Visual Arts

Spotlight: Tom Holt

by / Jun. 22, 2016 1am EST

If you live in Buffalo, chances are you’ve seen Tom Holt’s work. You’ve no doubt driven by one of his murals in the city (like the one at Five Points or the giant unicorn on Rhode Island Street), but let’s be clear: He is not a muralist. Well, he’s not primarily a muralist and that’s not how he sees himself, but that’s what he’s known for. Tom Holt is like the actor who gets pigeonholed again and again after playing that one role. So no, Tom Holt is not a muralist. He’s a painter and a sketch artist. And a damn good one at that.

“I’ve made art my whole damn life,” Holt says, “and at the end of college was interested in graffiti, went pretty hard in the paint, so to speak, for a few years and Buffalo would only see me as that. I’m finally at the success of a five year media campaign to get Buffalo to stop calling me the ‘graffiti guy.’ I appreciated those experiences but it was becoming kind of insulting that someone who’s made over 100,000 drawings and is deeply intimate with a pencil could only talk about this tagging culture.”

In 2002, Holt moved to Buffalo from a small town an hour north of New York City. While he truly enjoyed the best of both worlds there, it took only a short while for him to realize where his heart belonged. In his eyes, the quality of the art here was as good as, if not better than, what he had been exposed to in NYC.

The move was sparked by a friend’s graduation, but it didn’t take long for him to dive into the local art scene. Along with a few other people he and his friend quickly set up an illegal art gallery—illegal in the sense that there were no permits of any kind. The gallery, housed at 435 Ellicott Street was “just a weird punk rock art practice” that was “short lived but very successful.” And the relationships he built in the eight months there (especially with curator John Massier) would be invaluable.

“I essentially cheated,” he admitted. “Instead of waiting to be discovered by a curator or something like that, me and my friends did that thing that maybe would be considered not the perfect way to go about it. We just hung our own shit on the walls and threw parties. We threw these little shows and people actually came.”

Today Holt works at the Burchfield Penney Art Gallery as Assistant Art Preparator during the day, where he has stepped in to do some assistant curating, teach doodle classes and fill other miscellaneous needs where they may arise. However, Holt has just started a new company, Pine Apple Company, with his “Sketch Night” friends: other local well-known artists Mickey Harmon, Yames Moffitt, Sarah Liddell, Mike West and Esther Neisen. The goal of Pine Apple Company is to make their creations public and make local art more accessible.

“Even though I do love the fancy art life, I’ve always been a little bit of a skateboarder, a regular, down-to-earth, lower middle class kinda guy, or whatever you wanna say—just a working artist,” Holt says. “I love the idea of creating things that younger people can access.”

Although Holt wouldn’t give specifics, he promises that there are some big plans in store for the Pine Apple Company later in the summer—with good chances of a retail space opening in August. Until they make their official debut, Holt will be busy with his upcoming exhibition titled “Drawn and Quartered” opening July 14 at Eleven Twenty Projects gallery at 1120 Main Street from 6pm-9pm. This show will be extremely true to himself, focusing on his drawings.

“Most of the work that is being chosen and other things I’m completing definitely relates to my daily sketch practice,” he says. “I’ve always been known as somebody who draws a little too much, maybe. It’s certainly a vomitous vessel of how I’m critiquing the world or feeling; this typical sort of dereistic thing. Just the title itself—“Drawn and Quartered”—is a reference to where in England they would chop off your limbs and send them out to the four corners of England to make it very difficult for your soul to reconvene. I thought having that simple pun of having the word ‘drawn’ involved and alluding to a metaphor of gloom would be apropos for the tone of my work, which often is a sharing of a sublime feeling or sharing of a darkness.”

However, there’s no prominent darkness in his process, which includes a lot of television reruns.

“My process in some ways is relatively hilarious,” he says. “I don’t draw with music on. For me, if I’m playing music I just have to sing poorly with it. I become so engaged with the music that I can’t draw. So I have a fairly distinct need for TV reruns. I need to put on something that I’ve seen so many times that I can ignore it. It’s fairly embarrassing. For example, the movie Sphere is kind of decent, but not the best sci-fi movie. I’ve maybe seen it around 200 times. And that’s only one of many I’ve seen over 100 times. I’ve seen every Star Trek episode. I still think I have every episode of Saved by the Bell memorized.”

As far as inspiration, he turns to skateboarding.

“Skateboarding is certainly the yin and the yang for me with art,” he says. “Where drawing is something that takes place at home, it tends to be very quiet, I’ve been skateboarding since the age of 12, never took a break. Despite getting older now, I’m still very actively and aggressively in love with the art—not the sport—the art of skateboarding. The sense of line quality, the sense of interacting with architecture and an endless list of things for me qualify art as a physical expression. So often my weekends involve going to LaSalle Park at nine in the morning, then going home to make art. Those two worlds for me are perfect. They make art complete.”

So, if you prefer to put a label on Tom Holt perhaps consider that of skateboarder. He may just like it that way.

 Instagram: @buffalotomholt 

 Opening July 14 / 6-9pm 
 Eleven Twenty Projects Gallery 
 1120 Main St, Buffalo