Spotlight: Cas Holmes, Textile Artist

Textile piece

Spotlight: Cas Holmes, Textile Artist

To explore Cas Holmes’ work, you have to engage with layers – layers of fabric, paper, paint, ephemera and stitch that bring the often overlooked to the front of mind. Where most see a weed, Cas sees the passage of time, the serendipity of placement and the juxtaposition of old and new.

Cas in her studio

How does sense of place influence what you create?

None of my pieces are neatly planned — intuition, a response to materials and the given environment, place or landscape inform the work, then sketch books serve to record these things.

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I gather all the elements together – cloth, paste, colours, papers, and so on – and build up layers as I would a painting. I then cut up the layers to see what’s underneath. Then I work this with further paint and machine stitching. 40 Yards, an ongoing project, best relates to how I work. The series uses cloth I gather as I work the images inspired by the everyday things I see within 40 Yards of my house. So a big part of my work is the human connection we have to the urban and natural landscape. John Hopper describes this best:

We live in a world where the line between human and nature is often drawn with a definitive thick black marker. We have our world and they have theirs. There is urban and there is wilderness, human society and the lack of it, but that is rarely how it is in reality. The real world is full of complexity, of a strong and binding interconnection between human and natural environments. Cas often finds this interconnection in the fragile world of the in-between, literally at the places where nature and urban meet, such as gutters, the edge of agricultural field systems, domestic gardens, old industrial land. These are the places where weeds are rampant and the man-made lies half-forgotten.

John Hopper, The Edgelands of Cas Holmes, Fiber Arts Now 2018
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Exhibit by Cas Holmes
Painting with Cloth Exhibition, Rochester Art Gallery Images (RAG) photo by Rikcard Osterlund

Does your work have stories to tell?

My work always looks at the interrelationship between the landscape, people and place.

I am currently looking at my own family and my Romany heritage and have thus set myself a theme of combining some hand-stitching words from a year of travel to some new works which relate to our relationship to a sense of place and loss. With migration, changes in our working lives and ‘increasing opportunities to travel’ (until recently), the works reflect upon my heritage and questions who we are and our place in an ever shifting world and challenging environmental changes. I cannot say more about this as the project will reveal itself sometime later in the year prior to its exhibition in Antwerp.

View from a Medway Barge
View from a Medway Barge

Did your fine art training include fiber, found objects and stitch, or did you come to working with those materials in your own way?

I studied on a painting degree course at Maidstone College of Arts and whilst we studied other media, working with textiles was not part of the course. However, we were encouraged to explore and as I discovered other media such as cloth, paper and found materials, supported by my tutor Janis Jefferies, I also discovered it better suited my mode of expression.

Reflection on Kent Life
Reflection on Kent Life

When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?

The essential difference between my pieces and painting on canvas is my ‘canvas’ or paper undergoes cutting, tearing, layering and stitching. I often work without clearly defined edges so that the shape and size of the work is determined only on its completion. I work instinctively, responding to the materials and then adding textures and marks as I progress. Some describe my work as ‘Painting with Cloth’ or ‘Stitch Sketching’.

Close up of a piece in an exhibit
Painting with Cloth Exhibition, Rochester Art Gallery (RAG), images by Rickard Osterlund

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

Most of my materials come from accessible sources and I set store on exploring the type of marks I can make and what I can do with them rather than ‘over think’. I trained in Japan and am interested in the ideas reflected in ‘wabi sabi’ (beauty found in the imperfect and overlooked).

I work with cloth and paper I pick up as I travel and often received gifted pieces when I teach. So I cannot remember when I last purchased materials to work with. My father was a painter and decorator so I often use household emulsion paint or acrylics for painting as these were around my home as a child. I can exploit different marks on the found materials and paper I collect or receive with the use of low-tech techniques and application of paint, inks and cold water dyes combined with drawing.

Using the needle to join these disparate pieces together as well as adding textural marks excites me most. It is perhaps also the one tool I use that most painters do not use; with it, I can take my work in many directions both physically and conceptually. I work outside in a small studio for mostly wet work. Also, I have a small space upstairs which I use most of the year for stitch work.

Cas' Sketchbooks on her desk
Photo by Cas Holmes

Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?

My sketchbooks and the way I choose to draw are closely related. I work among the discipline of paintings, drawing and textiles. The inspiration, ideas and materials I use in my work come out of the informal collaborations as well as the regular journeys I make as part of my daily life. Equally my work with a needle has been referred to as ‘Stitch-Sketching’. During the period of Staying at Home I have been exploring ideas around ‘What we Value’ and ‘What We Miss’.

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

Varies, I enjoy the quietness of the garden and birdsong. Then in the afternoon I like to listen to BBC radio 4. I love so much that the ‘Shipping Forecast’ and weather reports enter the rhythm of the day.

Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?

I do lecture, teach and work with exhibition partners. It is a very valuable part of my practice. People can contact me via the contact form on my website I have also been doing some virtual projects recently including a challenge for Textileartist.

Cover of book Textile Landscape
Textile Landscape by Cas Holmes is published by Batsord. Photographs by Jacqui Hurst. Images supplied by Batsford, Rikard Osterlunch (Painting with Cloth Exhibition) and the Author

What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your newest title, Textile Landscape?

The programme of study at art college taught me to ‘look’, explore and find a context for my practice. My recent writing for Batsford publications, including Textile Landscape: Painting with Cloth, continues to contextualise my own practice. Then it shares some of that finding with my readers.

Lavender, textile book

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn? 

Whilst people may have a ‘natural’ aptitude or skill, anything we enjoy doing and want to do well benefits from good practice and training.

Close up of a stitched piece

If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?

I would like to have a good natter with Grayson Perry. I am sure I will laugh as much as he would challenge in my thinking in relation to questions on art, politics and society in general. His current programmes on British TV encourage people to engage with the arts whilst staying at home.

Trees close-up

Which artists do you admire? What draws you to their work?

Itchiku Kubota, a Japanese artist. I would ask if his Symphony of Light Kimono installation has turned out as he imagined.

Constance Howard. There are so many questions about textile art I would value her opinion on.

Finally, my Father and my Grandmother…for their vision in ‘making me look’ and what they would advise me to do now. They were not ‘artists’ but both could turn a hand at everyday things.

Textile piece
Painting with Cloth Exhibition, Rochester Art Gallery (RAG), image by Rikard Osterlund

Where can people see your work?

My website is the best place to see what I am up to. My most recent book Textile Landscape (Batsford 2018) reflects my focus on landscape. A tour of ‘Painting with Cloth’, featuring work in the book along with new pieces, is still in process. It launched at the Knitting and Stitching Show.

Please bear in mind that many exhibitions are suspended and will be rescheduled in light of the Covid 19 Pandemic.

Gypsy Maker Work in Progress
Gypsy Maker Work in Progress

Detail of all my publications are on my website.

Gypsy Maker 4 is currently touring. The Arts Council of Wales specially commissioned artworks and funded the exhibition. It supports the development of innovative works by established and emerging Gypsy, Roma and Traveller artists. .

Cas Holmes Quote

I am also a member of Art Textiles Made in Britain. I am very excited that we have been invited to exhibit our new exhibition ‘Found’ at the Festival of Quilts.

Follow Cas on Facebook and find her on instagram; find workshops and current news on her blog.

Interview posted April 2020

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