Helena artist Tim Holmes’ art is prized around the world.
His works have been collected by some of the world’s most respected leaders — Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King and President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel.
He’s also been commissioned to create artwork for several esteemed international peace prizes — “Anima Mundi,” the inaugural United Nations Millennium Peace Prize for Women; “The Healing Touch,” a peace award by the Physicians for Social Responsibility; and “Song of Peace,” a Peace Links award.
A shortened version of a new film documentary, celebrating his art and life — “The Moving Art of Tim Holmes,” by Austrian filmmaker Karin Wally, debuts at the Myrna Loy Center 7 p.m. today, July 14. An exhibit of his artwork will be on display at the Myrna throughout July.
Holmes’ spiritual and social activist roots run deep, starting from the cradle. His parents, Rev. Bob Holmes and playwright and legislator Polly Holmes, both now deceased, were beloved in Helena.
“He and my mom were really active in trying to make society more humane,” Holmes said in an interview at his Helena studio.
Following in their footsteps, Tim and his brother Steve helped found the Montana Logging and Ballet Company in 1975, They performed political satire on stages across the country and were a regular feature on National Public Radio’s Sunday Weekend Edition. The group also brought South Africa’s renowned peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Helena in 1990, where he spoke out against apartheid to thousands gathered in the Helena Civic Center.
Art has been Tim’s calling since age 11, when he purchased a set of welding tanks, which has him shaking his head in chagrin some four decades later.
At first, he was content to make decorative objects, transforming forks and spoons into human sculptures, but by age 17 he grappled with more challenging ideas – such as a sculpture about alleviating world hunger. “I did pieces about ...how it feels to be a soft human in a hard world.”
His sister, author Krys Holmes, wrote of his work, “Sculpture is the art of bringing a moment alive, of giving an idea muscle and form....The power of a sculpture is its ability to embody passion, movement and meaning at the same time. When a sculpture is successful, you cannot hold yourself separate from it. You must lean forward and touch it. You must be willing to let it touch you.”
Take for instance, his bronze statue, “China Peace,” that he created to celebrate the 1989 freedom movement by dissident students in Tienanmen Square. The sculpture from the front is the graceful calligraphy character for “peace,” but viewed from another angle becomes a leaping figure “expressing the quest for liberty.”
In his peace statue, “The Healing Touch,” two gesturing hands come together dancelike, transforming into doves.
Tim’s creativity and caring for the world appear boundless. His mediums are as fluid as his ideas — from bronze sculpture to paintings, charcoal sketches to political satire, as well as filmmaking, music and performance art.
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He was also the first artist to take part in the exhibit “Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate,” which transformed racist hate literature into art. First shown at the Holter Museum of Art, the exhibit is still on tour.
The day of the interview he was creating a set for Ballet Montana’s upcoming production, “The Inquisition of Don Miguel,” which is directed by Sallyann Mulcahy and opens July 27 at the Myrna Loy Center. Parts of the set will later be auctioned as a fundraiser for the dance company.
While he’s known internationally for his sculptures, in recent years Tim’s created a series of award-winning films — “Body Psalms,” bringing together sacred scripts from various religions that are written on the human body as a form of “sculptural poetry.”
These works are his way to speak out against what he sees “as a critical problem facing the world on the scale of global warming ...the devaluation of the body by global capitalism,” he writes in a statement on his website
The human body, instead of being cherished as beautiful and sacred, has become mere real estate to be sold by advertisers, he said. To pornographers, it is just “meat.” For far too many, this devaluation has been just accepted – so much so, that it’s become invisible.
Filmmaker Wally became interested in doing the documentary after being approached by Geirun Tino, director of the Pygmalion Theater in Vienna, Austria, who was using Holmes’ artwork in a performance incorporating dance, acting, music, film and sculpture.
“When I met Tim for the first time – learning more about his work, his strong messages and his sense of life – I knew immediately: I want(ed) to do this film,” Wally wrote in an email to the IR.
“It’s fascinating to know more about the world of Tim Holmes,” she says of the film’s message. “His work seems increasingly focused on the beauty that is mysterious as well as terrible, in the words of Dostoevsky, ‘God and the devil are fighting...and the battlefield is the heart of man.’”
Holmes describes his works as primarily focusing “on the struggle for freedom, horror at inner and outer evils, the ferocity of hopelessness and the tenderness of love.”
“Art is the medicine that will help heal the world,” he said.
Wally and her film crew traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, to interview curators at the Hermitage, where in 1993 Holmes was the first American artist ever invited to exhibit solo and where his sculptures remain on permanent display. The crew also visited Montana last year, interviewing Holmes’ former art teacher in Billings, his foundry, the curator at the Great Falls museum.
The film’s message, Wally concluded, is best summed up by Tim’s statement, “Art can transform us in ways impossible through any other human activity.”