Before I was painting noodles I was painting objects in the studio. Thread and needles were repeating images. When I started working in a noodle restaurant and thinking about the making and eating of food (how it can be excessive and gross but so much fun at the same time) the needles and thread turned into chopsticks and noodles. For me though, the actions that the noodles were carrying out, or how they're interacting, is more important to the thought behind the piece than the fact that they are noodles. How seriously can you think about crazy noodles anyway? They add humor.
How did you come to be comfortable with portraying the abstract? Why did you choose this style to create your pieces?
It is a natural process that is still occurring. I think it is really interesting what we can recognize in a work of art even though it might look nothing like the real thing. For example, the limbs in my work. You see fingers gripping a bowl or chopsticks but do they really look anything like those on a real hand? I am also really happy when I can draw something that is just a little off. The viewer will recognize that something is not quite right within the painting and it feels uneasy, but it is hard to spot why. So in that way, abstraction, or slight abstraction, can make a painting more interesting.
Your pieces also make use of darker hues; it's almost cavernous. Is there a reason for this?
I am naturally drawn to stark darks and lights, especially used in contrast with transparencies in my charcoal paintings. I also haven't found a more specific place than a void that I want to locate whatever it is I am painting. I didn't want the noodle people to be anywhere, so it was a solution.
What is the significance of the dismembered body parts?
I wouldn't say that they are dismembered so much as they are just repeated around the canvas and exaggerated in an uncomfortable way. Sometimes I start with one or a few figures, then draw and redraw different parts of them wherever I imagine them moving around the scene. So all of a sudden it is two figures or maybe five, you're not really sure.