In honor of Black History Month, we at Look Listen are using our platforms to make space for Black creatives, their work and their stories. Those of us in Denver have been lucky enough to work in close proximity to a variety of artists of color in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe, where our offices are located.
Also located in the district is James A. Holmes, a successful entrepreneur-turned abstract painter whose career is the indirect result of an accident and severe injury. With time on his hands during recovery and joyful memories of childhood enchantment, James picked up a set of acrylic paints and began the journey that led to his first exhibit and a new career as an artist. We’re inspired by the whimsy and optimism in his pieces, and we wanted to hear — and share — how his experiences shape his work.
Look Listen (LL): You’re quoted as saying, “Everything I internalize, the experiences I have, the people in my life, my hopes and dreams, my faith are all reflected from heart, mind, and soul through the prism of my intuitive lenses resulting in artistic expressions.” How does your experience as a Black man inform your approach to your art?
James Holmes (JH): When I think about who I am as an artist, I don’t think of myself as a Black artist, or a male artist, but rather embrace my identity as a Black male living in America as foundational truths that make up my lenses, the colors in my prism I see the world through.
I have struggled from time to time with the temptation to create more politically charged art as a result of the hyper-growth in racial injustice, civil unrest, and climate denial in the past couple of years. The struggle is related to the purest expression of my work which is optimistic, beautiful, generous, authentic, and timeless. The struggle is rooted in my belief that artists have a responsibility to use their platforms to address society’s greatest challenges by representing light in the darkness so that we all can see more clearly and make better choices. I will soon be creating other work under the pseudonym “Artifact” to resolve this conflict.
LL: Along your journey, which Black artists — of any genre, style or medium — have paved the way for or inspired your work?
JH: I am constantly embracing my known influences and continue to search for new influences every day. Visual artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Mark Bradford, Tracey Emin (most people are unaware her father is Black), Ellen Gallagher, Amy Sherald, Jack Whitten, Frank Bowling, Frank Wimberley, Jacob Lawrence, and Sam Gilliam.
Musically, Gary Clark, Jr., Otis Taylor, Alicia Keys, Aaron Neville, Jay-Z, Lenny Kravitz. In photography, Gordon Parks, Dawoud Bey, James Van Der Zee. In literature, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin. In films, Spike Lee.
LL: This question is a bit of a two-parter but, as employees of Look Listen, we’ve got to know: Right now (in this cultural moment), what are you looking at and listening to?
JH: I am rereading the books and viewing the video archive of James Baldwin. It is hard to believe that thirty-three years after his death, his words and commentary are completely contemporary, meaning nothing has really changed in America. There assuredly has been progress, but fundamentally America remains a racially biased society.
If James’ art inspires you, please take a few minutes to discover or learn more about the artists, musicians, journalists, poets and authors who have helped shape his point of view. We’ve linked each of their names so you can easily find more information on them and their contributions to society.
Feature Image: Excerpt of Holmes’ work, courtesy of the artist.
About James A. Holmes
James is the Executive Director of Cherokee Ranch & Castle Foundation located in Sedalia, Colorado and a working abstract painter with a studio based in the Art District on Santa Fe in Denver, Colorado.
James has spent most of his professional career balancing two worlds, the first as a serial entrepreneur having founded, funded and operated businesses in mortgage banking, real estate, motorsports sponsor management, business development, Internet marketing, and professional business coaching.
Paralleling James’ entrepreneurial career has been a love of the arts and community service. As a Trustee of the Denver Art Museum, past member of the Board of Directors for the Colorado Ballet, Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, Denver office of Art Culture & Film, Denver Foundation Arts & Grants Committee, Selector for Denver One Percent for the Arts, Denver’s Great Art for a Great City, and Co-Chair of Denver’s Millennium among others, James continues to make a lasting impact in Denver’s cultural community.
James is a recipient of the Juanita Ross Gray Community Service Award, Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Business Leaders, and the Outstanding Contributions to Tourism Award.
James’ motto is: “Conscious entrepreneurship is a collaborative process where people with talent and resources accept the responsibility of changing the world through the creation of sustainable business(es) that solves problems and provides value for others.”