This article was written by Erika Floysvik Founder & Curator, Art Collectif artcollectif.com

 

 

On the day of our photoshoot, Thrush Holmes main 5000-plus square foot studio in Toronto’s West End is in shut-down mode after a massive rain and snow storm threatened to devastate dozens of finished works. The freak mid-April storm left Holmes’s team scrambbling to rescue paintings from streams of water pouring through his studio ceiling. Fortunately, all but three paintings were spared a wet ending.

 

And good thing. Four works, including one impressive 10-foot by 20-foot mixed-media and neon painting, were being readied to ship to their new owner, Collector Yusaku Maezawa. If Yusaku’s name is not familiar to you, his recent art purchase may be. The Japanese billionaire made headlines last May when he purchased a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for 110.5 million (USD), the highest price paid for a piece of artwork by an American painter. To say that Holmes has come a long way since dropping onto the Toronto art scene in 2006 may be a gross understatement.

 

Pre-2006, Holmes was largely unknown in Canada. “I didn’t like the slow pace (of the Canadian art market) and didn’t think it would be as open to a young, unknown artist”, expanding on why he chose to take on the U.S. market before making a name for himself at home. “I wanted to take the faster route.”

 

 

 

The faster route paid off, and with some financial success in New York, Holmes, then 26, returned to Toronto and opened his first major gallery in Queen West, brashly named Thrush Holmes Empire. His entrance onto the Toronto art scene made noise by flipping the conventional gallery model onto its conventional head. Rather than opening a modest space, overseen by a quiet OCAD-esque art student,?he took over 3,100 square feet of prime real estate and kitted it out with a DJ and red carpet. Cocktails flowed, parties played out night after night, and Holmes quickly cemented himself as a force within the Canadian art market.

 

Holmes concedes that his tactics weren’t always well- received, but they did pay off financially. His works were selling for tens of thousands of dollars at a time when the average Queen West artist held multiple jobs to support themselves between sales. Curious about the appeal of his work, Holmes offers that his works “transcend themes and have universal appeal.” And the impressive scale of his works? “I went big as soon as I could… and once you go big, it’s hard to go back.”

 

 

 

“I have always been curious about media.” Although he was initially known for his intimate collage works, Holmes moved into mixed media, combining oil, oil stick, enamel and spray paint on canvas. His nostalgic subjects like abstract florals and nudes in room settings, and landscapes, became familiar motifs. In 2008, he began energizing his stills with neon shapes. When asked how his fan base reacted to his neon work, Holmes remarks, “When you change direction, it takes years for people to catch up.”

 

A decade later, his fans have caught up. For a time, veteran NYC-based gallerist Mike Weiss represented Holmes in North America. When Weiss abruptly and unexpectedly closed his doors in 2016, Holmes became a free agent.

 

 

 

A bevy of top international galleries was quick to pick him up, like Beers in London, UK, who sponsored a solo exhibit of Holmes’ work at the Pulse Art Fair in Miami in 2016. Holmes is now represented full-time by the LA-based powerhouse, United Talent Agency (UTA), who are known worldwide for representing some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand and Johnny Depp, to name a few), has hurled Holmes into the art world stratosphere (UTA was responsible for brokering the deal with Yusaku).

 

So how does it feel to be on the brink of a seriously successful international art career? “I used to think so much about it (my career). I had big plans and goals. Things are now just coming into place.” Conscious of growing with integrity, Holmes adds, “I’m editing now. There is more care. The work needs to be strong and it needs to have guts.”

 

Guts. That word hangs with me after our conversation. If Holmes’ trajectory proves anything, it’s that his dogged determination and appetite for success have him poised for a mega career.

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