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The Artist Who Makes Famous Faces Out Of Cans

13 September 17 words: Alex Kuster

Kelly Ann Holmes is a self-taught mixed media artist specialising in the use of recycled drinks cans. She’s a homegrown Nottingham gal, and draws inspiration from the vibrant scenes our city has to offer. She won the first Open Exhibition at THiNK in Cobden Chambers, and is gearing up for her first solo show, Wasted Talents and Glorious Tragedies: an exhibition in portraiture based on fame and glamour, touching on the topics of mental health and substance abuse...

So, you’re one of Nottingham’s very own...
Absolutely. I’m thoroughbred Notts. Cut me open and it’s Nottingham through and through, duck.

Have you always been interested in art?
I’ve always been creative, but I look at other people’s work and think “There’s no way I could do that.” I never thought to class myself as an artist. Even just sitting here talking to you, I’m wondering “Am I a fraud?” I always used to think you had to be naturally talented, but it’s not like that. It’s practice, isn’t it? The more my confidence grows, the more the artist inside me takes over.

You use recycled cans to make pieces. What gave you the idea to make something new out of something old? And why cans?
I really enjoy turning one thing into another; the whole upcycling and recycling thing. Initially, I wanted to upcycle furniture, but there are loads of other people doing that, and the logistics aren’t easy. I also knackered my back up, so I needed to find something else.

I worked at Glastonbury for a few years, and we’d get through around 300 cans on our stall. I was looking at the empty cans and thought, “I can make something out of this.” I started making house numbers but they don’t weather very well, so I got a bit more ambitious. I tried to do a portrait, and the first one I did worked out way better than I could have anticipated. It just developed from there.

Where do you get your cans from?
I’ve got Bunker’s Hill collecting them, plus my neighbours, and the guys at Kiosk collect Karma Kolas for me.

What’s your creative process, from start to finish?
I draw my image on paper first and then deal with the board. I’ve started to incorporate a lot more spray paint from Montana in my backgrounds because the colours are phenomenal. In terms of cans, I’m quite limited, but there are a lot more craft brewery places bringing out funkier cans.

When I’m doing really big pieces, I like to contrast the paint and the can. Once I’ve drawn the image, I cut the paper out and place it on the board. Then it’s about filling it in. For bigger pieces, from cleaning and cutting the cans, to the final piece, it can take around fifty hours.

And you do this while working full-time as well?
Yeah, I’ve got my own gardening business. You have to have something else because it’s the most unstable of unstable incomes. And I enjoy the gardening. It’s hard work, and obviously it’s seasonal, so it’s swings and roundabouts, but it keeps me healthy. I’d love to do my art full time, though.

Would you like to get commissioned by a particular brand?
Nah, I wouldn’t want to be exclusive to anyone. I want to set my own rules, and I’m not in this to make loads of money, I just want to make a living. It’s one of the nicest feelings in the world when somebody buys your work. When I went to Sherwood Art Week to the Remarkable Recycling Gala, I’d had a really shitty day, and then this guy came along and bought my Jimi Hendrix piece. I was sad to see him go though, so I’m gonna make another one.

How do you decide what pieces to make?
A lot of the people I recreate are famous or admired for something, and I seem to pick people who’ve experienced troubled times. Like, with Amy Winehouse, I was never the biggest fan of her music, but I really identify with her story and how life became harder for her after her father left. I’m also drawn to figures who’ve struggled with addiction and substance abuse, and how they’ve been glamourised and hounded in their absence. I’m probably stuck in the sixties. I’m a huge Beatles fan, and the way people feel about Amy Winehouse I feel about John Lennon; he’s been my idol since I was about ten.

It was great to see you pop up at The Anti Gallery and to see you win THiNK’s Open Exhibition. How did it feel?
The Anti Gallery was my first ever exhibition. When I think about the work I put into that and my latest piece, I’ve exceeded my own expectations of what I can do. Although I’m still massively critical of my own work, I’m really pleased with the progress I’m making. I’m so thrilled to have won the Open Exhibition at THiNK. I didn’t expect it at all, and the momentum I’ve been gathering has been crazy.

Kelly Ann Holmes exhibits Wasted Talents and Glorious Tragedies at THiNK in Cobden Chambers, from Wednesday 6 - Sunday 17 September. The opening night is on Wednesday 6 September, and it’s free entry for the duration of the the exhibition.

Kelly Ann Holmes on Facebook 

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