Simon Wilson

Quirky vision

Venice must be the most painted city in the world. Keith Holmes is among the latest in the long line of artists who have made their way there since Canaletto defined our image of it. Canaletto’s Venice was the Grand Canal, San Marco and the rest of the famous sights. In the 19th century, Turner, Whistler and Monet extended the canon to the Lagoon, with its incredible sunsets, sunrises and infinite variety of mists and atmospheric effects. Since then this repertoire has been exhaustively worked over.

It is remarkable, therefore, that Holmes has found a fresh and personal approach to Venice, the nature of which is explicit in the title of this exhibition, which opens on Wednesday. Exploring the city, he became fascinated by the unregarded detail of the very fabric of the built environment. But just because this detail is unregarded does not mean it has no significance or meaning. On the contrary. For Holmes the fragments he was arrested by and which he presents in these paintings are redolent of the life of the city — it is tempting to say the real life, beyond the tourist trade and its icons — and of its history. Indeed, he fears that this real Venice will be lost to the relentless tarting up demanded by tourism, although paradoxically it is only thus that the city can be saved.

To give just one example: in ‘Crosses’ we see a white marble cross which, it is almost immediately apparent, is a detail of structural elements of the fa

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