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Helena artist explores fear, power through his art work on nudity.

Nudity is nothing new in the world of art; artists have been drawing, painting and sculpting human bodies for thousands of years. Nevertheless, nude art remains a touchy topic in our culture.

Those who are sensitive to sensuous art may want stay away from Tim Holmes’ showing of his latest work. Then again, his studio may be just place for those censored citizens to see nude art in the spiritual light of Holmes’ muse.

It’s the fear of the body and its power that Holmes addresses in this weekend’s show he calls “Why Do We Have Bodies? An exploration into Sensual Mysticism.”

A number of events prompted this deep, provocative work, one being the war in Iraq, he said.

“The treatment of women by the Taliban became, for me, a metaphor for how the Western world deals with the body,” he said. “In the Western, Christian tradition, the body has been vilified. The body was sort of the seat of the devil since about the time of Augustine in the fourth century. This is something that Christian tradition has carried for about 1,600 years since then. And other major religions aren’t any better at dealing with the presence of the body than Christianity is. Even as a secular culture, we inherit that Puritan attitude that the body is sinful, yet as long as we’re alive, we are always being called by the needs of the body.”

Holmes sees our culture, like the Taliban, covering up the naked image, even if it’s in different ways, for fear of its power. For example, Attorney General Ashcroft bought an $8,000 drape to cover the breasts of the statue of “Justice” in the U.S. Department of Justice, he said.

Another impetus for this work was Holmes’ recent completion of a life-sized sculpture for a cemetery in Florida — work that stimulated ideas about life and death.

“The only difference between a living person and a dead person is a body,” he said.

So the self-proclaimed “scruffy guy,” known in countries around the world for his figurative bronze sculptures, was inspired to take on this issue of society’s view of the bare body and the consequences of this view. He said that suppressing the innate needs of the body only creates a monster, and he named the recent media coverage of Catholic priests as an example.

“I think my responsibility as an artist to the community is to respond to my muse, my inspiration, when I become inspired by these images that have to do with spirituality and the body. My calling insists that I take that seriously,” Holmes said.

The public showing of this work consists of about 50 paintings, drawings and collages. Many of them are images of nude women alongside or worked in with spiritual prose and poetry.

“Blessed St. Augustine identified the devil with women. One of the legacies of that is that we have images of this really sexy woman that appears in advertising everywhere. Almost always it’s this young, fairly mean-looking, sexy woman who is sort of challenging the viewer. I believe that she is the shadow of our culture. And she is going to continue to haunt us until we try to deal with it face forward and stop trying to cover her up,” he said.

Words from writers devoted to the search for the divine are used to create a depth, visually and emotionally, to this new work. Quotes like “Even your blood and breathing is holy” by Helena poet Krys Holmes and “Drink all your passion” by Rumi, a Persian from the 13th century. Biblical Psalms are included, as well as Mirabai of the 15th century, who Holmes quotes: “My mattress is a sword point.”

On a personal level, this work bares his soul. On a collective level, this work is “the shadow,” the repressed feelings of the current culture that, he believes, chooses logic over emotion. It represents the tool that’s missing in our time, the one that allows us to deal with our feelings, our expression and community rituals.

Each piece of art in this series requires more than a glance to take it all in. Images continue to emerge from the layers of crayon, paint, ink, netting, bronze, jewelry.

“In some of the later ones, I started using tar and gold. Tar because it’s so earthy and gold because it’s so ethereal. I used paint that looks like blood. I want it to really be a bodily experience so it feels visceral and engaging,” he said.

Most of the work is not behind glass, presenting no barrier between the eyes of the viewer and the texture of the materials.

Some of the words and images are more subtle and harder to make out while others are immediately identifiable — another purposeful element.

“I see it as a metaphor for the way we live. Some stuff is really obvious, but the more you look within and the more you pay attention, the more meaning there is,” he said. “Art is like a watch spring. The more you put into it, the more power it has.”

Holmes invites the public to his showing on Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. He has planned discussion on these topics at 8 p.m. on Friday and encourages anyone to bring his or her thoughts and opinions and participate. His studio and show room are at 446 N. Hoback. To view the work by appointment, call Tim Holmes at 442-4233.

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