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31 March 2019

Meet the Artist

Adrian Holmes – Woodblock Printmaker

When visiting the newly refurbished restaurant at the Mount Haven, you'll come across the beautiful botanical woodblock prints by artist, Adrian Holmes. 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself

Where to begin! I’m a woodblock printmaker and picture framer. I studied visual arts at Plymouth University and found myself with a passion for site specific art and land art, such as work by artists like Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy. After a few years gardening, my ramblings took me to Japan, where I stayed for quite some time teaching English and surfing, and this is kind of where rekindled my passion for art and found my love for woodblock printing.

I fell in love with the art of Japanese printmaking and started to learn the craft. Over time I’ve picked up the traditional methods and skills, whether it was through one to one tuition or self-study - I’m always thinking woodblock. It’s a very intricate skill that requires patience. I’m not too geeky about anything in life, but when it comes to woodblock I would have to say I’m a geek.

I moved back to Cornwall around three years ago and am now based at Krowji Studios, where I continue my art practice along with teaching woodblock workshops around the south-west. 

I try to visit Japan as often as I can so that I can keep on learning. I’m back in Japan this summer for just over a month to continue my woodblock studies. Amongst other things, I’ll be learning how to make what us woodblock printmakers call a baren, which is our equivalent of a printing press. The traditional baren is made in three parts, it consists of an inner core, made from bamboo leaves twisted into a rope of varying thicknesses, and the nodules, thus created are what ultimately applies the pressure to the print. This coil is contained in a disk called an "ategawa" made from layers of very thin paper which is glued together and wrapped in a dampened bamboo leaf, the ends of which are then tied to create a handle. This is rubbed on the back of the paper to transfer the image to the paper.  The baren is a beautiful object and a piece of art in its own right

Why woodblock?

I would say I kind of stumbled into printmaking after having a few years off being arty as other things took hold, but my time living in Japan, without a doubt, has shaped my artistic direction and has been a big influence on me. As I mentioned, I have a background in the arts and my time in Japan definitely influenced my choice of using this art form. I love the meditative process of woodblock and combining all the various processes. It’s little things like how different woods work, such as the way a print can come out depending on the grain, how the different Japanese papers work with the wood - there are so many paths within this medium. I’m fascinated by its versatility, openness and process.

It’s a medium, which allows for so many possibilities. As I continue to work in the medium of print, understanding new processes, teaching students, and working with other artists as a printer, my approach is still developing and I am still exploring. I suppose now I’m riding on the cliché, ‘if you do it long enough it becomes you’. Whether that’s true or not, who knows, but I’m giving that a go for the moment and really enjoying my printmaking. It’s quite daunting but also humbling to know that I will still be learning about this craft for years to come.

How would you best describe your artwork?

I’d say my style and approach is contemporary but with a focus on traditional methods. I’m fascinated by Japanese aesthetics. I find the subtlety of woodblock printing captivating and I try to incorporate this into my artwork. I have a huge respect for the woodblock artists of ukiyo-e, era, a generic English translation would be “pictures of the floating world”. This genre of art that was popular from the 17th-19th century and was inspired by city life and included imagery of geishas, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers and landscapes. Their level of skill, detail and craftsmanship leaves one in awe, but I’m not striving for 100% accuracy in my work, at least not at the moment. My work draws a lot from nature - colourful, bold and simplistic. It’s still life, with abstraction.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Getting inspiration can sometimes be tricky, especially if you like to experiment with different styles and approaches. I would definably say the outdoors and nature play a big part and now that I’m back in Kernow the landscape and environment have become integral to my work. I live on a farm and am very close to the coast, so it’s literally in every breath. Japan and Cornwall are obvious inspirations and I’m lucky to be able to spend time between both.

Who is your favourite Japanese artist?

There are so many great woodblock printmakers. I’d say Utagawa Hiroshige, who has become quite well known in recent years, is up at the top of my list. His classic Ukiyo-e style prints - his work is sublime. Lesser known printmakers such as Fumio Fujita, who practice more abstracts styles, are a joy to look at and admire.

Could you tell us more about your process of woodblock printing?

Japanese woodblock takes practise and a real feel for the materials. It uses watercolour paint with all the demands that medium brings and most prints are a build up of many layers, all of which have to work. That all said, the results are stunning and timeless, no press and no nasty chemicals. My process follows the traditional Japanese methods and for me this is fundamental to my work. Starting from seed, I usually work from sketches or a photograph. I’ll sketch out what I am printing using the grid system, a traditional method of scaling up. I then transfer these images onto a paper called gampi,  the image is then glued down to woodblock, ready for the key block to be cut… it’s slow going, so you do have to have a bit of patience and precision. There are many tools that can be used for different details. I use numinous blocks for one print, I’ll also reduce if I feel necessary.

How did you come to be commissioned at the Mount Haven?

I was approached by Steve Coombes, of 3idog Interior Design, who works with St Aubyn Estates. I then met with James St Aubyn who was interested in the theme I was currently working on. We discussed what might work well and I then set to the task.

What has been your favourite thing about the work that you are creating for the Mount Haven restaurant?

The challenge! The theme that I am working on for the Mount Haven is one I had already started on, which worked out perfectly, but being commissioned for this work definitely fuelled the fire. As the works are nature based, I have really enjoyed rekindling my knowledge and love for plants and have done a lot more reading around the tapestry and the names of the various flora and fauna I use. It’s been a challenge but I have loved every minute.

How does your work compliment the Mount Haven?

The six prints that I am doing link well with the garden that is being established at the hotel, and as I frame and install the art myself, I am able to see how these will work best in the newly renovated restaurant space. I had to think a lot about the different colour schemes and the challenge of how the tones would work as well as the stories behind the plants.

Can you sum up your work in three words?

IMPOSSIBLE! Hmm…let me think!

Bold, botanical, contemporary.

Where can you be found when not in your studio?

Well, I’m pretty much always here at the moment, but, I would have to say the sea or somewhere on the coast. When I’m not being arty and printmaking/framing I try to get outdoors whether is surfing, hiking, camping or getting lost. To me, nature is essential!  Music is quite a bit part of my life so I try to make time for that wherever I can. I play the guitar as a hobby and love a bit of Spanish flamenco!

Where is your favourite place in Cornwall?

The south coast is pretty special to me – Fowey and the surrounding area is stunning and a lot of fond memories. I grew up there and just absolutely love the coastline. The lizard, Helford Passage, so many stunning places and the more you explore, the more your appreciation for Cornwall grows

To find out more, follow Adrian on Instagram