by Claire Corbett inCreative Conversations

Creative Conversations with Martha Holmes

If you have ever popped into the elegant and stylish Morgan’s Gallery close to the Custom House Quay in Falmouth you will certainly have seen the work of abstract oil painter Martha Holmes.

Inspired by Cornish masters and charged by a deep connection to the ocean, Martha’s work captures a raw and honest sense of the landscape through colour and expressive mark-making. 

Martha has appeared in galleries such as the New Craftsman in St Ives and paints from her studio at Morgans in Falmouth alongside working outside on the coast, especially the Penwith coastline. 

As part of our ‘Creative Conversations’ blog series, we were delighted to be invited to Morgans to sit in the natural light-flooded gallery with Martha and find out more about her practice, inspiration and her own favourite places in Falmouth.

Could you tell us about your background? 

Cornwall has always been a special place – somewhere I remember since a very young age. My Dad grew up on the north coast so weekends and holidays were often spent in the family home with my sisters and friends. I’ve always known the wild and rugged landscape of north Cornwall, exposed to it throughout the seasons…that exposure from simply living in and enjoying the landscape grew my love for the space and my excitement to express it in a painterly way. 

In what ways has your graphic design degree informed your practice? 

Whilst studying graphic design I didn’t realise the opportunities the course would open up across other art and design disciplines. The admin and design side of working as a painter; the website, the printed catalogues, the day-to-day marketing….all of these elements form the structure that the studio grows from, allowing new ideas to be implemented. This has allowed a subtle sense of identity through typography and visual design to form over the past few years. 

Where are some of your favourite places to paint en plein air? 

Porthtowan was the first place I painted plein air, up on the cliffs looking down over the beach – this will always hold a lot of memories in my work. The Penwith coastline is where I am continually drawn to and where most of my paintings to date explore, particularly in the autumn and spring when the colours are rich and the landscape is quiet. I’ll often spend time in a little beach hut on Porthgwidden beach near the Island in St Ives, capturing the motion of the changing tide. 

How and where do you gather your creative inspiration? 

Living in Cornwall, I allow myself to gather ideas and thoughts for new collections wherever I am. Lately, I’ve been drawn to interior compositions that resonate with forms and structures in the landscape. The way that objects sit in a space, altered by light and seasonal change fascinates me. Allowing time outside the studio to chat with other painters and makers is so fulfilling – words can sometimes have as much strength as something tangible. 

Who are some of your favourite local artists, businesses, and eateries? 

Oh, there are so many! Artists-wise, I have discovered so many in the past year since we opened Morgans…I love the configuration of colour and form in Matt Dixon’s paintings and the way he retells the landscape through simplified marks with a strong sense of movement. Likewise, the soft hues and free marks of Hannah Eavis’s paintings are fabulous! Ceramics studio Argilo – run by Jaye Taylor is another favourite. I use one of her ‘Tirimasu’ mugs every day…alongside her work I am so drawn to her process of inspiration for her collections, lifting warm colours and a sense of ‘slow living’ from days spent in the Mediterranean. Eateries-wise, I’ll always pop into Provedore, I used to live a few streets behind it and would enjoy bowls of hot chocolate and their wonderful breakfast bagels – you can sit outside on the street, it feels very Parisian. 

How would you describe Falmouth to someone who’s yet to visit? 

The creative energy in Falmouth is ever-growing and incredibly exciting. There is an abundance of makers, painters, ceramists, designers, and craftsmen working in small pockets across Falmouth and the small villages that feed off the town. There is never a sense of competitiveness between creatives, yet a sense of community that encourages one another to grow and push new boundaries in their work. 

What does a working day look like for you? Do you have any rituals? 

At the moment I spend most of my time in my studio in Falmouth. A typical studio day will begin with herbal tea in my favourite Toro Studio mug whilst ticking off any admin for the day. I may then begin by reaching for my sketchbooks to inform a new painting for an exhibition collection or I may spend time reading about one of the St Ives artists such as Patrick Heron for a source of inspiration. There will always be a blend of sketching, reading and note-taking, surrounding my painting on any given studio day, alongside a cup of tea with one of the other studio residents at Morgans. 

Could you describe your studio? 

I like to curate my studio so that it’s a constant source of inspiration in itself, like an extension of the landscape, with layers of colours and forms. Objects and vessels from other makers sit among jugs of flowers and stacks of journals that I’ll often turn to in between painting. The studio has huge sash windows that flood the studio with warm morning sunshine and softer light in the afternoon – I love the sense of movement this gives the studio along with a little glimpse of the bustling harbour I can see from another corner of the space. 

How did the idea of Morgans Gallery come about? 

Morgans began with our family’s love for Cornwall and our passions for art and design. We had always envisaged coming together as a family, using each of our skills to build something creative….when 49 Arwenack Street came up, we knew this building would become the vessel for the project. The idea for the gallery grew very organically, with the identity of Morgans shaped through the architectural quality of the building. Now also home to a collection of in-resident painters, designers and ceramists, Morgans has become a space that both showcases and gives space for creatives to work. 

Could you tell us a bit about the next show and what artists are exhibiting

Show No.5 will be our next show at Morgans, opening in a few weeks. This is a collection by myself and my sister Clara, alongside collections by furniture maker Will Nock, Sculptor Maison Samuel Collins and maker Jayne Armstrong. There is a strong sense of shape and form in all of the works in this show, with each of the artists lifting concepts and shapes from the natural environment to inform their practice. My paintings for this show are reflective of the summer season – warm earthy yellows mix with hints of pinks and vivid greens among softer, calmer palettes. 

Do you have any other projects that you’re working on? 

I live along the old high street in Falmouth with my partner and we are lucky enough to have a shop space below our flat – recently we have curated the window with collections of our work – a blend of my paintings and furniture by Will alongside shirts by fashion designer Ella Griffee, who uses the space as her studio. We hope this to evolve over time with ever-changing displays of work, adding to the creative buzz of the old high street. In the studio, I’ve always dreamt of designing my own printed journal – pages that document my process as a painter, with a sense of narrative to it. This is just in its planning stages at the moment, with notes scribbled and paper swatches earmarked…so this is a future project! 

If you were to stay in one of our properties, which one calls to you the most? 

It would have to be Lorelei, it looks rather heavenly with its balcony overlooking the Helford River – I can envisage a new series of paintings developing from this space!

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