Painting ‘from the inside out’

Local artist finds inspiration after serious head injury


James Holmes admits he never used to be able to “connect” with abstract art.

The 56-year-old Parker man said he never appreciated the art form. Abstract concepts, to him, a 17-year board member of the Denver Art Museum, never existed in his mind.

Holmes is the CEO and executive director of the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation in Sedalia and has a passion for riding horses. Standing in the Deep Space Lounge in downtown Parker March 19, Holmes said he never would have guessed he would be here, talking about how he became an abstract artist and about his pieces hanging on the wall for his first art show.

“I could never really think abstractly before,” Holmes said. “It wasn’t the way I was wired.”

In February 2018, Holmes broke his neck after being bucked from a horse on a day trip to Cherry Creek State Park. He also sustained a closed head injury, when a blow to the head causes the brain to knock against the skull. He received emergency surgery and doctors warned him he could become paralyzed or die from the procedure.

Holmes came out of the procedure with little pain and few complications. But his neck was stiff, his head felt fuzzy and he couldn’t ride horses for most of the following spring and summer.

Holmes’ wife, Wendy, said that was the beginning of him discovering his new passion.

“He’s always been a very active person and, at times, in high-risk sports,” said Wendy Holmes, who works as the director of communications and public affairs for Douglas County. “For him to be in a position where he could not be with his horses, could not be active for so long — I told him that I thought it might be good for him if he couldn’t ride his horses, maybe he should paint them.”

‘Miracle of the accident’

Patients who sustain closed head injuries often experience some kind of personality change, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most eventually revert back to their old selves, while others don’t ever quite come back.

Holmes said since his injury some of his personality has changed. He can’t improvise on guitar like he used to. His brain felt “foggy” during much of his recovery and does, on occasion, still today.

And, somehow, he found a talent for abstract painting.

As a child, he enjoyed drawing and painting certain objects, but hadn’t created much art since then. After the accident, he found peace in creating abstract art, where shape and form are simplified.

“All of this stuff is a miracle of the accident,” Holmes said. “Hopefully, the gateway is open and now I’m feeding it enough to where it will become part of my normal `artistic diet.’ ”

In most of his paintings, Holmes finds people. They don’t usually appear to him at first. The figures only appear hours later, when Holmes “meets the painting in the morning.” In one painting he sees a woman’s face. Another shows an angel almost hidden, surrounded by blue and white paint. It’s unintentional, Holmes said. Holmes has found his subconscious come to life through his work.

“Something occurred after his accident where it was like a muse came to visit him,” said Stephanie Hill Newton, a friend and fellow artist. “When a muse comes to see us, we have a choice to grab on and follow that muse where it wants to take us, or choose to let it pass us by. He chose to grab his muse and hasn’t let that muse go.”

A change of pace

Almost every piece hanging in the Deep Space Lounge marks a point in Holmes’ newfound appreciation of life. He takes things more slowly. He tries to live in the moment.

Karla Raines has been Holmes’ friend since 2002. She began painting in 2012 and said Holmes’ work as an artist has been nearly the opposite of who he has been his entire life — a man interested in fast-paced, high-energy action.

“James’ work has a serenity to it, and there’s almost an additional, emotional, visual component to it that is a direct connection to who he is spiritually and how he’s connected to his emotions,” Raines said. “I think what I’ve seen with James is immense continuity in terms of character of the person and his deep passion for the things that capture him.”

A couple nights per week, Holmes returns to his basement art studio, turns on some Pearl Jam or Jack White, and paints. He starts with a base of white paint, then begins to integrate different colors — orange, blue and yellow show up frequently in his work. He doesn’t spend much time thinking about the piece, and doesn’t look at the piece too closely until the next morning, when he begins to see the figures in his art and the emotion the piece evokes.

“What I say to people is `I paint from the inside out,’ “ Holmes said.

‘A lesson in all of it’

An optimist at heart and a devout believer in God, Holmes took up painting as a hobby. He developed a love for his pieces, and began to share his work on Facebook. Friends would comment on what they saw and how each painting made them feel, and Holmes began to see it, too.

Holmes’ work will be on display at the Deep Space Lounge until April 27. He’s already had people interested in buying his pieces, and he provides smaller ones for $25 as souvenirs. His work can also be seen at

Most of Holmes’ head fogginess has faded, he said. His ability to play guitar has slowly come back to him, but his art remains one of his greatest new passions.

“When I had this accident, part of my being able to accept the harsh moments about the prospects of the surgery, what it might look like… part of my ability to process that was my faith,” Holmes said. “I knew that there’s a purpose for my life. I believe everything that happens to me is for learning. There’s a lesson in all of it, and my belief in God allowed me to accept it.”


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